I guess it was my effort at being artistic. In a 9-by-11 bedroom I shared with my brother, I filled up a bulletin board with Sports Illustrated pictures.
Almost 60 years later, that bulletin board and those come-to-life athletes still hang in my boyhood home in Kokomo.
There’s quarterback great Y.A. Tittle on his knees and face bloody … baseball legend Willie Mays sitting in front of his locker and looking frustrated and exhausted … world champion skier Jean-Claude Killy sailing down a mountain …. Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi begrudgingly shaking hands with Les Josephson of the Rams after his Packers suffered a loss … and eight more.
I even worked on a theme or two with my placement of the 12 photos. I made little labels for each picture and the top row was “The Blood” (Tittle bleeding), “The Sweat” (Wade Bell straining to the finish in an 880-yard race) and “The Tears” (long-jumper Bob Beamon breaking down after shattering the world record at the Olympics.)
The overall grouping was labeled “The Many Faces of Sports.”
The only subtle change over the years happened when I was off at college. My mom was apparently dusting our room and knocked the labels off the pictures on the bottom row. “The Tempers” label that went with Juan Marichal hitting catcher John Roseboro with his bat got switched with “The Pain” of Chargers John Hadl about to be sacked.
And in the middle of these two pictures, Yankee pitcher Jim Bouton was losing his cap while delivering a fastball. It had been designated as “The Strain” but somehow had been relabeled “The Error” either by Mom or my brother. I left it that way.
I loved those pictures — still do — and so many others that were published in Sports Illustrated. Although the accompanying stories may have helped guide me to a career in sports journalism, the pictures were what floated my boat as a teen-ager.
For some reason, none of the swimsuit babes made my bulletin board even though the annual swimsuit issue started in 1964. Maybe I didn’t want my parents to know that, yes, I did think of girls from time to time (or all the time).
I’ve been a Sports Illustrated subscriber since 1963 when I carefully (and secretly) tore the subscription information out of the front of a magazine in the Elwood Haynes Junior High library. I had been mesmerized by a historical article on boxer Jack Dempsey and how he beat 6-foot-7 Jess Willard, possibly with help from a hard substance in his gloves.
I was hooked on the S.I. from then on.
I later had the privilege of being one of the magazine’s correspondents for about 10 years when I was covering Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune. My name was even included in the list of writers and contributors on the third page.
Over the years, my habit of looking at the pictures before reading the articles continued. Yep, sometimes a picture can be worth 1,000 words.
And now they are talking about Sports Illustrated being on its last legs after the publisher laid off practically the entire staff last week. This followed some lean years and even going away from the weekly presentation.
I admit that I don’t read it cover to cover anymore, partly because I don’t follow sports as closely as I once did. The main reasons are that I don’t like the gross amount of money involved in sports and how youth sports are so overly-organized so early in a kid’s life.
But that’s not Sports Illustrated’s doing — or undoing. Like a lot of other publications, its failures have come from, among other things, the rise of internet reporting and that journalists continue to have their roles and influence lessened by greedy owners. At least that’s my opinion.
S.I. may hobble along for a while but it looks like the writing is on the wall.
But back to my old wall — the wood-paneled wall in the bedroom of my youth. I still marvel at those pictures and what they meant to me when I was 14 and beyond. The pictures and the hundreds of others I admired in Sports Illustrated captured the effort, the talent, the beauty and even the vulnerability of those athletes in the arena.
I think I might move that bulletin board up to my study when we finally get Mom out of her house. Then again, I might look like Y.A. Tittle after I suggest that to my wife.