Over almost 62 years and 3,166 issues, Sports Illustrated has built a reputation as the pinnacle of American sportswriting. Do we deserve that distinction? Decide for yourself by perusing any of the roughly 80,000 stories available for free in the SI Vault, which debuted last week. To support our case, we submit these 50 sentences, which are among the best the magazine has ever published.
"Basketball is the game of the city in these times, for it is cramped and fast and vertical, and everyone is very close and vulnerable."
–In for Two Plus the Title, Frank Deford, May 18, 1970
"What you see before you could be any 44-year-old man slurping any bowl of cereal and watching any baseball game on TV, except that the man is a millionaire, his picture is on the cereal box and it's a little early for breakfast."
–On Deck For the Big Knock, Rick Reilly, Aug. 19, 1985
"Here is Nolan Ryan, cut from a good bolt of denim cloth and served with a glass of milk and no apologies."
–Citizen Ryan, Leigh Montville, April 15, 1991
"Michael Jordan?" said Olympic basketball player Fernando Martin of Spain. "Jump, jump, jump. Very quick. Very fast. Very, very good. Jump, jump, jump."
–In the Driver’s Seat, Alexander Wolff, Dec. 10, 1984
"Bring on the tooth fairy."
–And Then The Clock Showed 00:00, Robert H. Boyle, Sept. 27, 1982
"The red clay of Oklahoma and the sands of the west Texas desert country produce scrubby crops, oil and football players."
–a+$+x+f+b= INVINCIBILITY, Tex Maule, Nov. 18, 1957
"TIGER WOODS has defined his career in terms of major championship victories, and in turn they have defined him."
–Hurts So Good, Alan Shipnuck, June 23, 2008
"He favors a black baseball cap bearing the inscription I AM THE SHAQNIFICENT, which was made for him, he says, 'by a homeboy back in San Antonio.'"
–Shack Attack, Curry Kirkpatrick, Jan. 21, 1991
"When a writer tried to tease him about his classes at Alabama, asking if he majored in basket-weaving, Joe Willie said, 'Naw, man, journalism—it was easier.'"
–The Sweet Life of Swinging Joe, Dan Jenkins, Oct. 17, 1966
"'I am Mark Duper,' insists Super."
–A Man With Deep Roots and Deep Routes, Craig Neff, Nov. 19, 1984
"One morning they were 19 fuzzy-cheeked college kids and a tall guy with a beard, and the next.... WE BEAT THE RUSSIANS!"
–A Reminder of What We Can Be, EM Swift, Dec. 22, 1980
"For the moment, political and financial woes--not to mention the malaise that has beset baseball in recent seasons--were all forgotten as three generations of McGwires shared their joy in front of us: John, leaning on his cane, a man who could not play baseball because of a childhood bout with polio; Mark, hugging his chubby-cheeked son in those arms as massive as bridge cables; and Matthew, grinning wildly, one of many who fell in love with baseball for the first time in this special summer."
–Record Smasher, Tom Verducci, Sept. 14, 1998
"Gather around the Sacred Computer, heathens, and harken to the Holy Bleep."
–The Prime of Mr. John Brodie, Robert F. Jones, Sept. 20, 1971
"Or, to put it another way, can there possibly be a place in the good doctor's delicate and gentlemanly game for the Darryl Dawkins 'Doctor Naismith, Get Outta the Waysmith, There Are Peach Basket Splinters All Over Your Facesmith' slam dunk?"
–'A Chess Game with Soul’, John Papanek, Oct. 20, 1980
"IT BEARS mentioning, now that Michael Sam has revealed himself as the most intriguing challenge the NFL has ever faced, that sports used to serve as America's proving ground for social change—not vice versa."
–Moment of Truth, SL Price, Feb. 17, 2014
"The mountain-ringed oasis in the badlands of southern Nevada is crowded, prosperous and expanding apace essentially because the ancient human passion for gambling has never been daunted by unfavorable odds."
–Gambling’s Adult Western, Kenneth Rudeen, May 11, 1959
"All of his life was transformation: Ali's soul knew the butterfly's secret as well as his feet knew its dance."
–A celebration of Muhammad Ali, Gary Smith, Nov. 15, 1989
"Vasili Alexeyev, the premier sports hero of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, stood in his garden amid his strawberry plants, his red peppers and his roses."
–The Best at Everything, William O. Johnson, April 14, 1975
"If Penn State football lived and breathed, it would floss twice daily and come to a full stop before turning right on red."
–Say It’s So, Joe, Tim Layden, Aug. 16, 1999
"Fans who at one time approached their sports heroes shyly and tentatively now swarm at them like angry hornets, elbowing past security guards, overrunning small children, tugging on jacket sleeves in the manner of Calcutta beggars*—their tongues ready to lash out with venom should the athlete dare to excuse himself before signing autographs for them."
–Back Off!, E.M. Swift, Aug. 13, 1990
"The very existence of the Miami Dolphins is something of an accident."
–Win one for the flipper, Tom C. Brody, Aug. 8, 1966
"I'm coming home."
–I’m coming home, LeBron James/Lee Jenkins, July 21, 2014
"It is always the punch a fighter does not see that hurts the most, and the little girl was so sweet and innocent-looking, standing shyly at her mother's side, that there was no way Joe Frazier could have seen it coming."
–The Fight’s Over Joe, William Nack, Sept. 30, 1996
"If it would help the New York Yankees win a ball game, Billy Martin would stand on his hands at second base and catch grounders with his teeth."
–The Damndest Yankee of Them All, Paul O’Neil, April 23, 1956
"But the Dallas Cowboys are something different—a kind of majestic nation-state."
–Where Have You Gone, Roger Staubach, Bruce Newman, Aug. 29, 1983
"This is how a guy who has a name like a British aristocrat's, who's small enough to hang from your rearview mirror and who says his greatest catch was of Michael Jackson's hat in a concert crowd lunged into stardom in a single afternoon: Desmond Howard brought a hundred thousand spectators to the swooning point, reduced his Michigan teammates to wiggling their fingers and chanting 'hocus-pocus' and made Notre Dame's fleetest defenders look as if they couldn't catch an elevator."
–And How!, Sally Jenkins, Sept. 23, 1991
"He says, 'SPORTS ILLUSTRATED can kiss my black ass.'"
–He thrives on anger, Michael Bamberger, May 6, 1996
"That thing all those dock workers, meat packers, icemen and railroad brakemen started almost 60 years ago, and which came to be known as professional football, is about to lead us once again on a thundering off-tackle 29 Oley Bob P-Series Power Ride into the grinding teeth of a 56 Stub-I Rex Change defense, if not a 43 Purple Sloop."
–Cracking the Language Barrier, Dan Jenkins, Sept. 13, 1976
"His fraternity mates Call him Blob-o, his neighborhood friends call him Whaleman and his wife has even called him Fat Boy, but no matter what you care to call him the U.S. has never had an amateur golf champion with quite the combination of competitive intensity and easygoing charm of big Jack Nicklaus."
–One Whale of a Golfer, Ray Cave, Sept. 12, 1960
"Everything in football begins with the big hit and flows from there, like blood pumping from a beating heart, feeding limbs and organs."
–The Big Hit, Tim Layden, July 30, 2007
"The lingo with which hot rodders ordinarily communicate with one another is a melange of bop talk, beat talk, teen talk and garagese."
–The Car Cult from Rumpsville, Robert H. Boyle, April 24, 1961
"Whew! War might be hell, but now we're talking simile."
–When Push Came to Shove, Curry Kirkpatrick, Dec. 20, 1982
"Behold the naked man facedown on the massage table."
–A Grand Finale, Austin Murphy, Aug. 1, 2005
"Starr came hard behind him and slid into the end zone, and suddenly, for 50,000 people, spring came."
–The Old Pro Goes In For Six, Tex Maule, Jan. 8, 1968
"Somehow life had washed Boomer back to the place where he had grown up, where he had been hurt and healed."
–We’re Going to Beat This Thing, Gary Smith, Oct. 4, 1993
"And, so, despite a few esthetic drawbacks—near baldness, skinny legs, overly long basketball trunks and the continuing tendency to stick out his tongue—we honor Michael Jeffrey Jordan as our Sportsman of the Year for 1991."
–The Everywhere Man Alone on the Mountaintop, Jack McCallum, Dec. 23, 1991
"It wasn't until midday Tuesday, about 67 hours after Dancer's Image had 'won' his Derby and 63 hours after specimen 3956 U began to change color, that the rest of the world was let in on the year's major sports story."
–It Was a Bitter Pill, Whitney Tower, May 20, 1968
"Destiny ends with N-Y."
–Stroke of Fate, Tom Verducci, Nov. 4, 1996
"Really, what Phelps has done is disrupt the idea of can't."
–We Are All Witnesses, Susan Casey, Aug. 25, 2008
"On Sunday night, as word of Earnhardt's passing made its way through the stock car racing world, one sentiment was shared by the fans who won't have the chance to see him chase that elusive eighth title, the rivals who won't have a chance to swap paint with him again and the drivers who won't have a chance to share one more Victory Lane hug with their boss: This definitely was not fair."
–Crushing, Mark Bechtel and Pete McEntegart, Feb. 26, 2001
"As a hockey player Hull is notably unlike that earlier hero, Rocket Richard, an often sullen old elf who could find a loose puck in a pile of coal during a blackout."
–Go, Bobby! Go--To Beat The Magic 50, William Leggett, Jan. 25, 1965
"In the ensuing celebration, 3-year-old Nicky Evans, dressed in his Tiger uniform, went around pouring champagne down players' pants."
–Detroit Jumped All Over ‘Em, Steve Wulf, Oct. 22, 1984
"Remember the South, the magnolias and mockingbirds and muddy roads, and the cane poles and odor of wood smoke and somewhere, far off, the baying of hound dogs, and those big iron-eyed Southeastern Conference football players who kicked the hawg out of a ball on third down and just dared someone to try and score?"
–The SEC Catches On, Pat Putnam, Oct. 13, 1969
"After 43 years of brown bags at the Superdome and ostrich races at Tulane Stadium, of Archie Manning on his backside, Tom Benson under his parasol and Ricky Williams in his wedding veil, it happened."
–Super Bowl XLIV For You, New Orleans, Lee Jenkins, Feb. 15, 2010
"But the more she talks--about her disdain for losing, her appreciation for the charmed life she leads, her fondness for the perks of the job--the more convinced you are that the Serena Show will play on for a good long while."
–The Serena Show, L. Jon Wertheim, May 26, 2003
"His friends and family will try to remember Len Bias as he looked on that Tuesday afternoon in New York City."
–The Cruelest Thing Ever, Jack McCallum, June 30, 1986
"When it was over, the self-described 'funny-looking black kid with red hair and freckles' returned to earth long enough to receive the award as the Most Valuable Player in the NBA playoffs."
–It Was Seattle, Handily, John Papanek, June 11, 1979
"And then he will head to the Ritz to celebrate, still wearing his champagne-soaked T-shirt and shorts, a cigar protruding from his mouth, punch-drunk and pleased to take photos with all comers, no longer the child prodigy, no longer the petulant sidekick, no longer the selfish ball hog, no longer the Michael Jordan wannabe, but just Kobe Bryant, champion."
–Satisfaction, Chris Ballard, June 22, 2009
"AND SO in the long shadows of an early evening in the 37th June since the last, the last, the last—and my God, the last—at a venerable place where hope and desperation had so often melted into painful defeat, history finally let go."
–Holy…, Tim Layden, June 15, 2015