The Dec. 30 issue of Sports Illustrated features two regional covers. (Auburn's Chris Davis and Ricardo Louis grace the national cover.)
With the 49ers playing their last regular-season game at Candlestick Park Monday, Dec. 23, senior writer Chris Ballard bids farewell to a venue that has as many fond memories as it has bad ones.
"It's hard for those of us who grew up in the Bay Area to untangle all the Candlestick Park memories," Ballard writes. "First and foremost, of course, we remember the wind. It spun and crashed around the stadium, like some unruly drunk. It created mini tornadoes out of hot dog wrappers, blew in braying seagulls from the Bay and, once, picked up a batting cage and carried it 60 feet. It even knocked Giants pitcher Stu Miller off the mound mid-windup during the 1961 All-Star Game, leading to a balk. Or so the legend goes.
"My last Candlestick memory is that of a Niners playoff game against the Saints two years ago. There was no wind coming off the Bay and the sun was glorious. I attended with my older brother, the two of us ensconced in section UR13 amidst a pocket of longtime season-ticket holders, the type who’d tailgate for three hours before game time. Perhaps you remember what happened next: Alex Smith dropping straight back. Vernon Davis making what came to be known as the Catch III (after Steve Young to T.O., in 1999, was dubbed the Catch II). An improbable win. Pandemonium."
Lions wideout Calvin Johnson appears on the other SI regional cover. One of the most dangerous weapons in the game, Johnson has compiled 5,000 yards in three seasons. But where does he rank among the all-time greats? Senior writer Austin Murphy explores. "Jerry Rice remains the best pass catcher the NFL has ever seen -- few will contest that. But in his glorious 20-year pro career, Rice never had a three-season run such as the one Johnson is polishing off now," Murphy writes. "The fact is, Megatron makes catches that Rice never could for the simple reason that he doesn’t need to be open to make a play."