This story appears in the Dec. 1, 2014, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
The defensive back drops into his stance across from Packers wideout Jordy Nelson, and this is what he sees: A tall guy, 6' 3" in bare feet; seemingly a little on the slender side, but at 217 pounds, actually much bigger and more powerful than he looks in his uniform. Good at using his hands to fend off tight coverage at the line of scrimmage, deadly fast once he gets free. Totally in sync with his gifted quarterback. Precise, relentless, nonverbal in the extreme. The D-back has studied Nelson's tape (maybe he's played against him previously), so he knows all of this. There was a time when he might have also noticed the color of the face inside the yellow helmet, but he knows by now that's irrelevant. Or at least he should know.
The defensive back knows a lot, because there are few secrets in the NFL. But he doesn't know enough. He doesn't know about Riley County, in northeast Kansas, where the Nelson family has been farming the earth and raising livestock for four generations, beginning early in the morning and working into the darkness—every single day—to support families whose children never strayed far from home in adulthood. That is, until one of them grew so big and ran so fast that he earned a job as a professional football player instead of buying some land of his own (although he's done that too).
He doesn't know that this football player grew up helping tend 200 head of Black Angus cattle, farming more than 1,000 acres of crop with just his father and his older brother, working long hours before and after school, every day a fresh set of chores. He doesn't know how, as a 12-year-old boy, this player drove a tractor along the shoulder of a busy highway, hauling a gravity box full of grain behind him en route to the elevator in town. "Cars just flying past," says Nelson, now 29. "Me driving along at 10 miles an hour." He doesn't know about Nelson fixing fence on cold winter days and checking on cattle to identify which ones were in heat, ready for artificial insemination. Or about the worst job of all, three summer weeks every year spent walking the endless rows of a sorghum field after harvest, hacking down chest-high stalks of shattercane with a corn knife so they wouldn't go to seed and overwhelm the field in the spring. Sometimes hot, sometimes muddy. "And boring," says Nelson. "Really boring."
The NFL locker room is a vast stew of cultures, 53 men often linked only by the game they play together. They come from inner cities and suburbs, from giant universities and tiny colleges, from the deep South and the Midwest. They are African-American (more) and Caucasian (less), and countless variations on each. There was a time, long ago, when the United States was a very different place, when many of these men were farmers. The great Sammy Baugh, who quarterbacked the Redskins from 1937 through '52, was born on a farm outside of Temple, Texas. In the book The National Forgotten League, author Dan Daly wrote that Joe Stydahar, who played tackle for the Bears between '36 and '46, and who coached the Rams and the Cardinals in the early '50s, once said, "Farm kids have the best chance to succeed in pro football today. They lead a more rugged life than the city youngsters."
There is no database of farmers in the NFL, but there undoubtedly are far fewer now than there once were. (And in the general population as well; according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there are 2.2 million farms in the country, down from a peak of 6.8 million in 1935.) But Nelson is absolutely a farmer. And that life—"farming is not a job, it's a lifestyle," says Nelson's father, Alan—is the foundation of Nelson's world. He not only grew up on a farm; he also married a Riley County girl, Emily Rothlisberger. They first met in kindergarten and now have a four-year-old son, Royal, named for Emily's father, Royce, and Jordy's father, Alan. Nelson plans to move back to Kansas when his career is over and raise his family on a farm. He even brings his wife and son home in the summer and operates a combine to help his brother and father with the wheat harvest.
That life is also the foundation of Nelson's football game. It is the farmer's work ethic—along with size, speed and sticky hands, not small factors—that prepared him to reach the highest level of NFL receivers. It's something, maybe the most important thing, that the defensive back across from him doesn't know. "Jordy is a hardworking farm boy," says Vikings receiver Greg Jennings, who played alongside Nelson in Green Bay from 2008 through '12. "His physical skill set is second to none, but he's smart, he works at his craft, he studies the game. He's a hardworking farm boy in his life, and he's a hardworking farm boy on the field."
On the third Monday night in November more than 500 people have scurried in from the single-digit cold and lacerating wind to the asylum of a sprawling ballroom at the downtown KI Convention Center in Green Bay. The occasion: a dessert fund-raiser celebrating the 10th anniversary of the city's chapter of Young Life, an international Christian-based youth mentoring program. Jordy and Emily Nelson are the night's official hosts, and as attendees gather up giant slabs of cake and pie and move toward round dining tables, Jordy answers questions for a series of brief television interviews. As he speaks, a line forms nearby, fans seeking autographs and pictures. Nelson obliges each with a broad smile that forces both of his eyes shut and doesn't stop until it's time for the program to begin.
The Nelsons are introduced to thunderous applause. Jordy thanks everyone for coming out and supporting the cause. Emily says a prayer and then adds, "We hope everyone leaves here tonight with a light heart, a light spirit and, hopefully, a lighter checkbook." There are peals of laughter as the couple leaves the stage, Packers royalty in bloom.
"Guys still underestimate Jordy's ability when he's standing in front of them," says Jennings. "Honestly, I don't know what more they need to see."
Green Bay is unlike any professional sports city in America, by far the smallest (its population of 104,779 is only marginally bigger than the capacity of Lambeau Field) yet among the most historically significant. Packers fans divide their emotions between a prolonged embrace of the Lombardi-era 1960s and the Favre '90s, and zealous expectations from the present bunch. These days they're happy. This year's team is 8-3 after Sunday's 24-21 win over the Vikings. They sit atop the NFC North, a genuine Super Bowl threat. Nelson's chemistry with quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the central element in Green Bay's explosive offense.
In 11 games Nelson has caught 68 passes, eighth in the NFL. He averages 15.7 yards per catch, which ranks 16th in the league but second among the 22 pass catchers with at least 55 grabs. He has nine receiving touchdowns (only two receivers, Dez Bryant and teammate Randall Cobb, have more) and six receptions of more than 40 yards, second to the Redskins' DeSean Jackson, who has nine. Nelson most often lines up as an outside receiver, from where he can schematically lift the top off coverage schemes and open the middle for Cobb (58 receptions, 77.6% of them for first downs), Davante Adams, tight end Andrew Quarless and others, but from where he has also consistently torched corners for long gains, often on presnap improvisations between him and Rodgers. "Body language, unspoken adjustments, eye contact—we've made a lot of hay on those things," says the quarterback. "We have really good chemistry on and off the field. We talk a lot about route concepts and adjustments, making things look like they're the same thing we did last week, when actually they're different."
Nelson's success on deep routes is built on a tall stack of qualities. "First, great strength and combative hand technique to get off the line of scrimmage," says Packers receivers coach Edgar Bennett. "Second, he's fast." That much should be obvious. As a high school senior in 2003, Nelson ran 100 meters in 10.63 seconds to win a Kansas state championship; that year only 15 boys in the U.S. ran 10.52 or faster. Nelson ran only a 4.51 40 at the NFL scouting combine, but once he unwinds his long stride, he's a burner. In '11, as Nelson was on his way to 1,263 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns, Jennings told reporters, "They underestimate him.... Seriously, a lot of it has to do with the fact that guys look at him and say, 'O.K., he's the white guy; he can't be that good.' Well, he is that good." Last week Jennings told Sports Illustrated, "Guys still underestimate Jordy's ability when he's standing in front of them, and honestly, I don't know what more they need to see." For his part, Nelson sprints away from any discussion of race. "When that came up, reporters came to my locker and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, no. No.' That's so awkward. I do not want to be in the headlines, especially not talking about race. That is not my deal." He says a defender once mentioned his race to him in college, but it has never happened in his seven-year NFL career.
Once Nelson is free and running on deep routes, he is adept at "stacking" defensive backs—keeping them behind him, denying their leverage to defend the pass—and staying off of the sideline. "Holding a tight line," says Bennett, "giving Aaron a window to throw into."
Jennings, who played with Rodgers for five seasons (and Brett Favre for two), says, "You've got a quarterback who can throw any receiver open at any given time if the receiver understands what he's supposed to do. And Jordy understands what he's supposed to do. Combine that with Jordy's skills, and what you get is a joy to watch."
It's been that way for the better part of four years. Dating back to the start of the 2011 season, Nelson's 39 touchdown receptions are fourth in the NFL (behind Jimmy Graham, Dez Bryant and Rob Gronkowski), and his 49 catches of 25 or more yards rank third (behind Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas, who have 52 each). The trigger for all of this, says Rodgers, was Nelson's nine-catch, 140-yard performance in the Packers' 31-25 win over the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, four years ago. "Since that [game], he's been our best receiver," says Rodgers. "He took a big confidence jump after that game." In truth, it had been building for a long time.
As far as Alan Nelson can verify, the first in his family to settle in Riley County and start working the land was his great-great-grandfather, a Swedish immigrant whose first name he doesn't know—"something Nelson," he says. That man begat Elmer Nelson, who begat Raymond Nelson, who is Alan's father and who still putters around the homestead at age 83. Farmers all.
Alan married Kim Wohler, whose father, Fred, was a farmer in nearby Leonardville. They went to high school together, married and had two sons, Mike and then Jordy (named after a character on a soap opera) and a daughter, Kelsey. Alan and Kim divorced in 2010; Kim runs the family's seven-year-old restaurant, Nelson's Landing. Mike, 31, has his own farm now, and three daughters. Kelsey, 27, played basketball at Kansas State; she's now a third-grade teacher and basketball coach in Riley County.
The boys did two things: They farmed and played sports. "But everything we did," says Mike, "was scheduled around chores." Mike was a grade ahead of Jordy, and they played basketball and football together at Riley County High, which had approximately 250 students in grades 9 through 12. Mike was a rugged 5' 9". Jordy grew past him to a slender 6' 1" in high school; he played quarterback, and in highlights looks like he's marauding past grade-schoolers. "We'd put the ball in his hands," says Steve Wagner, who has been coaching Riley County for 31 years, "and he would just take off. He was so fast. It's like the pads didn't slow him down."
Still, Nelson's only college football interest came from in-state D-II schools Emporia State and Washburn. Nelson passed on both and walked on at Kansas State, 20 miles southeast in Manhattan, where the Nelson family had attended most home games dating back to the program's late-1990s renaissance under coach Bill Snyder. "I didn't want to go to Washburn, have a great career and think, What if I went to K-State?" says Jordy. "I didn't want any what-ifs."
There he struggled for two years, miscast as a free safety, in part because Riley County grad Jon McGraw, who was built much like Nelson, had flourished as a Wildcats safety and gone on to a successful NFL career. "Jon was a lot more physical than I was," says Nelson. "I preferred to run from contact. Still do." Mike Nelson would drive to home games, watch from the family seats in the south end zone as Jordy warmed up, and then leave when the game started.
After two seasons Snyder called Nelson and receiver Marcus Watts into his office and asked if they would consider switching positions. Nelson ran with the change. He caught a team-high 45 passes as a sophomore, 39 as a junior (despite a nagging left-knee injury and a new coach, Ron Prince), then exploded in his senior year for 122 receptions and 11 touchdowns from quarterback Josh Freeman in Prince's spread passing system. He also returned two punts for touchdowns and completed two passes, both touchdowns. "That year we were all like, WWJD?" says Watts, who became a starter at safety. "What Will Jordy Do next?"
Nelson's signature play came on the first weekend of October against rival Kansas. Early in that game Nelson faced press-man coverage from cornerback Aqib Talib, a projected first-round pick with reputed 4.39-second 40-yard speed. Nelson scorched Talib for a 68-yard touchdown catch, running away in the final 30 yards as Talib quit chasing. "Freeman threw the best ball of his life," Talib says of that play. "It was nothing that Jordy Nelson did. He just outside-released. [Nelson] was running slow, actually, and then when Freeman threw the ball, he just sped up on me." Sped up. Exactly.
Speaking in general terms, not specifically about the Talib play, Penn State coach James Franklin, who was Nelson's offensive coordinator at Kansas State, says, "There are stereotypes in football, especially at certain positions. Those stereotypes are wrong. A lot of people didn't want to give Jordy credit for being what he is—big, fast and strong. I just know we wanted to get him the ball as often and in as many ways as possible."
Seven years after that play, Packers general manager Ted Thompson leans back in a conference room swivel chair in his Lambeau Field office. In 2008 he selected Nelson with Green Bay's first draft choice, No. 36 overall. "There was no concern on our part that Jordy couldn't run fast enough," he says. "I guess you'd say the rest is history."
Only eight current Packers have been with the franchise as long as Nelson. Once the silent observer in team and position meetings, he's become both a vocal presence and a mentor to the cavalcade of young receivers in Aaron's World. "He gives more of himself now," says Rodgers. "The epitome of a great teammate. "In July, Nelson signed a four-year, $39 million contract extension through 2018. Green Bay remains the ideal home for a guy with what Snyder calls, "real Midwestern values." Nelson's father says, "It couldn't have worked out better for Jordy than to wind up in Green Bay." To help his teammates understand these roots, Nelson has brought many of them back to Riley. Jennings recalls doing "low-end manual labor." Rodgers says he told Nelson, "That tractor with climate control [in the cab] isn't real farming."
Money is unlikely to change the Nelson clan. Alan flies into Milwaukee for home games—when he comes in at all, because farms don't close—and then drives up to Green Bay, because direct flights are more expensive. "I know, here I am saying I can't fly into Green Bay to watch my son play NFL football," he says. "But that's the way we roll around here. Jordy has filthy money, but look at the property he bought: It's got junk equipment, trees that need trimming. He'll deal with it when he gets home. He's not going to hire somebody to do it."
As Nelson nears the later years of his career, he both plans for a life back in Kansas and better appreciates the foundation that it gave him. "Farming teaches you that nothing is handed out," he says. "If you take a day off, you have to work twice as hard the next day." When he goes home in the summer, he drives the same 2003 Chevy Silverado that he bought as a junior at Kansas State. His land sits, awaiting his return.
Meanwhile, there's a pasture that backs up to Nelson's home in Green Bay. One day last spring Nelson went outside, mowed his lawn (of course he did) and bagged the clippings. When he was finished, he gathered up the cut grass, hauled it out to the fence line and dumped it into the pasture. Soon after, the cows arrived and began eating.
2014 Sports Illustrated Covers
December 29, 2014 | The Buckeyes are down to their third-string quarterback for coach Urban Meyer, who is two victories away from claiming his third national title. *This is a double issue: Dec. 29, 2014 0 Jan. 5, 2015.
December 29, 2014 | Oregon’s high-powered offense led by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota looks to lead the Ducks to their first national championship.
December 29, 2014 | Florida State, winners of 29 straight games, are led last year’s Heisman winner Jameis Winston and a resiliency unmatched in college football.
December 29, 2014 | The Crimson Tide are back in the title hunt, seeking their fourth national championship in the last six seasons.
December 22, 2014 | Jon Lester’s arrival in Chicago, along with a six-year $155 million contract, has expectations high for the "lovable losers," who are now 12-1 favorites to win the 2015 World Series.
December 22, 2014 | The San Francisco 49ers three-year NFC Championship game appearance run is coming to end and head coach Jim Harbaugh’s tenure with the team could soon be coming to an end as well.
December 15, 2014 | San Francisco Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner had a postseason for the ages, giving up only six earned runs while pitching a record 52 2/3 innings helping the Giants to their third World Series title in the past five seasons. He is seventh MLB pitcher to be awarded Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year.
December 8, 2014 | The Pelicans do-it-all forward Anthony Davis is headed for superstardom, complete with an offensive game that’s hard to defend and a fearless defensive presence around the basket.
December 8, 2014 | Wisconsin’s record-setting running back Melvin Gordon has his sights on the FBS single-season rushing record and the Heisman Trophy.
December 1, 2014 | Big, strong and fast, Jordy Nelson is perhaps the NFL's best deep threat and undoubtedly one of the league's best receivers, even though he hasn't always been recognized as such. On pace to finish atop the franchise's all-time leaders in receptions and receiving yards, Nelson, who's on this week's SI cover, is a solid bet to make his first Pro Bowl this season, and he's helped the Packers (8-3) become a Super Bowl contender once again.
November 24, 2014 | The Patriots may have a found another diamond in the rough, this time with undrafted running back Jonas Gray, who ran for 199 yards and 4 touchdowns in a Monday night victory over the Colts.
November 24, 2014 | One of the NHL’s best defensemen, P.K. Subban of the Canadiens. hopes to help bring the Stanley Cup to Montreal for the first time since 1993.
November 17, 2014 | The NFL’s most dominate defensive player, Texans All-Pro J.J. Watt, wants to focus on nothing else but the next play and piling up victories.
November 17, 2014 | The Arizona Cardinals are sporting the league’s best record, despite injuries across the board, including to their starting quarterback.
College Basketball preview: Duke
November 10, 2014 | Freshman Jahlil Okafor and the Blue Devils have the nation’s No. 1 recruit class and will look to avoid last season’s disappointment after losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Mercer.
College Basketball preview: Kentucky
November 10, 2014 | With nine talented McDonald's All-Americans on the roster and sky-high expectations, preseason No. 1 Kentucky leads a pack of teams looking to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis.
College Basketball preview: Wisconsin
November 10, 2014 | Paced by the nation’s most efficient offense, Wisconsin and Wooden award candidate Frank Kaminsky look to dethrone Michigan State as the Big Ten’s top team.
College Basketball preview: Texas
November 10, 2014 | With five returning starters plus freshman Myles Turner, Texas may just have enough to end Kansas and its 10-year stranglehold on the Big 12.
College Basketball preview: Arizona
November 10, 2014 | The Wildcats are paced by a ferocious defense and another stellar recruiting class but can they break through to get to the Final Four?
The World Series
November 10, 2014 | San Francisco’s third World Series victory in five seasons can be credited by a dominate pitching performance by Madison Bumgarner and a shrewd front office that is built to win.
The World Series special issue
November 3, 2014 | SI's special digital edition on the heels of the San Francisco Giants winning Game 7 of the World Series over the Kansas City Royals.
The World Series, Royals and Giants
November 3, 2014 | As the World Series comes to a close, the Giants and Royals try to play the kind of baseball that got them this far: playing stingy defense to go along with outstanding pitching.
November 3, 2014 | Admit reports of locker room turmoil, the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks win over the Panthers on Sunday have quieted their critics…..for now.
October 27, 2014 | The Cleveland Cavaliers squarely have a target on their backs after LeBron James and Kevin Love joined the team. But does that make them the favorites for the championship?
Kansas City Royals
October 27, 2014 | The World Series between the Royals and Giants may lack power hitting prowess, but will feature plenty of running, timely hitting and outstanding pitching.
October 20, 2014 | Mississippi State quarterback and Heisman candidate Dak Prescott has the Bulldogs sitting on top of the polls after a shocking run through some of the top teams in the SEC.
October 20, 2014 | There are thousands of homeless athletes around the United States and an SI investigation found that most of them thrive and survive with the help of sports.
Ole Miss and Mississippi State
October 13, 2014 | The Magnolia State was front and center of the college football universe last Saturday, with Ole Miss and Mississippi State scoring historic victories and throwing the college football playoff into complete chaos.
Kansas City Royals
October 13, 2014 | Lacking power, but plenty of speed, the Kansas City Royals are four victories from their first World Series appearance since 1985.
Adam Jones and Alex Ovechkin
October 6, 2014 | Hoping to avoid early playoff exits, fans of the Beltway teams pins its championship hopes on Orioles outfielder Adam Jones and Capitals center Alex Ovechkin.
Adam Wainwright and T. J Oshie
October 6, 2014 | The St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues, led by Adam Wainwright and T. J Oshie, look to get past last year’s disappointing playoff exits.
Clayton Kershaw and Anze Kopitar
October 6, 2014 | Although Los Angeles has no NFL team, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw and Kings forward Anze Kopitar are making sure that fans in the area don't miss America's most popular sport.
September 29, 2014 | As New York Yankees shortshop Derek Jeter closes the book on a 20-year career, he reflects on what has changed in the time that he has been in pinstripes.
September 22, 2014 | Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is almost certainly going to be a first-round NFL draft pick next year, but why are scouts so high on him?
September 15, 2014 | The focus is now on the National Football League and how they handled the situation involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
September 8, 2014 | The case can be made that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is already one of the NFL’s best at his position. Just don’t tell him that.
September 8, 2014 | The National League’s reigning MVP Andrew McCutchen is leading the Pirates back to another possible playoff berth.
Tony Romo and Nick Foles
September 1, 2014 | The NFC East features two of the most talented signal callers in the league in Tony Romo and Nick Foles. But if neither team’s defense shows up, both might be sitting at home watching the playoffs this season.
Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick
September 1, 2014 | The NFC West title goes through Seattle, but the 49ers and quarterback Colin Kaepernick will try to reach the NFC Championship for a fourth straight year.
Drew Brees and Matt Ryan
September 1, 2014 | Atlanta and New Orleans both have enough offensive firepower to outscore anyone. And outscoring, and not stopping opponents might be enough to win the NFC South.
Jay Cutler and Matthew Stafford
September 1, 2014 | Two quarterbacks, Chicago’s Jay Cutler and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, look to detrone the Packers in the NFC North and lead their teams to a division title.
August 25, 2014 | Mo'ne Davis, a 5-foot-4 inch, 111-pound eighth grader is not only taking the Little League World Series by storm, but the rest of the nation is starting to take notice as well.
August 25, 2014 | Lakers star Kobe Bryant knows the end of his career is near, but is doing to things to prolong a Hall of Fame legacy and to set up for his future.
Kansas City Royals
August 25, 2014 | After nearly 30 years of missing the playoffs, the AL Central leading Kansas City Royals are on the brink of joining the postseason party.
August 18, 2014 | Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston seeks to become the first back-to-back winner in almost 40 years. The Seminoles are also big favorites to repeat as national champions.
August 18, 2014 | Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper hopes to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 season, by leading the Crimson Tide back to the title game.
August 18, 2014 | Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight looks for a repeat performance after bursting on the scene by shredding Alabama’s defense in the Sugar Bowl.
August 18, 2014 | UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley passed up NFL riches to try to lead UCLA back into the national spotlight.
August 18, 2014 | Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller looks for a better end of the season, after two consecutive losses knocked the Buckeyes out of the championship picture.
The 60th Anniversary Issue
August 11, 2014 | With over 3,000 covers spanning the last seven decades, Sports Illustrated's 60th anniversary issue pays tribute to the readers as the cover features a mosaic with thousands of reader submitted photos.
August 4, 2014 | UCLA quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful Brett Hundley passed up NFL riches to try to lead the Bruins back to national prominence.
August 4, 2014 | The NFL’s leading rusher in 2013, LeSean McCoy credits offseason workouts for the reason he has been able to stay healthy.
August 4, 2014 | Jamaal Charles, SI’s No. 1 fantasy running back, accounted for 35 percent of the Kansas City Chiefs offense, while leading the team in rushing and receiving.
August 4, 2014 | The NFL’s offensive rookie of the year looks to improve on an 1,100 yard rushing season.
July 28, 2014 | Rory McIlroy keeps things in perspective as he is shooting to complete the career Grand Slam at next year’s Masters.
July 28, 2014 | As Saints quarterback Drew Brees enters his 14th NFL season, he relies on flexibility, core stability and rotational strength to keep in shape.
July 21, 2014 | Cleveland has reason to believe again after LeBron James decided to rejoin the Cavaliers. SI takes a closer look at how James' return came together and what it means for Northern Ohio.
July 7-14 | When you think of the Chicago Cubs, the first name that usually comes to mind is Ernie Banks. Banks, along with former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Nate Newton, are featured in SI's "Where are they now?" double issue. In the issue, Banks explains why the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. "First of all, Wrigley Field. It's a different place to play," Banks tells SI's Rich Cohen. "I mean, the wind blows all kinds of ways. Foul lines are very close to the wall."
July 7-14 | Nate Newton and his fellow Dallas Cowboys linemen helped running back Emmitt Smith win four rushing titles.
June 30, 2014 | This week's Sports Illustrated cover features Houston Astros rookie right fielder George Springer, who is trying to help the team climb out of baseball's cellar. Springer, who has 14 home runs and 39 RBI in only 59 games this season, along with major league hits leader Jose Altuve, still have some work to do as Houston sits at 33-45, good for last place in the American League West as of June 25. Check out the Sports Illustrated print edition this week (subscribe here) for SI.com writer Ben Reiter’s piece on how scouting and modern-day metrics are potentially building the Astros toward championship contention in the future.
June 23, 2014 | Chuck Noll, the coach behind the Pittsburgh Steelers' famed "Steel Curtain" defense, was undoubtedly one of the greatest coaches ever to man an NFL sideline. In 23 seasons, Noll compiled a 209-156-1 record, but the Hall of Fame coach will be remembered most for leading the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories in six years. Noll died in his sleep at his Pittsburgh-area home last week at the age of 82. This week's Sports Illustrated features remembrances from SI senior writer Tim Layden and former Pittsburgh running back Rocky Bleier, who anchored the backfield of those championship Steeler teams.
June 23, 2014 | The goal by defenseman Alec Martinez at 14:43 of double overtime in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final capped one of the most remarkable championship runs in NHL history. En route to winning their second Cup since 2012, the gritty, resilient Los Angeles Kings became the league's first team to win three Game 7s on the road during the same postseason, and the first to play as many as 26 games before securing the coveted chalice. They also survived seven playoff games in which they could have been eliminated, and rallied from two-goal deficits four times, including the first two matches of their final series against the New York Rangers. In this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, Brian Cazeneuve explores how General Manager Dean Lombardi has built a model franchise and budding dynasty with a shrewd philosophy.
June 23, 2014 | San Antonio demolished Miami so quickly in the NBA Finals that it required real effort to catalog all of the ways the Spurs had distinguished themselves from their previous title teams, from past NBA champions, and from the other 29 teams that competed for a title this season. Boiling down the Spurs' standout characteristics into a laundry list of adjectives might look something like this: dominant, international, systematic, deep, explosive, fluid, unselfish, balanced, disciplined, focused, redemptive and fun. In a cover story for the June 23 issue of Sports Illustrated, Lee Jenkins touches on many of these attributes as he traces San Antonio's return from a devastating 2013 Finals loss to Miami.
NHL and NBA
June 16, 2014 | The cover of Sports Illustrated this week announces the NHL's return to that most coveted of all states: hotness. The league has reached this scorching status for, presumably, the first time since 1994, when the cover on which this week's issue riffs ? WHY THE NHL'S HOT AND THE NBA'S NOT ? originally ran as an SI cover.
June 9, 2014 | There is no small effort involved in getting the three best soccer players in the world (Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suárez) and the captain of the U.S. national team (Clint Dempsey) on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine in the same week. But that's exactly what SI did for our World Cup 2014 preview issue, which features four different covers, all of which are mixed evenly in the distribution of magazines to subscribers and newsstands this week. It's a historic moment for soccer in SI, the 19th time the sport has appeared on the cover of the magazine since it started being published weekly in 1954. Messi, Ronaldo and Suárez are making their first appearances on the cover, while Dempsey is on the front for the second time.
June 9, 2014
June 9, 2014
June 9, 2014
New York Rangers
June 2, 2014 | From out of the shadow of tragedy, the Rangers have gone on a stirring playoff run that has fueled the passion of their devoted fans, summoned memories of the team's epic journey to the Stanley Cup in 1994 and become one of the most compelling stories of the NHL's postseason. In this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, Brian Cazeneuve examines how the Broadway Blueshirts, with new coach Alain Vigneault and a mix of veteran stars and homegrown talent, have shed decades of mediocrity.
June 2, 2014 | Troy Tulowitzki has been the best player in baseball through the first two months of the season, and that hot start has landed him a regional cover of Sports Illustrated. In this week's issue, staff writer Ben Reiter profiles the early National League MVP favorite, who has been tattooing the ball all season, especially in the friendly confines of Coors Field.
May 26, 2014 | The first 100 days of new NBA commissioner Adam Silver's administration has been like no other in sports history. In this week's SI cover story, staff writer Lee Jenkins explains how a life both privileged and unconventional prepared Silver for this moment.
May 19, 2014 | After winning the NBA's Most Valuable Player award for the first time in his career, Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant appears on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated. In the Sports Illustrated cover story, Durant is profiled by SI's Chris Ballard, who examines the Thunder star's quest for the only missing piece of hardware in his trophy case: an NBA title.
May 19, 2014 | Flamboyant, outspoken and one of baseball's best players: Carlos Gomez has raised a lot of attention as the table-setter for the Brewers, and his rise from former top prospect to MVP candidate has him gracing one of the regional covers of the May 19 issue of Sports Illustrated.
May 19, 2014 | Some went wild when the Cleveland Browns selected Johnny Manziel at No. 22 overall, but many Clevelanders remain wary of Johnny Football. Mark Bechtel details that tension in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated.
May 12, 2014 | Baseball's best player now has his own national Sports Illustrated cover. This week's issue features Mike Trout, the Angels' superstar and the best young player in the game, as he pushes forward with a career that has already been historically great. Along the way, SI senior writer Tom Verducci tries to answer the question of just how good Trout can be.
May 12, 2014 | Jose Abreu, whose power has already made him a force to be reckoned with in the majors, landed SI's regional cover this week.
May 5, 2014 | The most polarizing figure in the 2014 NFL draft graces the cover of Sports Illustrated's NFL draft preview issue. Former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been called everything from a future All-Pro to a bust waiting to happen. What's the reality? TheMMQB's Peter King sat down with five of the best quarterback evaluators in the business to get a definitive read on Johnny Football.
April 28, 2014 | Why would a man turn down $144 million? In this week's cover story, that's the question Albert Chen asked Max Scherzer, who rejected a lucrative extension offer from the Detroit Tigers.
April 21, 2014 | The people of Boston made a strong showing? would you expect anything else?? when SI put out a casting call for a photo shoot last Saturday at the Boston Marathon finish line on Boylston Street, steps from where two bombs exploded on Patriots' Day last year. A crowd of 3,000, including runners who were near the blast, first responders and mayor Marty Walsh, arrived by 7 a.m. to celebrate the city's?and the race's?resilience in the face of the terror attacks. This week's bonus feature from SI Senior Writer Scott Price, "Start at the Finish" focuses on the marathon and examines the lives of more than 15 people who were affected by the bombing, all of whom bring a different perspective to the race. He writes, "The Boston Marathon can't help but regenerate itself. It will always be new because there's something about its history and civic fervor, its oddly attractive personal toll, even its most catastrophic moment, that makes converts of us all." Also part of this week's Boston package is "The Point After," written by David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. His firsthand account explains how proud he is of the city and its citizens, and how incredible the recovery process has been in the last 12 months. Says Ortiz: "If I had to make a speech this year on Patriots' Day, I'd say, 'God continue to bless America.' Because even though it began with so much pain and tragedy, the last 12 months have been a blessing." Behind the scenes (VIDEO): 'Boston Strong' cover shoot, one year later BISHOP: A year after the Marathon bombings, Bill Iffrig reflects on tragedy
On Monday night, the UConn Huskies defeated the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54 to win the school's fourth national championship. It was the end of a remarkable and improbable run for the Huskies, which were a No. 7 seed coming into the NCAA tournament and had to defeat the Nos. 2 (Villanova), 3 (Iowa State) and 4 (Michigan State) seeds in the East regional. In the national semifinal, they defeated the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, the Florida Gators, before taking down the Gators' SEC rivals for the title. Shabazz Napier, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, averaged 26.2 points per game in the Huskies' six-game stretch. In the cover story, senior writer Michael Rosenberg describes UConn's journey "from the brink of the abyss to a fourth national title."
Kentucky and Wisconsin, winners of the Midwest and West regionals, respectively, each earned a cover of Sports Illustrated this week. In the Final Four previews, our writers make a case for each of the Final Four teams ? and take you inside Kentucky's incredible run to Dallas.
Kentucky and Wisconsin, winners of the Midwest and West regionals, respectively, each earned a cover of Sports Illustrated this week. In the Final Four previews, our writers make a case for each of the Final Four teams ? and take you inside Kentucky's incredible run to Dallas.
Sports Illustrated's 2014 MLB season preview is here, led by the newest Japanese star, Masahiro Tanaka. The Yankees' $175 million investment and former star in Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball is the national cover for SI¹s preview issue, which also features three additional regional covers. Angels superstar Mike Trout, new Mariners slugger Robinson Cano, and Cardinals stalwart Yadier Molina landed the other three covers.
Sports Illustrated's 2014 MLB season preview is here, and Cardinals stalwart Yadier Molina graces one of the regional covers.
Sports Illustrated's 2014 MLB season preview is here, and Mariners slugger Robinson Cano graces one of the regional covers.
Sports Illustrated's 2014 MLB season preview is here, and Angels superstar Mike Trout graces one of the regional covers.
The Gators have rattled off 26 straight wins, picking up an outright SEC championship along the way. The No. 1 overall seed looks strong heading into the NCAA tournament and will face favorable matchups in the South regional.
Syracuse struggled down the stretch, but don't forget about a team that started the season 25-0. Canadian import Tyler Ennis has proved his ability to make game-winning plays throughout the regular season and will be ready to do the same in the Big Dance.
In the regular season, no team could stop the Shockers, as they finished 34-0. The Shockers face an incredibly difficult road to the Final Four in a Midwest region stacked with talent, and they're picking up doubters left and right -- but maybe that's just what they want.
Gary Harris has been the go-to guy for the Spartans all season, and now he's got a fully healthy team behind him. Never bet against Tom Izzo in March.
Arizona spent eight weeks at No. 1 before losing Brandon Ashley ? and some games. But now the Wildcats have rediscovered their mojo and are ready to make a run in the tournament.
The defending national champion UConn Huskies enter the tournament with a perfect 34-0 record, and hope to finish it off with the fifth perfect season in school history and a record ninth women's NCAA title.
After surpassing 3,000 points in his already illustrious collegiate career, Doug McDermott lands on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. The image is inspired by a cover of Larry Bird, "College Basketball's Secret Weapon," from Nov. 28, 1977. In this issue's cover story, "The Hypnotic Doug McDermott," Luke Winn explains McDermott's calm and recounts the landmark moments from his four years at Creighton. You will learn incredible details about college basketball's best player.
Rising Stars: Doug McDermott (SI VIDEO)
This week's Sports Illustrated cover is a trip back in time. Pete Rose, the all-time MLB hits leader and one of the most polarizing figures in the sport's history, graces the cover of the March 10 issue. The reason for Charlie Hustle's stint on the cover? The upcoming release of Kostya Kennedy's Rose biography, "Pete Rose: An American Dilemma." In his book, Kennedy provides a detailed look back at Rose's life, as well as a portrait of the Hit King in retirement, and re-evaluates Rose's lifetime ban from baseball for gambling.