The cover ofSPORTS ILLUSTRATED is a public stage that showcases athletes and often measurestheir popularity. Muhammad Ali has graced 37 of our covers, second only to the49 of Michael Jordan. But there's also a taxi squad of largely anonymouscompetitors who have appeared on our cover as unwitting foils: quarterbackslaid out by looming linebackers; lead-footed point guards burned by soaringshooters; lightly regarded heavyweights flattened by left hooks. For some, thecover is a revelation: Indiana State swingman Bob Heaton didn't know thatMichigan State's Magic Johnson had dunked on him in the 1979 NCAA title gameuntil he picked up that week's magazine. But to many of the sporting world's"other guys" our cover is a mortifying memento.
Dwight Qawi, the boxer who fended off a Michael Spinks combination on an '83cover, says the photo of his face "all squinched up" still irks him."The fact is, my nose was broken," the erstwhile Camden Buzzsaw recallsbitterly. "The cover should have told the story of the fight: How Spinksran like a thief, how I knocked him down. He got a majority decision, but lotsof people thought I'd won, including me. That cover shot hurts more than mynose did."
Clearly, the sting of defeat lingers well beyond the issue's life on thenewsstands. Of the 20 "other guys" we tried to reach for this story,nine--including two former NBA players who became NBA coaches--either didn'treturn our calls or refused to be interviewed. Mike Guess, the Ohio Statesafety whom Oklahoma's Billy Sims used as a stepping stone on a cover 29 yearsago, initially hung up on us.
"Making thecover wasn't a pleasant experience," says Mark Washington, the DallasCowboys defensive back who was caught on our 1976 Super Bowl cover lying proneon the turf as Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Lynn Swann floated above him,poised to make a balletic grab. "I failed to knock the ball down," saysWashington wistfully. "My play wasn't bad; Swann's was super. I don't loseany sleep over it. Not anymore."
Washington wasone of three Dallas defenders humbled on our cover in postseason losses."The picture of my misplay haunted me for a long time," says formerlinebacker D.D. Lewis, who feared he would be remembered for standing byhelplessly as Steelers fullback Rocky Bleier leaped to haul in a pass in SuperBowl XIII. "I finally got to a place where I could let it go, but first Ihad to forgive myself for being human."
Cowboys fansnever forgave cornerback Everson Walls for allowing Dwight Clark to make whatwe billed as the super catch in the 1982 NFC playoffs. With the 49ers trailing27--21 in the final minute of play, Clark plucked a desperate Joe Montana heaveout of the air in the end zone to set up a 28--27 victory. Though Walls hadintercepted two passes and recovered a fumble in the game, all anyone caredabout was the one that got away. "The cover followed me around like a badcheck," says Walls. "For years my career was defined by that onenegative image."
Walls didn't feelvindicated until the 1991 Super Bowl, when as a member of the victorious NewYork Giants he appeared as our exulting cover boy. "I always said my sonCameron should keep a copy of that cover folded in his wallet," says Walls."If he got needled about the Catch, he could pull it out and say, 'Look,Dad did something positive, too.'"
Curiously, ourfirst "other guy," middleweight Gene Fullmer, was shown getting bashedin the belly by Sugar Ray Robinson in a 1957 title fight that Fullmer actuallywon. That photo, on the cover of the issue that previewed the rematch, wasprescient. In Round 5, Robinson landed two right hands to the body that droppedFullmer's guard. Fullmer waded into Robinson's left hook, pitched to the canvasand surrendered his crown. Mercifully, the 74-year-old Fullmer has no memory ofthe blow--or the cover.
"I don't haveAlzheimer's, I have Halfheimer's," he cracks. "I don't recall half ofwhat I ought to."
CHUVALO'S SKULLabsorbed a right from Muhammad Ali (a.k.a. Cassius Clay) on SI's April 11,1966, cover. "I took a lot of heat for supposedly throwing low blows inthat bout, but look at how high Ali wore his cup," says Chuvalo, who lostthat 15-rounder by decision and now, at age 68, lectures throughout Canada onthe dangers of using illegal drugs. "I felt like Elmer Fudd did when hefought Bugs Bunny and Bugs kept from getting hit by wearing his trunks up tohis ears."
BREEDEN WAScaught belly-down on his lone SI cover. When the Cincinnati Bengals cornerbackdropped too deep in a zone defense during the '82 Super Bowl, 49ers receiverEarl Cooper ran a curl and caught a TD pass in the flat. "It was a goodphoto," concedes Breeden, 52, a phone-systems salesman in Ohio, "but ifI knew it would be my only time on the front of SI, I'd have taken my helmetoff and struck a pose."
THE COWBOYSlinebacker says he was an innocent bystander to this 1979 Super Bowl snatch byRocky Bleier of the Steelers. "I was supposed to shove Rocky inside and goafter the fullback, Franco Harris," explains Lewis, 60, who now works incustomer relations for PotashCorp, a Texas firm that makes plant nutrients."When I glanced back, Rocky was all alone, wide open. I sprinted over tohim, tripped on his foot, and the next thing I know I'm splashed on the coverof SI with my tongue hanging out."
"I WAS TRYINGto take a charge on Magic Johnson," says former Indiana State swingman BobHeaton of SI's cover from the 1979 NCAA title game. "I got to the baskettoo late." As a child Heaton had wanted to be one of SI's FACES IN THECROWD. "I never expected my face to be on the cover," says the TerreHaute financial planner, 49. "In fact, it wasn't. But friends say thepicture shows my best side: my backside."
IN THIS 2005cover shot of Ohio State wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr., Miami of Ohio linebackerBurke was along for the ride. "People see this and think I got draggedacross the field," says Burke, 22, who graduated in May. He now lives inHouston and works for a global accounting firm. "Actually, I tackled Ted onour five-yard line. We held the Buckeyes on that series, and they settled for afield goal. Of course, we lost 34--14."
THE 6'11"Brigham Young center (number 50) looks like a Lilliputian next to Virginia's7'4" Ralph Sampson on this March 30, 1981 cover. "The camera angle madeit look like Sampson was way off the ground," says Kite, 44, who isdeveloping a real estate company in Orlando. "Come to think of it, hewas." Seven years later the two were briefly teammates on the SacramentoKings. "By then Ralph was burdened with knee problems," says Kite,whose 12-year NBA career was three years longer than Sampson's. "He didn'tplay much that season."