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JINXED! FINALLY, THE CAT'S OUT OF THE BAG AND THE TRUTH CAN BE REVEALED: THERE IS NO SI COVER JINX

JINXED! FINALLY, THE CAT'S OUT OF THE BAG AND THE TRUTH CAN BE REVEALED: THERE IS NO SI COVER JINX

, Q. Wasn't Michael Dukakis on the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED?
Just before the 1988 election? I seem to remember he was wearing a
Boston Red Sox cap and was posed against the leftfield wall at Fenway
Park.
A. No, Michael Dukakis was not on SI's cover.
Q. What about Gorbachev? I remember him on skates, unloading a
slap shot. The billing read ''Ice and Politics: Strength of the Big
Red Machine.''
A. Not true.
Q. I remember Pete Rose on the cover. I'm sure he was on the
cover. . . .
A. Pete Rose was on a lot of covers. Probably on all the major
magazines.
Q. Well, something. Wasn't there a horse, picked on the SI cover
to win the Kentucky Derby, who was delivering beer with the
Clydesdales two weeks later? Wasn't there a batting champion who saw
his face on the magazine, then started to hit with the bat upside
down? Was that Wade Boggs? Tony Gwynn? Wasn't there a quarterback who
fell down an open manhole on the way to pick up an SI with his
picture on the front?
A. You're talking about the SI Jinx. There is no SI Jinx.
Q. I seem to remember. . . .
A. There are odd occurrences, but there is no jinx. A jinx is a
superstition. Superstitions are silly. How many times has a black cat
crossed your path? Did bad things happen?
Q. There was a black cat on the cover. I remember it was held by
Bo Schembechler. The headline was something like ''Bo Isn't Afraid to
Go to the Rose Bowl Again.''
A. The idea of the SI cover jinx was started long ago. Some people
say it was inherited. Walter Winchell, the columnist and broadcaster,
used to talk about a TIME magazine jinx. The jump was easy to make to
SI. Maybe SI was even easier to tag with a jinx. You have athletes.
You have results in sports every day. When people fail, they look for
reasons. A picture on a cover is an easy explanation. It removes the
feeling of personal failure.
Q. Isn't there an SI cover every year that shows the new manager
of the New York Yankees? I seem to remember he usually is pictured
under the words ''Here to Stay.''
A. Thirty-five years ago SI was a far different magazine from what
it is today. The technology behind color photography was different.
An SI cover had to be sent to the printer six weeks before
publication. This meant that covers had to be previews rather than
reviews of sports events. Six weeks is a long time in sports.
Potential pennant winners can be in the cellar in that time.
Q. Mike Tyson. Wasn't he on the cover the week before he fought
Buster Douglas?
A. An example. In 1957, the Cincinnati Reds were cruising in
August when an SI cover was prepared for the Sept. 9 issue with a
photo of shortstop Roy McMillan. The billing was something like
''Hero Shortstop of Pennant-Winning Reds.'' But Cincy went into a
slide. All that could be changed at the last minute was the billing;
it became ''The Best Was Not Quite Good Enough.''
Q. Michael Spinks. Wasn't he on the cover the week before he
fought Mike Tyson?
A. Again, a 1957 example. On Nov. 18, the cover showed the
Oklahoma football team with the billing ''Why Oklahoma Is
Unbeatable.'' The Sooners had a 47- game winning streak. On the
Saturday after the magazine hit the newsstands, Notre Dame upset
Oklahoma 7-0. Who was to know? The Irish were three-touchdown
underdogs. The letters to SI were filled with such comments as ''I
guess you learn the hard way''; ''You fumbled''; ''I almost died
laughing.''
Q. Wasn't Barry Switzer on the cover?
A. The Oklahoma loss was a landmark in establishing the cover-jinx
myth. The word unbeatable stuck in people's heads. It became easy to
say, ''Uh-oh, my team is on the cover of SI. I remember what happened
to Oklahoma.'' If you're looking for patterns, you can find them.
Silky Sullivan was on the cover before the 1958 Kentucky Derby.
Uh-oh. Finished down the track. In a preview of the 1956 U.S. Open,
Sam Snead was on the cover. Can he win the big one? Of course not.
Cary Middlecoff won. In 1957, defending champion Middlecoff was on
the U.S. Open preview cover. Dick Mayer won. So in 1958, Dick Mayer
was on the cover and Tommy Bolt. . . .
Q. Didn't Roy Riegels run the wrong way after he was on the cover?
A. There were tragedies. The first came in 1955. Eighteen-year-old
Jill Kinmont, the U.S. women's senior and junior ski champion, was
featured on the Jan. 31 cover. SI is dated five days ahead of when it
first goes on sale, a policy that most weekly magazines follow. On
Jan. 30, while her picture was still on the newsstands, Kinmont lost
control during a run, hit a tree and was paralyzed for life.
The next occurred in 1958, when driver Pat O'Connor was featured
in the Indy 500 preview issue. He was killed in a 15-car pileup on
the first lap. Another tragic coincidence occurred in 1961. That year
the Feb. 13 cover showed Laurence Owen, ''America's Most Exciting
Girl Skater.'' On Feb. 15, Owen and the entire U.S. figure skating
team were killed in a plane crash in Brussels.
These events lent support to the myth, and the SI jinx became a
small piece of American culture. You would have thought there might
be a Field and Stream jinx, especially for the wildlife pictured on
the cover. Or a TV Guide jinx for characters in sitcoms that hadn't
been renewed. A sports magazine jinx? It became larger than
Winchell's original TIME jinx. Some people even thought it was bad
luck to have an article in the pages of the magazine.
Q. What about Bill Buckner? Wasn't he called a ''Slick-Fielding
First Baseman'' before the '86 Series?
A. The truth, of course, is there is no jinx. A cover picture does
not change fate. The conditions leading to the unfortunate
coincidences in those earlier years have disappeared. The focus of
more recent SI covers has shifted. They mostly are review instead of
preview now. They have to do with events that have taken place.
Today, a game played Monday night can be on the cover of the magazine
that arrives in your mailbox on Thursday or Friday. The six-week lead
time has evaporated.
A couple of graduate students at the University of Southern
California School of Journalism put the jinx to a test in 1984. They
studied the subjects of 271 randomly selected SI covers from 1954 to
1983 and found that teams and athletes on the covers maintained or
improved their performance almost 58 percent of the time. The
performance of baseball and basketball teams was the same or higher
more than 70 percent of the time. The percentage was lower than
normal for tennis players, golfers and other participants in
individual sports against a large field. ''In golf, the measure of
success is whether or not you win a tournament,'' Tim Leone, one of
the students, said. ''So if you put a golfer on the cover and he
doesn't win, it looks like he is jinxed.''
Q. The New York Rangers. Before every Stanley Cup.
A. Mark Mulvoy, the managing editor of SI, picks the covers. He
says he doesn't think about the jinx. He thinks about the quality of
the pictures and the importance of the events. Jinx? He mentions that
Muhammad Ali has been on the cover 31 times; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 27
times; Jack Nicklaus, 22. Where was the jinx for those athletes?
Q. Jimmy the Greek? Al Campanis? Andy Rooney?
A. Sure, Chicago Cubs fans remember that Ron Santo was on the June
30, 1969, cover and that a pennant was lost in September 1969. Maybe
they remember that Leon Durham was on the June 11, 1984, cover and
that a ground ball went through his legs in the deciding playoff
game in October. These things happen, but not because of a picture on
the front of a magazine.
Q. Debi Thomas. Before the 1988 Winter Olympics figure final.
A. Look at all the people and teams that have failed without aid
of any cover. No, Debi Thomas wasn't on the cover before the Calgary
Olympics. Tyson wasn't on the cover before Buster. Look at all the
covers in 1989. Which subjects failed? Michael Jordan was on the
cover four times. Joe Montana was on twice. Maybe John Elway was on
the cover just before the Super Bowl, but wasn't Jerry Rice on the
cover a week earlier? Look at the list. Who was hit by a jinx?
Q. Tony Mandarich?
A. O.K., Tony Mandarich was on the cover of the April 24, 1989
issue. The headline said he was ''The Best Offensive Line Prospect
Ever.''
Q. Well, was he?
A. Was he what?
Q. The best offensive line prospect ever?
A. On his performance during his first year at Green Bay, no, he
was not.
Q. Well?
A. These things happen. And they probably always will.

This is an article from the March 28, 1990 issue