Not two hours after the New England Patriots had won the AFC
Championship Game, Bill Parcells, the Patriots' coach, took his
daughter Jill aside, away from the crowd of relatives packing
his house, and said firmly, "No cover."
"No cover?" asked Jill.
"No cover. Do what you can. I don't want us on the cover."
So Jill Parcells, who works in the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED events
marketing department, made a desperate call to her boss,
publisher Dave Long, asking him to intercede on her father's
behalf. "My dad is begging: No cover."
Here's a coach, still combing Gatorade out of his hair, on the
doorstep of a world championship, who should be figuring out
away to beat the Green Bay Packers, and his first concern is
the SI cover jinx? Can you believe that?
Well, actually, yes. I didn't believe in the SI cover jinx
either--until nine weeks ago. I always figured, This is sports.
Sports is pretty much a losing proposition; every week more than
half the athletes in events of all sorts around the world aren't
going to win. For SI cover subjects, losing is an occupational
hazard. What are you going to do? There's no Popular Mechanics
jinx. It's very difficult for a turbopowered gungalator to pull
And cover losers make sense if you think about it. Take the
Minnesota Timberwolves. Managing editor Bill Colson, the guy who
picks the SI covers, sees that they're a cute team and they look
like they're going to make the playoffs for once, and he thinks,
I better get them on the cover while I have the chance. He slaps
them on the front of the magazine, and snap, they lose. Is that
I once wrote a cover story on Ickey Woods, the Cincinnati
Bengals' fullback. The next season he blew out a knee and a
career. I remember people coming up to me and saying, "Didja see
what ya did to Ickey? Ya jinxed him!" Another time a guy showed
me an old SI cover shot of O.J. Simpson and said, "See? The
jinx!" I wondered, Does a jinx have no statute of limitations?
But then nine weeks ago began the worst SI cover jinx streak
anybody around here can remember. Ted Williams was on the cover
of the Nov. 25 issue. A few weeks later he tripped over his dog
and broke a leg. Cincinnati forward Danny Fortson was on the
cover of the Dec. 2 college basketball preview issue. In the
Bearcats' second game of the season they were upset by Xavier.
Florida State's Warrick Dunn was on the Dec. 9 cover. A few
weeks later the Seminoles got poleaxed in the Sugar Bowl, partly
because Dunn was knocked out of the game by leg cramps. Then
Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway was on our year-end cover.
An APPRECIATION, the billing read. First game out, Elway loses.
A DEPRECIATION, it should have said. The following issue had
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell and Carolina
Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins on the cover together. That
Sunday, both lost.
I'm not surprised Parcells has this Super-stition. He collects
figurines of elephants, but only trunks-up elephants. Very
lucky. Send him a trunk-down elephant, and he pitches it. Once,
when he coached the New York Giants, somebody saw a tails-up
penny on the locker room carpet. Parcells decreed not only that
nobody on the team should pick it up (bad luck) but also that
the janitors should vacuum around it the rest of the season.
You can't blame Parcells for wanting to keep the Patriots off
the cover. He's 5-0 in conference championship games and Super
Bowls. He must know something. I say the jinx lives. It's a kind
of selective jinx though. It doesn't happen every week or to
every team or to every athlete. (Explain Michael Jordan, 36
times on the cover, and Muhammad Ali, 35 times.) But there are
weeks you can just feel it.
In 1957 we put the Oklahoma football team, winners of 47
straight games, on the cover. The Saturday after the issue came
out, the Sooners lost 7-0 to a lousy Notre Dame team. The cover
of the June 5, 1995, issue featured the San Francisco Giants'
Matt Williams, who was leading the National League in seven
major batting categories. That Saturday he fouled off a pitch
that broke his right foot and sidelined him for 68 games. You
may not buy into the jinx, but athletes do.
So why fight it? From now on let's put the jinx to good use. For
enough money, we'll put anybody on the cover. Don't you have a
boss or a brother-in-law you wouldn't mind seeing come down with
a hyperextended spleen or a bad case of bus-tire tread?
We didn't put the Patriots on the cover last week, but not
because Parcells begged. The NFC Championship Game was simply
more compelling than the AFC title game, so we put the Packers'
Antonio Freeman on the cover. If I were Freeman, I would change
my name, put on a flame-retardant suit and lock myself in a
U-Store-It until after the Super Bowl.
This week, as you've noticed, we put Packers quarterback Brett
Favre and coach Mike Holmgren on the cover eating breakfast.
Hope they know the Heimlich maneuver.