Putting together this week's retrospective on 50 years of SI
covers was like taking the Christmas decorations down from the
attic: It made us sneeze (some of our office copies are turning
to dust), and it made us remember. Looking back on his 229
covers, staff photographer Walter Iooss Jr., a 43-year SI
veteran, recalled the frustration he felt in the spring of 1984
while shooting candid pictures of Yogi Berra, who was then
rejoining the Yankees as their manager. "It was like trying to
catch a butterfly with your bare hands," says Iooss, who was
working on the baseball preview. "Every time I got near him, he'd
get up and move. I just kept following him around taking
pictures, mostly of his back." Yogi never did sit still, but his
famous number 8 became the centerpiece of that week's cover (page
98), beside the headline YOGI'S BACK!
Neil Leifer, who has shot 169 covers for the magazine since 1961,
used a bit of psychology to pull off a dicey group shot of
Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Don King for the Thrilla in Manila
preview story in October 1975 (page 130) . "Back then," says
Leifer, "every time the fighters got together, Ali would taunt
Joe and they'd end up in a shoving match. Howard Cosell couldn't
keep those two together for an interview." Leifer's solution: bar
everyone from the studio except the boxers and King. "Without an
audience to play to," says Leifer, "Ali was an angel."
Senior editor Bob Roe had the task of assembling the 58-page
covers package, which includes the first-ever index showing all
2,548 covers in chronological order, starting with Eddie Mathews
swinging for the bleachers on the issue dated Aug. 16, 1954 (page
114). Roe, who's been at SI since 1998, tapped rookie reporter
Lisa Altobelli back in September to research the covers. "I ended
up working with 75 pages of spreadsheets listing covers and their
issue dates," says Altobelli, who is wrapping up her master's in
journalism at Columbia this spring. "And I wore out the carpet
between my cubicle and the SI library." As closing time drew
near, says Roe, "the real challenge was getting enough pages for
this and still covering the important news of the week--the NFL,
NBA, NHL and the fate of Don Zimmer."
Along with deputy art director Christopher Hercik--who spent six
weeks designing the package while eagerly awaiting the birth of
his first child, Grace--Roe and Altobelli created lists showing
which athletes, teams and sports have appeared on the most
covers. Eventually they spotted some unusual patterns. "We came
up with a category called Women with Weapons because there was
this whole era, in the '50s, when the covers showed women with
guns or bows and arrows," Altobelli says. "In the '70s there were
all these men with porn-star mustaches. So we have Big Bad
'Stache as part of our style section (page 96)."
It was staff photographer Bill Frakes, however, who achieved a
pinnacle of SI cover portraiture on the issue of March 1, 1993.
To mark George Steinbrenner's return to baseball after a 2
1/2-year exile imposed by former commissioner Fay Vincent, Frakes
shot the imperious Yankees owner dressed as Napoleon and riding
on a white horse (page 96). How hard was it to talk Steinbrenner
into posing as the great emperor? "Not hard at all," Frakes says.
"In fact, George supplied the horse." Which only proves that for
every cover there is indeed a cover story.