In the Beginning ...

A new way to look at the creation of bigtime sports in America, with an assist from Michelangelo
September 26, 2004

The ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel has been a source of wonder and inspiration since 1512, and yet only this year did someone notice that Michelangelo's depiction of the spark of life could be retouched to represent the moment when the athlete became the Man in this country. The parallels, once we started looking for them, were striking ... and almost too numerous. Our toughest call was settling on just one of sports' many David and Goliath stories. After much deliberation, we gave the nod to the college kids who went to Lake Placid in 1980 and handed the Soviets their heads.

The Gender War

(JUDITH AND HOLOFERNES)

Billie Jean King

Bobby Riggs

Coach

(PROPHET) Pat Summitt

(DISCIPLE) Chamique Holdsclaw

Golf

(THE DELUGE)

Bobby Jones, Nancy Lopez, Gary Player, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Annika Sorenstam, Michelle Wie, Greg Norman

Olympian

(ANCESTOR)

Bruce Jenner

Coach

(PROPHET) Don Shula

(DISCIPLES)

Bob Griese

Larry Csonka

Banned from the Hall

(THE EXPULSION FROM THE GARDEN)

Bart Giamatti

Shoeless Joe Jackson, Pete Rose

Steroids

(THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT)

Lyle Alzado

Ben Johnson

Olympian

(ANCESTOR)

Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Coach

(PROPHET)

John Wooden

(DISCIPLES)

Bill Walton

Lew Alcindor

The Female Athlete

(THE CREATION OF EVE)

Babe Didrikson Zaharias

Althea Gibson

Brandi Chastain

Martina Navratilova

Rebecca Lobo

Olympian

(ANCESTOR)

Mark Spitz

Coach

(PROPHET)

Sparky Anderson

(DISCIPLES)

Joe Morgan

Johnny Bench

TV

(THE CREATION OF THE SUN, MOON AND PLANETS)

Roone Arledge

Howard Cosell

Don Meredith

Frank Gifford

Olympian

(ANCESTOR)

Peggy Fleming

Coach

(PROPHET)

Bill Walsh

(DISCIPLES)

Joe Montana

Steve Young

Coach

(PROPHET)

Red Auerbach

(DISCIPLES)

John Havlicek

Larry Bird

Rogue's Gallery

(THE BRAZEN SERPENT)

O.J. Simpson

Tonya Harding

Ty Cobb

Dennis Rodman

Mike Tyson

The Miracle on Ice

(DAVID AND GOLIATH)

Mike Eruzione

Jim Craig

Herb Brooks

Coach

(PROPHET)

Bear Bryant

(DISCIPLES)

John Hannah

Ozzie Newsome

Boxing

(THE DRUNKENNESS OF NOAH)

Muhammad Ali

Sonny Liston

Rocky Marciano

Sugar Ray Robinson

Don King

Joe Louis

Coach

(PROPHET)

Casey Stengel

(DISCIPLES)

Mickey Mantle

Yogi Berra

Olympian

(ANCESTOR)

Mary Lou Retton

Coach

(PROPHET)

Scotty Bowman

(DISCIPLES)

Guy Lafleur

Mario Lemieux

Steve Yzerman

The NBA

(THE SACRIFICE OF NOAH)

Wilt Chamberlain

Bill Russell

Michael Jordan

Oscar Robertson

Julius Erving

George Mikan

Olympian

(ANCESTOR)

Greg Louganis

Coach

(PROPHET)

Vince Lombardi

Baseball

(THE CREATION OF ADAM)

God

Babe Ruth

Olympian

(ANCESTOR)

Jim Thorpe

The NFL

(THE SEPARATION OF THE EARTH FROM THE WATERS)

Johnny Unitas

Jim Brown

George Halas

Al Davis

Joe Namath

Coach

(PROPHET)

Dean Smith

(DISCIPLE)

Larry Brown

Olympian

(ANCESTOR)

Carl Lewis

Coach

(PROPHET)

Leo Durocher

(DISCIPLES)

Pee Wee Reese

Willie Mays

The Black Athlete

(THE SEPARATION OF LIGHT FROM DARKNESS)

Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Jack Johnson, Hank Aaron, Jesse Owens

The Curse of the Red Sox

(THE PUNISHMENT OF HAMAN)

Bill Buckner, Pedro Martinez, Ted Williams, George Steinbrenner, Bucky Dent, Derek Jeter

The NFL

(THE SEPARATION OF THE EARTH FROM THE WATERS)

Unitas's dramatic 1958 championship win spearheaded the NFL's invasion into America's living rooms

The Female Athlete

(THE CREATION OF EVE)

God, Adam and Eve became Babe, Babe and Babe--it took three figures to capture Didrikson's versatility

Steroids

(THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT)

Lyle Alzado and Ben Johnson are just two of the many athletes who succumbed to this temptation

Banned from the Hall

(THE EXPULSION FROM THE GARDEN)

Avenging angel Bart Giamatti sends Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson east of Eden

The NBA

(THE SACRIFICE OF NOAH)

The rivalry of titans Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell defined the NBA's formative years

Boxing

(THE DRUNKENNESS OF NOAH)

The parallel here is purely visual--Noah's fall from grace looks a lot like Ali's flooring of Sonny Liston

Golf

(THE DELUGE)

Michelangelo's crowded diluvial panel becomes golf's walk of fame--with Greg (the Shark) Norman struggling to stay out of the

water hazard

The Gender War

(JUDITH AND HOLOFERNES)

Judith's bold beheading is the ancient antecedent of Billie Jean's blow for girl power

The Curse of the Red Sox

(THE PUNISHMENT OF HAMAN)

Haman's plot against the Jews brought him death, while Buckner's World Series muff lives in infamy

The Black Athlete

(THE SEPARATION OF LIGHT FROM DARKNESS)

Let there be light? Sure, but not exclusively

The Coaches

Michelangelo's Biblical oracles have been recast as visionary coaches and their brightest pupils

The Olympians

The ancestors of Christ have been replaced by the amateurs who pursued gold they could not spend

FIFTEEN COLOR ILLUSTRATIONSIllustration by Jeff Wong

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)