WHAT IT MEANS TO BE SPORTSMAN

December 06, 2010

Since 1954, SI has awarded the Sportsman of the Year title to figures from the world of sports whose accomplishments transcend the field of play. Here, six of the past honorees—including the first Sportswoman—speak about the award and what it has meant to them

1968 BILL RUSSELL

As the Celtics' player-coach, he won the 10th of his 11 NBA titles

"MY PRIDE WAS BEING PART OF A TEAM. IF RED AUERBACH HAD TALKED ABOUT ME BEING A PIONEER, I WOULD NOT HAVE TAKEN THE COACHING JOB. HE TOLD ME IT WAS A CELTICS JOB... . UNTIL THAT TIME I DISDAINED AWARDS. BUT THEY SAID SPORTSMAN WASN'T ABOUT THE BEST ATHLETE OR WINNING SOMETHING—IT WAS ABOUT CONTRIBUTIONS TO SOCIETY THROUGH SPORTS."

1972 BILLIE JEAN KING

SI named its first Sportswoman in the year of Title IX

"I'M A BIG BELIEVER THAT YOU HAVE TO SEE IT TO BE IT. I KNEW FOR ME TO SHARE THE COVER OF SPORTS ILLUSTRATED WITH MR. WOODEN WOULD BE A START FOR WOMEN. IF I CAN DO IT, YOU CAN DO IT—THAT'S WHAT'S IMPORTANT FOR ALL OF US... . THE TIMES WERE A-CHANGIN', AS DYLAN SANG. SPORTS ARE A MICROCOSM OF SOCIETY, SO I THINK IT WAS HUGE."

1980 MIKE ERUZIONE

The U.S. wouldn't have had a Miracle on Ice without its captain

"THE COLD WAR. GAS LINES. INFLATION. PEOPLE WERE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT. WE WERE SMALL-TOWN KIDS WHO CAME FROM GREAT FAMILY VALUES, GREAT BACKGROUNDS, AND HAD GREAT WORK ETHICS. PEOPLE SAW IN US THEIR SONS AND NEIGHBORS AND THEMSELVES. WE SHOWED THEM WHAT MAKES OUR COUNTRY SO GREAT."

1990 JOE MONTANA

The NFL MVP won his fourth Super Bowl with the 49ers

"A MOMENT I'M MOST PROUD OF IS COMING BACK FROM BACK SURGERY IN 1986. IT'S VERY DIFFICULT TO GET THE RIGHT MIND-SET; THERE WERE DAYS I WANTED TO QUIT. IN 1991, I TORE THE MUSCLE OFF IN MY RIGHT ARM. TO HAVE THAT THING THROWN TOGETHER, DRILLED THROUGH THE BONE, AND THEN TO COME BACK MEANS AS MUCH AS SOME OF THE VICTORIES."

1995 CAL RIPKEN JR.

His pursuit of the consecutive-game record enthralled a nation

"LABOR ISSUES HAD ZAPPED A LOT OF PEOPLE'S LOVE OF THE GAME. TOO MUCH BIG BUSINESS, TOO MANY DOLLARS. GREEDY PLAYERS, GREEDY OWNERS. WE ALL WANTED TO HAVE THAT ROMANTIC FEELING WITH THE GAME AGAIN. IN MANY WAYS, THE STREAK—GOING BACK TO LOU GEHRIG, WHO WAS THE MOST HONORABLE MAN—BROUGHT THAT BACK."

2001 CURT SCHILLING

He shared honors with fellow Diamondbacks ace Randy Johnson, and again in 2004 with his Red Sox teammates

"THE WORLD SERIES ENDED IN NOVEMBER FOR THE FIRST TIME BECAUSE OF SEPT. 11. IT WAS A CHARGED ATMOSPHERE, AND FOR US TO BE IN THE SERIES AND TO DO WHAT WE DID WAS SURREAL. IT WAS MUCH BIGGER THAN THE SEVEN GAMES. THERE WAS A MESSAGE SENT GLOBALLY ABOUT THIS COUNTRY, AND BASEBALL WAS THE CENTERPIECE OF THAT MESSAGE."

1968 BILL RUSSELL

1972 BILLIE JEAN KING

1980 MIKE ERUZIONE, U.S. HOCKEY TEAM

1990 JOE MONTANA

1995 CAL RIPKEN

2001 CURT SCHILLING

PHOTOLONG PHOTOGRAPHY INC. (RUSSELL) PHOTOTONY TRIOLO (KING) PHOTOFOCUS ON SPORTS/GETTY IMAGES (ERUZIONE) PHOTOJOHN IACONO (MONTANA) PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER (RIPKEN) PHOTOBOB ROSATO (SCHILLING) PHOTOPhotograph by BRIAN LANKERRussell, blocking the Lakers' Elgin Baylor in the finals, was in his second season as the first black coach in pro sports. PHOTOLONG PHOTOGRAPHY INC.[See caption above] PHOTOJAMES DRAKE (COVER)[See caption above] PHOTOPhotograph by SIMON BRUTYKing, who shared SI's award with John Wooden, won the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1972. PHOTOTONY TRIOLO[See caption above] TWO PHOTOSSTEPHEN GREEN-ARMYTAGE (COVER)[See caption above] PHOTOPhotograph by HEINZ KLUETMEIEREruzione scored the goal that upset the Soviet Union in the semifinals, setting up the gold medal win over Finland. PHOTOFOCUS ON SPORTS/GETTY IMAGES[See caption above] PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIR (COVER)[See caption above] PHOTOPhotograph by JEFFERY A. SALTERMontana's cool is evidenced by 31 fourth-quarter comeback wins as a pro and an unequaled three Super Bowl MVPs. PHOTOJOHN IACONO[See caption above] PHOTOPETER READ MILLER (COVER)[See caption above] PHOTOPhotograph by SIMON BRUTYFamous for his 2,632-game streak, Ripken is also one of eight players with at least 400 home runs and 3,000 hits. PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER[See caption above] PHOTOMICHAEL O'NEILL AND WALTER IOOSS JR. (COVER)[See caption above] PHOTOPhotograph by AL TIELEMANSA 22-game winner, Schilling gave up just four runs in three World Series starts against the favored Yankees. PHOTOBOB ROSATO[See caption above] PHOTOBRIAN LANKER (COVER)[See caption above]

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