Also in this week’s Sports Illustrated: the Patriots’ no-name defense, a first-of-its kind study on football’s long-term effects on an entire NFL roster and comparing the BCS to Las VegasPosted: December 8, 2011
You’ve read about the 2011 Sportswoman and Sportsman of the Year, Pat Summitt and Mike Krzyzewski, and found out that NFL players consider Eagles and Steelers fans to be the league’s toughest. Here’s what else readers can expect in the Dec. 12, 2011, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now.
PATRIOTS DEFENSE: THE NEW NO-NAMES – BEN REITER (@SI_BenReiter)
Bill Belichick has built a Patriots defense from spare parts, castoffs and converted receivers. It has bent—but not broken—as New England has run its record to 9–3. Will it be good enough against the league’s better offenses in the playoffs? Starting outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich makes no bones about what the defense tries to do (page 68): “We have to progress as a defense and get the offense the ball. That’s our job, to put the ball in their hands as many times as possible during the game, so they can do what they do best, and that’s score touchdowns.”
Belichick has turned to receivers Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater to lend assistance to a depleted secondary. He’s hopeful they can be as effective as his original two-way player, Troy Brown. Says Brown: “I would do anything to win. I just loved playing football in general. I was awful at first—we had about 10 receivers on the roster, and I got beat by all 10, all five tight ends, a couple of running backs. But it got better the more I did it. Guys like me can’t say, ‘Coach, I saw something and dropped off on that play, and that’s why I got beat.’ [Belichick] doesn’t want to hear that from any of his players, but especially from the low-profile guys.”
1986 CINCINNATI BENGALS: ONE TEAM, 25 YEARS ON – PETER KING (@SI_PeterKing)
In a first-ever comprehensive survey of football’s long-term effects on an entire NFL roster, SI polled the former members of the 1986 Bengals. Twenty-five years later their physical and psychological conditions range from almost perfect to borderline disabled, but almost to a man these Bengals say they’d suit up all over again, even knowing the game’s residual impact. Says Ray Horton, a cornerback on the Bengals and now the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator (page 74): “[The NFL] affords a great lifestyle. Are there inherent risks? Yeah, but those coal miners in West Virginia and down in Chile, they have an inherent risk in their jobs. The soldiers who go over to Afghanistan, they have an inherent risk in what they do. Firefighters have an inherent risk. Are you kidding me? To play a sport I love the whole time and to just lose a knee—guys come back from Afghanistan with no legs.”
Among the other players the Bengals package focuses on:
- LB Emanuel King: At 48, King says he suffers arthritis in his ankles and knees, nerve damage in his extremities, daily headaches and short-term memory loss. Yet he fully supports his son Cole, a redshirt freshman receiver at Albany, who has NFL aspirations of his own.
- QB Boomer Esiason: The 50-year-old Esiason maintains a full media workload and plays hockey three times a week and golf on a regular basis. As he told King, “I never had surgery. I never broke a bone. Was it luck? General toughness? I don’t know. I do know I always felt prepared, always felt like I knew where the rush was coming from. I don’t expect to live to 150, but I do expect to have a long and pretty normal life.”
- S Bobby Kemp: In 1998 the onetime punishing safety committed suicide at age 38. Nearly 14 years after his death his friends and family wonder whether Kemp’s death was the result of football or his lifelong battle with depression.
On the Tablets: Former Bengals wide receiver and current NBC Sports commentator Cris Collinsworth is one of two guests on King’s podcast this week, along with USC quarterback Matt Barkley. Plus, King’s “Last Word on the NFL” heading into Week 14.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SO I WENT TO VEGAS… – AUSTIN MURPHY (@si_austinmurphy)
For a weekend of football that would not change the national title picture, senior writer Austin Murphy ventured to the only place where every game counts: Las Vegas. Murphy made friends with college football fans betting on the over-under on some of the weekend’s games while wondering why the BCS—with its claims that Every Game Counts—is bent on depriving fans of a playoff and all the money that it would generate. Murphy concludes with an analogy comparing Las Vegas to the college football landscape (page 86): “The game is rigged, as Oklahoma State learned on Sunday night, when the Cowboys found out that they were headed for Glendale, Ariz., rather than New Orleans. Life isn’t fair. The house always wins.”
On the Tablets: Video highlights of the SEC and Big Ten Championship Games.
WASHINGTON CAPITALS: IT’S ALL ABOUT OVIE – MICHAEL FARBER
Is Alex Ovechkin a coach killer? The Capitals’ superstar captain will try to shed that label, rediscover his game and carry Washington on his back after Bruce Boudreau was replaced with Dale Hunter on Nov. 28. Those closest to the situation told senior writer Michael Farber (page 112):
- Boudreau: “I’m really naive. I always thought me and Alex had a good relationship. I don’t know if it’s true or not true, but I don’t want to believe it. The proof will probably be in how he plays a month from now.”
- Capitals G.M. George McPhee: “I don’t think Ovie’s a coach killer. Our whole team wasn’t going well. The change of Bruce had nothing to do with Ovie and everything to do with the way we were playing. Yes, he’s the captain. He sets the tone. And when he’s going well, we’re following.”
- Washington goalie coach Olaf Kolzig: “The first couple of years, anytime he stepped on the ice he was full bore—go, go, go. I think he’s gotten away from that. He’s not looking for the easy play, but he’s not taking the bull by the horns like he did. And I think Dale will probably get that back out of him.”
MLB GAME 162: BEST. NIGHT. EVER. – LEE JENKINS (@SI_LeeJenkins)
September 28, 2011, was the most dizzyingly dramatic day in major league history. Four teams entered the final night of the season with a playoff spot at stake. When it was done, three teams had come back to win after trailing in the ninth inning and two clubs joined the ranks of the worst September collapses in baseball history. Senior writer Lee Jenkins recaps it all, including the late-inning drama that ensued in Tampa and Baltimore at the expense of the big-market Yankees and Red Sox (page 100): “Game 162 was a small-market revolt, an opportunity to cheer against New York and Boston at exactly the same time. When Longoria stepped out and looked at the foul pole, there might not have been more than 15,000 people at Tropicana Field, but Maddon sensed the support of the country. ‘I’m certain the Internet was not invented when David and Goliath fought,’ he says, ‘but the group watching had to be rooting for David.’ ”
On the Tablets: Highlights from some of the pivotal moments from Game 162 of this past MLB season.
THE EDUCATION OF WALTER IOOSS JR. – WITH CHRIS BALLARD (@SI_ChrisBallard)
Walter Iooss Jr. has spent almost 50 years covering Super Bowls, superstars and supermodels for Sports Illustrated. And he has no plans to retire anytime soon. Why? Iooss says (page 130): “I’ve stayed in this because I’m still fascinated by people who do things the rest of us can’t. For me, it’s part of this childlike fantasy, this enthusiasm and love of being around great athletes that hasn’t gone away. How could it? … Athletes always believe they’ve got one more trick up their sleeves. None of them want to quit. I don’t blame them. Why quit?”
Among the multitude of classic photos he has snapped, here are some of the highlights Iooss recalls:
- Dealing with LeBron James’s entourage: “I wasn’t even allowed to talk directly to LeBron. There was a liaison, someone from Amar’e Stoudemire’s family. I would say to him, ‘O.K., have LeBron drive right,’ and then he’d turn to LeBron and say, ‘LeBron, go right.’ … I’ve been around Michael Jordan, but with him nothing even came close to this. Unimaginable.”
- Angering John McEnroe with his noisy film rewinding during Wimbledon 1980: “We get to the Wimbledon men’s singles final, and before the match starts I walk out to shoot McEnroe. He looks at me and says, ‘You f—— son of a bitch. You f—— c———.’ This is before the final. Really, this is what he’s going to spend his energy on?”
- Michael Jordan’s free throw line jam at the 1988 slam-dunk contest: “I look down at the other end of the court, and Michael takes his thumb and jabs it: Move a little to your right, Walter. And the resulting picture is the one you see in all the books.”
- Former Orioles manager Earl Weaver giving him the perfect “ejection” shot: “He said, ‘I tell you what. You be ready in the first inning, ’cause I got a real problem with this umpire.’ Sure enough, first inning Earl came out of the dugout and got into a screamer, in the umpire’s face, and got tossed. As he walked off the field, he looked at me behind home plate and smiled.”
On the Tablets: Iooss discusses his work with Sports Illustrated in a podcast interview.
HMONG FOOTBALL PLAYERS: HOW TO BECOME AN AMERICAN – CHARLES P. PIERCE
The football team at J.D. Leftwich High, in Magazine, Ark., went undefeated en route to the 2010 Class 2A state title thanks in large part to boys from Magazine’s immigrant Hmong community. These sons of transplants from Laos often top out at five-foot and 120 pounds, but their speed and power is so apparent that coaches have been forced to radically rethink the physical configurations of a football player. To wit (page 92):
- Leftwich assistant coach Doug Powell: “They were always in the weight room. [Running back] Chang [Yang] was 5′ 2″ and weighed 115 pounds, and he benched 230 plus. They didn’t do it just for football. They did it so they’d look good.”
- Leftwich quarterback Ryan Chambers: “I started noticing them in about fifth grade. I noticed Long and Chang [Yang] then. What I noticed first was that they were really fast. Then I noticed that they were really good.”
Says Charly Moua, who is slated to be Leftwich’s starting quarterback next season: “I don’t really know why I play. I like to run, and everybody wants to be on the team, you know? There’s a tradition now here with the Asian kids, and the parents are really behind us, and we try to do well, because of all they went through to get here.”
ACCORDING TO ALEX KLINE… – JIM GORANT
Alex Kline is the world’s first teenage recruiting guru. Making widespread use of social media—Twitter, Skype, Facebook and message boards—Kline is destination reading for scores of college coaches and fans, many of whom don’t realize that he’s not yet out of high school. But he has used his youth to its full advantage, connecting with some of the country’s hottest hoops prospects in a way that makes him, as he tells senior editor Jim Gorant (page 122), “the world’s biggest pen pal. I’ll reach out to anyone. I see it as a triangle, with the coaches in one corner, the players in another and me in the third. In between is all this other stuff—NCAA rules, injuries and off-the-court stuff—and I’m trying to make the connections.”
On the Tablet: Video of Kline interviewing two of the top recruits from last year’s class: Kyrie Irving (the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers) and Harrison Barnes (now starring at North Carolina).
THIS WEEK ON THE TABLETS
- SI Digital Bonus: The Sports Whisperer – John Lucas was a two-sport college star, an NBA point guard, a coach and an addict. Now, he’s on to his most important role: mentor.
POINT AFTER: HEISMAN HELPER – PHIL TAYLOR (@SI_PhilTaylor)
Senior writer Phil Taylor is one of the 926 people—870 media members and 56 former winners—who will elect the 2011 recipient of the Heisman Trophy. His voting privileges aside, Taylor finds fault in the decision-making process, which only seems to reward the best skill position players at BCS schools. He proposes (page 150): “I can’t believe I’m suggesting this, because I think baseball has been overrun with new statistics, but college football needs its own Bill James, someone to devise an advanced metric like baseball’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement). With that kind of absolute measurement, maybe Stanford guard David DeCastro and Alabama tackle Barrett Jones would have as much chance to win the Heisman as the players they block for, Cardinal QB Andrew Luck and Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson.”
SCORECARD: DREAM ON – RICHARD HOFFER
Special contributor Richard Hoffer points to the unfulfilled expectations of the Heat and the Eagles as further proof that today’s athletes should avoid using the “Dream Team” tag. He writes (page 17): “It has been a tradition of sorts to reward recognition after the fact. It’s not that we don’t love winners, it’s just that we like to decide who they are…. We like to tease achievement out of a body of work, to watch it bloom before our eyes. That’s the fun of sports, the surprise of it all. Glory, in any case, is not announced in preseason camp.”
INSIDE THE WEEK IN SPORTS
- College Basketball (page 32): Off and Runnin’ – A new coach and a roster full of transfers at UNLV have made Sin City hoops exciting again. (George Dohrmann, @georgedohrmann)
- NFL (page 37): Many Happy Returns – Cardinals rookie Patrick Peterson has been bringing back punts for touchdowns at a torrid pace—and making it look easy. If only someone would just kick the ball to him again. (Jim Trotter, @SI_JimTrotter)
- NFL (page 38): The Shoe Fits – Denials to the contrary, the Lions’ Ndamukong Suh has a problem. And so do his teammates. (Damon Hack, @si_damonhack)
- MLB (page 40): The Next Act of Bobby V – It’s been nearly a decade since the Red Sox’ new manager has been inside a big league dugout—but that’s not why he’s such a refreshing hire. (Joe Sheehan, @joe_sheehan)
- NBA (page 42): Wish You Were Here—Or Not – The NBA’s 149-day lockout sent dozens of players to all corners of the globe. For some, it was an extended vacation. For others, a holiday from hell.
- College Football (page 44): The month of December means it’s that time of the year: time to recognize the best in college football for 2011. The top of the list? One unstoppable dual-threat quarterback from Baylor. (Cory McCartney, @SI_CoryMC)
THIS WEEK’S FACES IN THE CROWD (page 26)
- Joseph Sadler (Devine, Texas/Devine High) – Football
- Alicia Ogoms (Winnipeg, Manitoba/St. Mary’s Academy) – Volleyball
- Tanner Trosin (Folsom, Calif./Folsom High) – Football
- Lauren Stephenson (Lexington, S.C./Lexington High) – Golf
- Jean Pierre (JP) Eloff (Pretoria, South Africa/Davenport [Mich.] University) – Rugby
- Jennifer Albuja (Union City, N.J./New Jersey City University) – Soccer
Follow Faces in the Crowd on Twitter @SI_Faces