The search continued within Time Inc. for a new magazine to launch, and in the summer of 1953 Luce, for all his own personal indifference to the games people play, agreed that "the compass needle always came back to sports" and convened a department to look into the creation of a sports magazine. Luce was largely absent from this process, as his wife, Clare Booth Luce, had taken up ambassador duties in Italy, but he was hardly detached. His cables home certainly communicated his growing commitment to the idea, even if they often muddled the editorial model more than was necessary. Among the departments he imagined for his new magazine were Sports of the Past ("medieval boar hunting") and Matters of Health ("What are the diet and sleeping habits of Ben Hogan?").
Ernest Havemann, a LIFE writer put in charge of this project, began with wild enthusiasm. When it was suggested the new magazine might have 1.5 million subscribers, Havemann said that estimate was "ridiculously conservative."
In fact, the more Havemann evaluated the concept, the less confidence he had that anybody would buy the product. Would this magazine, first called Project X and then MNORX, go after the croquet crowd and be an editorial excuse for the advertisement of cashmerino sweaters, or would it tackle spectator sports, which would, in one executive's opinion, most likely prove "poison to advertising agencies"?
On July 22 Havemann sent out a memo with a list of story ideas he had gleaned from a prospective writer: "The time he fell on a cigar butt while wrestling Jimmy Londos...the time he wrestled a drunken Indian."
Havemann's misgivings went well beyond an all-wrestling table of contents, and four days later he announced his intention to quit the project. "Just won't work," he wrote. For one thing, he didn't see how to bridge the interests of fans with wildly divergent sporting interests. How many skiers wanted to read about skiing? Certainly no nonskiers would. And if the magazine pursued the heretofore ignored spectator sports (the only sports magazines of the time were outdoors-oriented), what exactly would the magazine end up with, besides drunken Indians? Havemann had also developed a fairly low opinion of the combatants the magazine would be covering. "Most athletes are just dull and routine human beings who happen to have some special physical skill," he wrote in his letter of surrender. "Many of them, as a matter of fact, are a little nasty."
He concluded that "we should abandon the project, that any time or money we spend on it will be wasted."
A Luce confidant who'd been skeptical wrote in his journal—with some smugness, no doubt—that Havemann's memo had "effectively killed off all idea of a 100 percent sports weekly...."
But it was Luce, not Havemann, who was calling the plays, and he wasn't about to sit on a lead. At the beginning of 1954, having digested all dissent, he reaffirmed his interest in the start-up. "Man is an animal that works, plays and prays," he told staffers. "No important aspect of human life should be devalued. And sports has been devalued. It has become a lowbrow proposition."
He promised that his new magazine would henceforth put sports "in its proper place as one of the great modes of expression."