That skepticism about SI didn't apply to the sports world. Long before the red ink turned black, SI began to catch on. Jeremiah Tax, who joined the magazine as a writer in 1955, recalls being sent to Peoria, Ill., in the late '50s to do a story on the Bradley University basketball team. "I walked out of the little airport there, and all these cab drivers came rushing up to me from the taxi line," says Tax. "I had called the sports information director to let him know what day I was arriving, and the word got around town that the man from SI was coming. They even knew what plane I was flying in on." Yes, we had begun to play in Peoria.
The magazine began to place a greater emphasis on hard sports when Andre Laguerre replaced James as managing editor in 1960. A Frenchman and an intimate of Charles de Gaulle who had been TIME'S London bureau chief, Laguerre was a brilliant, slightly rumpled man with a remarkable grasp of American sports, largely acquired as a youth in San Francisco (his father was in the French diplomatic corps). "When we heard Andre was coming in as an assistant managing editor in 1956," says Creamer, "I think we thought we were getting this very sophisticated French count. As it turned out, we got the French Oscar Madison."
Laguerre was a man of few words, but he inspired fierce devotion among his staffers. He loved pro football, and the magazine's growth coincided with the NFL's. Or perhaps it wasn't a coincidence. We helped create fans for the sport, and in turn, pro football created readers for the magazine.
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 5. From our Feb. 24, 1964, preview of the first Sonny Liston-Cassius Clay fight: "Sonny Liston, the heavyweight champion of the world, will meet his match next Tuesday night in Convention Hall in Miami—his match, that is, in confidence, arrogance and psychological left jabs. Unfortunately for Cassius Marcellus Clay, he is not yet a match for Liston in the somewhat more pertinent matters of ring craftsmanship, punching power and the ability to take a smart clip on the jaw with no loss of equanimity or senses."
We have not shied from informing our readers about the underside of sports. Our series on corruption in boxing in 1954 helped to bring about reform in that sport. Over the years we have focused on the black athlete, violence in football, the fixing of horse races and college basketball games, women in sports, money and sports, and, through the eyes of former NFL defensive lineman Don Reese, the destructive influence of cocaine on sports. We have crusaded long and hard against such disparate ills as the abuse of anabolic steroids, violence in hockey and environmental pollution. A Sept. 21, 1981, story by Robert Boyle was one of the first articles about the threat of acid rain to appear in the national media.
Occasionally we have made news ourselves. Reporter Melissa Ludtke helped open the doors of all locker rooms to women journalists when she successfully challenged baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn's ban at the 1977 World Series. Less seriously, George Plimpton's story in the April 1, 1985, issue about an unknown pitching phenom who played the French horn and studied Tibetan mysticism made headlines across the country. The Curious Case of Sidd Finch was a hoax, concocted by the editors and Plimpton, who has also written in our pages about his Walter Mittyesque pursuit of athletics, including playing quarterback for the Detroit Lions and goalie for the Boston Bruins.
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 6. The cover of the April 20, 1964, issue featured three women track athletes from the University of Texas, with the billing Texas Girls Aim for Tokyo. This qualifies as a great moment because of the aerodynamically unsound hairdos of the "girls." Let's put it this way. If Flo-Jo tried to run in the gargantuan beehive sported by one of the runners, her feet would cross the finish line several seconds before her head would.
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 7. A few months later, our cover billing was Shirley MacLaine gallops 99 yards against Notre Dame. Inside was a story shamelessly promoting her film John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! The only defense we can offer is that we were in another life at the time.
We have also attracted attention because of the hex supposedly cast on our cover subjects. When, as sometimes happens, an undefeated team loses or a dominant athlete performs poorly or suffers an injury after appearing on the cover, SI is held responsible. We're certain that no causal relationship exists, but it's hard convincing others. Chicagoans still remember that Cub third baseman Ron Santo was on the June 30, 1969, cover when the team was leading the National League East. Not long after, the Cubs were overtaken by the Miracle Mets. Many Chicago fans blamed the Santo cover for the turn of events, though given the team's history, the Cubs would have found a way to swoon without our assistance.
In 1976, for a cover that would appear before the Montreal Summer Games, we wanted a group shot of three Olympians, swimmer Shirley Babashoff, marathoner Frank Shorter and basketball player Scott May, but at the last minute Babashoff refused to pose. She finally relented but only after staff members had cajoled Babashoff and her coach, Mark Schubert, into cooperating. When one of our writers pointed out that Mark Spitz had been on SI's cover during the 1972 Olympics—in which he won seven gold medals—Schubert, alluding to an image problem that hurt Spitz in the post-Olympic endorsement marketplace, said, "Yeah, but look what happened to him afterward." Sometimes you just can't win.