Sports fans have long heard that western Pennsylvania--birthplace of Joe Namath, Joe Montana and Dan Marino--is the cradle of quarterbacks, but is that really true? And if so, is there a similar breeding ground for baseball's big boppers--the guys who've hit more than 300 homers? Jim Miller of International Mapping Associates in Ellicott City, Md., did not pursue cartography in hopes of answering such questions, but for three months he and his boss, Alex Tait, have been working with the SI staff to create maps that reveal fascinating truths about sports. To say the Great American Sport Atlas (page 96) was a labor of love for them is to say that NASCAR drivers tend to come from the red states. "In terms of topic and the variety," says Miller, "this is the best assignment I'm ever going to get."
The 25-year-old Miller, a native of Bellmawr, N.J., and a fan of the Phillies, the Eagles and the Flyers, especially enjoyed making SI's team-migration map, which traces pro franchises as they moved about, shedding cities and nicknames. Tait, from Colebrook, Conn., says his favorite map is the one showing the relationship between golf course density and median household income. "Golf is not even my game," says Tait, 40, an avid climber who has drawn maps for National Geographic Traveler and Backpacker magazines. "But I love the picture of American society that the map presents."
Writer-reporter Andrea Woo was a natural choice to work on the Atlas. As a fifth-grader at the Upper School in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Woo took second place in her school's National Geography Bee. "I made an impressive run," says Woo, 25, "but in the end I lost out to a sixth-grader."
Woo, who joined the magazine in 2001 from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, served as the lead researcher on the Atlas, sifting through a mountain of data from the NCAA, NFL, NBA and other organizations, and even creating a database of 7,035 U.S.-born Olympic athletes so they could be mapped by birthplace. "What I've learned from this process," she says, "is how to use Microsoft Excel."
John Hendrix, 28, who drew the map that depicts America from a sports junkie's perspective (page 115), is coming off a solid stretch as an illustrator (he has worked for The New York Times, The New Yorker and Rolling Stone), but an awful year as a fan. The Kansas alum and St. Louis native saw his Jayhawks upset by Georgia Tech in the Elite Eight of the NCAA basketball tournament and his Cardinals swept in the World Series. He says he was cheered by the SI project, which allowed him to put his favorite mascots on the map. "In terms of sports," says Hendrix, "this was my payback."