This week more than 1.4 million Americans will teach in an elementary school; another 100,000 will wield a dentist's drill; 40,000 will trim trees for a living. And 1,696 men will put on their pads, cleats, jerseys and helmets and play NFL football. It may be hard to think of highly paid superstars like Tom Brady and Keyshawn Johnson as regular guys with hopes and fears, long-term goals and goofy hobbies, but that, at bottom, is what they are, as you will see in a new six-page addition to the magazine called SI Players (page 37). These are added pages (sacrificing none of our usual coverage) that will bring more dimension and nuance to SI's NFL coverage, with stories and graphics focusing on ways in which players' on- and off-the-field lives coexist and intersect.
"The idea is to bring the reader closer to the men they spend Sunday and Monday with," says senior editor Kostya Kennedy, who is editing SI Players. "Discovering how we're the same as--and different from--big-time football players should make the NFL more accessible and more fun."
The first edition of SI Players features some straight talk from Colts running back Edgerrin James, the initial returns from SI's inaugural NFL player poll, and fitness and diet tips from Patriots cornerback Ty Law. "SI has never done anything like this," says deputy photography editor Maureen Cavanagh--who was Maureen Grise until her marriage to actor Tom Cavanagh ( NBC's Ed) in July, and who will work on the section with assistant photo editor Diana Eliazov. "We see these people so much on the field, it's just fun to show what they're like away from the spotlight."
The athletes' reaction to the concept? So far, so good, say reporters Lisa Altobelli, Amanda Cherrin and Andrew Lawrence. Many players seem eager to take a break from the usual locker room questions and share their less technical--and often amusing--thoughts about the game they love and to talk about extracurricular pursuits and passions. The point is, NFL players are more than the sum of their stats, and they know it. "Sometimes they go on so much, it's tough to get them to stop," Lawrence says.
One of Altobelli's assignments was to go to the home of Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis to watch him play Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams in a game of Madden NFL (XBox). The Internet matchup was good, but what really impressed Altobelli was the aquarium, filled with poisonous sea critters, that Portis had installed in the foyer of his house. "I didn't go to Clinton Portis's house expecting to see killer eels!" she says. No doubt that's unlikely to be her last surprise of the NFL season.
Editor's Note: The Sept. 27 Sports Illustrated will commemorate the magazine's 50th anniversary, and because of special printing demands some subscribers may receive their copy a day late. SI apologizes to those affected.