It all started with Betsy Cullen, a girl of 15 who appeared on page 8 of the debut issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (Aug. 16, 1954). She strides out of a section called PAT ON THE BACK, described as "a salute from the editors to men and women who have fairly earned the good opinion of the world of sport, regardless of whether they have yet earned the tallest headlines." SI has honored thousands in PAT ON THE BACK and, since 1956, its descendant, FACES IN THE CROWD. Some are there for their unique sport (watermelon seed spitting), a few for their resonant names (Douglas MacArthur) but most for athletic feats that vaulted them above the unsung masses. To view FACES from its early days is to see a road map of how the magazine, sports and culture have changed. Cullen is noted as the Oklahoma women's golf champion but described as a "pretty, well-tanned ... member of the high school set ... and a large consumer of hamburgers and chocolate cookies." There's no mention of her winning score. It's been a long, strange trip since then, as a look at the milestones reveals.
Fresh off his appearance in East of Eden, James Dean is noted in PAT for his racing prowess. In March, Dean, 24, drove his Porsche to victory in an under-1,500-cc race in Palm Springs, Calif.
Friend of the Wright Brothers and the first Englishman to fly, 71-year-old Lord Brabazon gets a shout-out for his Sledding skills after winning tobogganing's Curzon Cup.
A new section, SCOREBOARD, opens the magazine. The first item in it? ... THESE FACES IN THE CROWD ..., which mentions Maurice Richard's 500th NHL goal and Casey Stengel's first trip to England in 31 years. Stengel quips that the British "were just as calm about my arrival as they were back in 1924." PAT ON THE BACK moves to the last page of the magazine and now features a single person who has achieved something of note. LIFE OF REILLY it is not.
"Al Wiggins, handsome Ohio State Swimmer who makes a specialty of cracking records, added another to his list by covering the 100-yard butterfly in 0:54.4 to better his own mark for the event in the Ohio AAU championships at Columbus."
Rocky Marciano gets a PAT for his blossoming second career: Golf. The item notes Marciano "is still learning but that his instructor considers him a top prospect, as the heavyweight champ has broken 110 for 18 holes."
Ann Mossberg is cited for her role in the Tournament of Roses festivities.
Edward C. Roth, Spectator, gets in for inventing a viewing platform.
Clark Gable is feted for Dog Training, thus continuing the line of FACES recognized simply because they're famous. Other A-listers applauded for their past and present accomplishments: Dwight D. Eisenhower (1/30/56, Golf); Winston Churchill (7/2/56, Sportsman); Somerset Maugham (6/10/57, Soccer); Douglas MacArthur (7/14/58, Football).
Dan Jenkins, future SI writer, gets mentioned in the magazine while still at the Fort Worth, Texas, Press by winning the Golf Writers Association annual tournament.