Not two hours after the New England Patriots had won the AFC Championship Game, Bill Parcells, the Patriots' coach, took his daughter Jill aside, away from the crowd of relatives packing his house, and said firmly, "No cover."
"No cover?" asked Jill.
"No cover. Do what you can. I don't want us on the cover."
So Jill Parcells, who works in the Sports Illustrated events marketing department, made a desperate call to her boss, publisher Dave Long, asking him to intercede on her father's behalf. "My dad is begging: No cover."
Here's a coach, still combing Gatorade out of his hair, on the doorstep of a world championship, who should be figuring out away to beat the Green Bay Packers, and his first concern is the ST cover jinx? Can you believe that?
Well, actually, yes. I didn't believe in the SI cover jinx either—until nine weeks ago. I always figured, This is sports. Sports is pretty much a losing proposition; every week more than half the athletes in events of all sorts around the world aren't going to win. For SI cover subjects, losing is an occupational hazard. What are you going to do? There's no Popular Mechanics jinx. It's very difficult for a turbopowered gungalator to pull a groin.
And cover losers make sense if you think about it. Take the Minnesota Timberwolves. Managing editor Bill Colson, the guy who picks the SI covers, sees that they're a cute team and they look like they're going to make the playoffs for once, and he thinks, I better get them on the cover while I have the chance. He slaps them on the front of the magazine, and snap, they lose. Is that a jinx?
I once wrote a cover story on Ickey Woods, the Cincinnati Bengals' fullback. The next season he blew out a knee and a career. I remember people coming up to me and saying, "Didja see what ya did to Ickey? Ya jinxed him!" Another time a guy showed me an old SI cover shot of O.J. Simpson and said, "See? The jinx!" I wondered, Docs a jinx have no statute of limitations?
But then nine weeks ago began the worst SI cover jinx streak anybody around here can remember. Ted Williams was on the cover of the Nov. 25 issue. A few weeks later he tripped over his dog and broke a leg. Cincinnati forward Danny Fortson was on the cover of the Dec. 2 college basketball preview issue. In the Bearcats' second game of the season they were upset by Xavier. Florida State's Warrick Dunn was on the Dec. 9 cover. A few weeks later the Seminoles got poleaxed in the Sugar Bowl, partly because Dunn was knocked out of the game by leg cramps. Then Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway was on our year-end cover. An appreciation, the billing read. First game out, Elway loses. A depreciation, it should have said. The following issue had Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell and Carolina Panthers quarterback Kerry Collins on the cover together. That Sunday, both lost.
I'm not surprised Parcells has this Super-stition. He collects figurines of elephants, but only trunks-up elephants. Very lucky. Send him a trunk-down elephant, and he pitches it. Once, when he coached the New York Giants, somebody saw a tails-up penny on the locker room carpet. Parcells decreed not only that nobody on the team should pick it up (bad luck) but also that the janitors should vacuum around it the rest of the season.