SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's dining room in north Dallas the night before Super Bowl XLV was softly lit but crackling with hilarity. At first take, it was one of those rooms that might confuse anthropologists.
At the head table Cardinals überreceiver Larry Fitzgerald was talking football superstitions and deep Asian travel with Grammy-winning über-Bengals fan John Legend, Monday Morning Quarterback Peter King and swimsuit models Genevieve Morton and Chrissy Teigen. At the next table SI NFL editor Mark Mravic was talking soccer across from model Julie Henderson. Most of SI's Super Bowl writers and editors were lifting glasses. Ditto model Anne V, Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and the always inspiring Cowboys sack machine, DeMarcus Ware, smiling ironically at the turns his season had taken. Rex Ryan, the Jets coach and brilliant provocateur with his almost ventriloquial grasp of the media, had already set the tone for the evening by watching Hard Knocks clips with Teigen on her iPhone and explaining the importance of the occasional snack. He also picked the Packers by six.
The night marked both the end and the beginning of SI's yearly calendar: The next day we would report the 31--25 victory of the Packers over the Steelers and begin the weeklong countdown to the SI Swimsuit Issue. The Super Bowl comes like a final storm (sometimes literally) in the heart of winter. Swimsuit feels tidal, rolling in a week later with a forecast of lighter days, spring training and March Madness.
The first Swimsuit Issue (1964) came before the first Super Bowl (1967), but both were closer to Prohibition than to the launching of the iPhone. And they are linked by both exponential growth and aggregating culture: Joe Montana (four Super Bowl wins—1982, '85, '89--90—and three MVPs), meet Elle Macpherson (five SI covers, 1986--88, '94, 2006). This year's MVP is Aaron Rogers. This year's Swimsuit cover? Stay with us.