Skip to main content

That Old Black Magic Millions of superstitious readers--and many athletes--believe that an appearance on SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's cover is the kiss of death. But is there really such a thing as the SI Jinx?

A news magazine, which this periodical considers itself to be,
is said to provide the rough draft of history. What follows is a
final draft of a history that to a cohort of athletes and teams
since 1954 has been pretty rough. Brace yourself: You're about
to read a virtually exhaustive, intermittently scientific,
highly anecdotal study that may well discourage anyone from ever
again sitting for a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED cover (which is our
problem, not yours).

The subject, of course, is the so-called SI Cover
Jinx--"so-called" because our task here is to ascertain, as best
we can, whether the Jinx exists. If it does, it's insidious. The
Jinx, believers say, strikes man. (Wilbur Wood of the Chicago
White Sox, who was 13-3 when he made a 1973 cover appearance,
lost eight of his next nine decisions.) It strikes woman.
(Swimmer Carin Cone, unbeaten in the 100-meter backstroke for
four years leading up to the '60 Olympic trials, failed to
qualify for the Games after her cover.) It strikes man and woman
(golfer Doug Sanders and his wife, Joan, shared a cover in
January '62 and were divorced less than a year later); it
strikes man and beast (two months after Steve Cauthen's cover in
'77, the leg of his mount, Baystreak, was broken in a
three-horse pileup, and Cauthen suffered multiple fractures and
required 25 stitches); it strikes man and machine (the roll of
auto racers killed shortly after appearances includes Pat
O'Connor and Ricardo Rodriguez).

It afflicts athletes who have scarcely begun their careers: The
Royals' Clint Hurdle, THIS YEAR'S PHENOM (1978), wasn't, and
Tony Mandarich of the Packers, THE BEST OFFENSIVE LINE PROSPECT
EVER ('89), was suspect from his first snap until he retired;
high school pitching phenom Jon Peters, '89's SUPERKID, hurt his
right arm in college and wound up as student manager at Texas
A&M. It waylays those who have finished their careers: Ted
Williams tripped over his dog and broke his hip within a few
weeks of an appearance in '96. It even touches those who seem to
be composting contentedly in the grave: Several weeks after Babe
Ruth graced the cover in '99, old film footage surfaced giving
credence to longstanding doubts that the Bambino really called
his legendary called shot. Bill Parcells is a longtime Jinx
believer. After his New England Patriots won the '96 AFC title
game, Parcells phoned his daughter Jill, who works in our
events-marketing department, to bark two words: "No cover."

The past year was a good one for the Jinx--or a bad one, if you
happen to be Nomar Garciaparra of the Boston Red Sox. Days after
Garciaparra appeared on the cover last spring, shirtless and
mocking the fates, it was announced that he had split a tendon
in his right wrist. Oregon State, our preseason No. 1 on last
fall's college football preview and featured on the cover in the
person of running back Ken Simonton, lost 44-24 to Fresno State
in its opener and finished 5-6. The run of Nebraska quarterback
Eric Crouch for the Heisman Trophy, founded less on his
statistics than on his having piloted the Cornhuskers to an
11-0, top-of-the-polls season, hit a speed bump the day after
Thanksgiving, when Colorado obliterated them 62-36. The wipeout
occurred just as subscribers were receiving the issue bearing
his portrait. This season's billing of skins' GAME: HOW TO GO
0-5, THEN 5-0 all but assured that the Washington Redskins would
lose to the Dallas Cowboys that week and then fail to make the
playoffs--and led to a campaign by Pittsburgh TV and radio
stations, after the Steelers landed on the cover the following
week, to get listeners to boycott the issue and cancel their

A fine year for the Jinx, but nothing remarkable considering
what's gone on for nearly five decades. Please, then, join us as
we try to better understand the sphinx that is the Jinx.

The Origins of the Jinx

When Eddie Mathews appeared on the cover of the first issue of
SI, dated Aug. 16, 1954, he and the Milwaukee Braves were on a
nine-game winning streak. They lost their next game, on Aug. 17,
and a week later a pitch struck Mathews on the hand, causing an
injury that forced him to miss seven games. Thus began the
legend of the SI Jinx.

In fact if we ascribe to something that might be called the Luce
Screw Theory, the spore of the Jinx may have blown over from
TIME, from which we are descended and with which we've shared an
office building for virtually all our life. In its Jan. 10,
1949, issue, TIME featured Ben Hogan on its cover. On a foggy
morning several weeks later, as the golfer drove back to his
Fort Worth home from a tournament in Phoenix, a transcontinental
bus slammed into the driver's side of his car. Hogan broke an
ankle, his pelvis and several ribs, suffered massive internal
injuries and left doctors wondering if he'd ever walk again.
Barely two years after that episode, upon stepping into the ring
three weeks after TIME had featured him on its cover, Sugar Ray
Robinson suffered his first loss in 39 fights, to Randy Turpin.
Those two incidents led columnist Walter Winchell to posit the
existence of a TIME cover jinx.

However, it took SI--"Jockstrap," as the magazine was known to
condescending Time Inc. executives during its incubation--to do
up front-page misfortune properly. Specifically four cursed
covers over a six-year span. In 1955, the week that an issue
featuring her was on the stands, skier Jill Kinmont struck a
tree during a practice run and was paralyzed from the neck down.
WHY OKLAHOMA IS UNBEATABLE wasn't an insupportable billing,
given that the Sooners in November '57 had won 47 straight
games, but their 7-0 loss to Notre Dame the following Saturday
was ill-timed. In '58 our Indy 500 preview featured O'Connor,
who was killed in a 15-car pileup during the first lap. Skater
Laurence Owen appeared on the cover in '61, billed as AMERICA'S
MOST EXCITING GIRL SKATER; two days after the cover date Owen
and the rest of the U.S. skating team perished in a plane crash.

Small wonder that after Boston Bruins goalie Don Head appeared
on the cover in January 1962, teammates told him, "You're
doomed." Head got off easy in comparison with some of his fellow
cover boys, but later that month the Bruins sent him down to the
minors. He never played in the NHL again.

The Jinx Doesn't Like Hubris

The Jinx, if it exists, can read--and arch an eyebrow. The more
unequivocal, braggadocious or brimming with superlative a cover
image or billing is, the lower that subject seems likely to be
laid. Look at three recent covers. If we hadn't called the
Tennessee Titans the NFL'S BEST TEAM late last season, would
they have suffered a loss to the Baltimore Ravens the next week?
If we hadn't billed the Los Angeles Lakers as unstoppable last
season and featured a photo of a snarling Shaquille O'Neal,
would the Philadelphia 76ers have stopped them two days after
the issue hit the stands, ruining their perfect postseason, if
not their title run? Perhaps, verily, IT CAN BE DONE--"it" being
hitting .400 for a season--but not by the Colorado Rockies' Todd
Helton in 2000, not after his cover, which marked the beginning
of a 25-point plunge in his average over the following month.

So, of course, when we told the world in 1995 that Baltimore
he booted two routine grounders in a game that week. The St.
('68), would go 0 for 14 with an error before missing five games
with an injury immediately after the issue appeared. LSU
cornerback Tommy Casanova, the BEST PLAYER IN THE NATION ('71),
would miss five games after pulling his hamstring in the season
opener. Oregon State point guard Gary Payton, another BEST
PLAYER IN THE NATION ('90), would score five points in a game
that week, 22 below his average, to end a streak of 50 games in
which he had scored in double figures. Ivan Ivankov of Belarus,
who appeared on the cover of our 2000 Olympic preview in gold
paint, might have been THE WORLD'S BEST GYMNAST, but he wasn't
good enough to win a medal of any hue.

The billing needn't tempt fate explicitly; a mere image, with no
inflammatory words, can apparently goad the Jinx too. A
bare-torsoed Danny Fortson and preseason No. 1 Cincinnati lost
to unranked crosstown rival Xavier in the first game after their
1996 preseason college basketball cover appeared, and a showy
Deion Sanders of the Atlanta Falcons, festooned with chains and
jewelry ('89), was flagged for two illegal hits and let Jerry
Rice loose for a touchdown during a 45-3 loss to the San
Francisco 49ers that week. In '97 Jerome Bettis was on the cover
shirtless; in his next game he fumbled on his very first carry
in a Pittsburgh loss.

The Jinx Takes Names...

Is the cover of SI a sort of voodoo doll? Larry Bird might be
forgiven for thinking so--he was jinxed as a college player at
Indiana State, as a pro player with the Celtics and as coach of
the Pacers. Bird made the cover in 1979, then lost to Michigan
State in the NCAA final. After appearing on the cover in '83,
Bird and the Celtics were swept in a playoff series by the
Milwaukee Bucks. In '97 he was on the cover as the new coach of
the Pacers; they lost their first game and stumbled to a 2-5

In Bird's case the Jinx was judicious, doling out one whammy per
decade. In the case of Patrick Ewing the Jinx seemed, during the
early 1990s, to single him out. In '93 Ewing's New York Knicks
were bounced from the playoffs immediately after their center
appeared on SI's cover. A year later the same thing happened. At
least he'd been warned: In '82 Ewing was on the cover as the
dominant player for top-seeded Georgetown; the following week
the Hoyas lost in the NCAA final to North Carolina.

The Jinx keeps an eye on the TRANSACTIONS agate. After appearing
on the cover as a Boston College Eagle in 1983, Doug Flutie
threw three interceptions in his next game, a 27-17 loss to West
Virginia. In '85 an SI cover asked, CAN THIS MAN SAVE THE USFL?
Obviously not--Flutie had more interceptions than touchdowns
that season, and broke his collarbone. The USFL folded at the
end of the season. Thirteen years later, after appearing as a
Buffalo Bill, Flutie had his worst game in the NFL, going 12 for
30, 154 yards, with two interceptions and no touchdowns in a
34-12 loss to the Jets.

...and Addresses

For Nebraska fans, that Crouch cover was deja voodoo. In 1972
the Cornhuskers, national champions two years running, supplied
three players and coach Bob Devaney for the cover of our preview
issue, as we heralded the team's preseason No. 1 ranking and
drive for THREE STRAIGHT--and thereby assured its 20-17 loss to
unranked UCLA in the first game of the season. Six years later,
when running back Rick Berns graced our cover after a defeat of
No. 1 Oklahoma, Husker Nation looked forward to a meeting with
Penn State for the national championship, a hope dashed when
Nebraska lost its next game, 35-31 to Missouri. After his '84
appearance, running back Jeff Smith missed his next game due to
an ankle injury, and the top-ranked Cornhuskers lost to
Syracuse. A dozen years later, right after running back Ahman
Green was on the cover, he knocked the ball through his own end
zone, resulting in a safety, during a 19-0 loss to Arizona
State, a team that Nebraska, winner of 26 previous games, had
beaten 77-28 a year earlier.

You'd think the Curse of the Bambino would be plenty for one
town to labor under, but Boston has often been on the business
end of the Jinx too. The misfortunes of Bird and Flutie are only
a couple of examples--1977 was a particularly bad year for the
Hub. After both the Celtics and the Bruins made the cover during
the playoffs, then lost their ensuing series, a reader from New
England begged us to spare the Red Sox and the Patriots. When we
featured the Celtics in '87, with the billing CELTIC PRIDE, the
Jinx, perhaps mindful that pride is one of the seven deadly
sins, saw to it that Boston lost the Finals in six games to the

In the aftermath of Oregon State's loss to Fresno State last
season, we invited visitors to to share with us
instances of the Jinx in action. Of over 500 responses more than
half came from fans of one Boston team or another, most from Red
Sox partisans either bemoaning our 2000 cover of Pedro Martinez
and the Bosox, on which we promised to explain wHY THE RED SOX
WILL WIN THE WORLD SERIES, or begging, with that Garciaparra
cover still fresh in their minds, for no more Nomars.

Explaining Away the Jinx

No one has been quicker to pooh-pooh the Jinx than the pooh-bahs
of this magazine. During SI's salad days, editors protested that
they had to send color plates to the engraver up to six weeks
before publication, and that six weeks is plenty of time for a
team or athlete to go into the crapper. Case in point: the
Cincinnati Reds, who were in contention for the National League
read the billing prepared to run over a picture of Roy McMillan.
The Milwaukee Braves ran away from Cincinnati by season's end,
leaving editors just enough time to sub in a new cover line, a

For years episodes like this led to a number of jinxes that took
effect before the magazine hit the stands. The most chilling:
Blue-blooded horseman Bill Woodward Jr. was to have been SI's
1955 Sportsman of the Year. He had posed for our cover with his
wife, Ann, his prize thoroughbred, Nashua, and Eddie Arcaro, the
jockey who had ridden Nashua to victories in the Preakness and
the Belmont. The weekend the cover was to print, however, Ann
accidentally shot and killed her husband. SI managing editor Sid
James hastily shipped to the engraver a head shot of Brooklyn
Dodgers pitcher Johnny Podres. The picture was lame, and so was
the choice of Podres as Sportsman of the Year. Although he had
defeated the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series, he had lost
more games than he'd won that year. But Podres had the
inestimable advantage of not being dead.

Mark Mulvoy, who ran the magazine for eight years during the
1980s and '90s, likes to point out that no one has graced our
cover more often than Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson or Jack Nicklaus. The Fab Five have
appeared on the cover of SI a total of 166 times, over the
course of 41 years, and the exposure hardly impeded their careers.

SI executive editor Peter Carry, who joined the magazine as an
intern in 1963, has long contended that the Jinx is nothing more
than what statisticians call "regression to the mean," and
normal folks call "water seeking its own level." In other words
when Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves, who hadn't lost since
May '95, made the cover in August of that year, he was in the
midst of a streak of 10 victories and 14 starts without a
defeat, the most dazzling stretch of a fine career. Was his
surrendering of five runs, eight hits and five walks in 6 2/3
innings in his next start the work of the Jinx, or simply
evidence of his membership in the human race? The difficulty
champs have in repeating, the so-called Cy Young Jinx, the
"sophomore slump"--all are examples of regression to the mean.
Fact: Among baseball players who hit .300 or better for a
season, 80% hit for a lower average a year later. This isn't
necessarily evidence that they've forgotten how to hit. It's
more likely proof that they aren't, on balance, as good as a
lofty average might have briefly suggested.

2,456 Covers, 913 Victims

Spreadsheet isn't only what farmers do so their crops will grow.
It's what SI's Albert Chen and Tim Smith used to crunch
mountains of data they amassed during six months of research.
Breaking out covers by sport and athlete, team and school,
amateur and professional, and by kind of Jinx, they analyzed the
fate of virtually all of SI's 2,456 cover subjects up to this

Two students at USC's Graduate School of Journalism, Tim Leone
and Robbie Gluckson, had undertaken a similar study in 1984.
After examining a random sample of 271 covers, Team Trojan
concluded that cover subjects maintained or improved their level
of performance almost 58% of the time. Chen and Smith did more
than pick up where Leone and Gluckson left off, however. The
passage of time gave them an additional 17 years to analyze, and
thanks to the forensic assistance of LexisNexis, the online
database, as well as yellowing newspapers in libraries and the
fruits of many phone calls to longtime staffers and cover
subjects, they hunted down more than the statistical details to
which Leone and Gluckson limited themselves. For instance if you
did nothing more than check the box scores, you'd know only that
Miami Hurricanes quarterback Vinny Testaverde missed a game in
'86 with an injury. What you might have missed is the fact that
he was injured in a motor-scooter accident six days after
appearing on our cover.

To cast as wide a net as possible, Chen and Smith enlisted as
their deputy a sports bar owner-stockbroker from Englewood
Cliffs, N.J., named Scott Smith. Over the course of 20 years
Smith has amassed the world's most extensive collection of
autographed SI covers, and to do so he has assembled a Rolodex
that leaves the jaw slack. Want to know the name of that
anonymous Long Island surfcaster who appeared on the cover in
1954? Smith has that (Bob Sylvester). Curious whether that woman
who modeled the latest in stretch pants suffered a mortifying
episode of visible pantyline in the aftermath of her cover
appearance in '60? Scott Smith's your man.

We had to keep Scott on a fairly tight leash. After all, in the
service of his collection, he visited a comatose bridge champion
Charles Goren in his hospital room. He stalked a homeless
Houston McTear to a spot beneath the Santa Monica Pier, scoring
the former sprinter's John Hancock in exchange for Thunderbird
money. Michael Jordan reverses field whenever he sees Smith
coming. This may have something to do with an episode during the
mid-1980s, when Smith, bearing a sheaf of Jordan covers,
followed him into an elevator at a New York City hotel. Jordan
obligingly signed one cover, then another, only to become
suspicious when the car seemed to stop on every floor without
anyone getting on. Jordan finally realized that Smith was
hitting buttons surreptitiously with an elbow. A dodgy past, to
be sure--but given the task at hand, not a past we were prepared
to regard as a liability.

After we'd gathered our data, we applied a test. To be judged an
instance of the Jinx, a misfortune had to be measurable and
relatively immediate. In other words, if we picked, say, Florida
State as our No. 1 in August, and the Seminoles failed to bag a
bid to a bowl game in December, the Jinx was off the hook. On
the other hand, when the New York Islanders, in their drive for
their fifth straight Stanley Cup, lost in five to the Edmonton
Oilers in 1984; or when the Indians, heralded on the '87
baseball preview with the bold prediction BELIEVE IT! CLEVELAND
101 games that season--in each case, mad props to the Jinx.

In baseball and basketball, a hitting or shooting slump or a
losing streak had to set in within two weeks of a cover
appearance for the Jinx to be implicated. Thus when the
Philadelphia Phillies' Mike Schmidt hit .189 over a six-week
stretch following a cover appearance, a slump so bad that the
club switched its All-Star third baseman to first base, the Jinx
got the credit. In football the loss or lousy performance had to
take place the next weekend. For Olympians we compared their
showing at the Games with the medal each was forecast to win. For
injuries, we examined the month following the cover turn.

In the end we came up with six categories of misfortune--an
individual slump; a team slump; an individual blunder or bad
play; an individual injury or death; a bad loss or lousy
performance by a team or individual; and a failure to win a title
after having been featured during the postseason. We added a
seventh category to accommodate miscellaneous calamities, like
Nike's stock plunge shortly after CEO Phil Knight appeared on the
cover in 1993. The clock begins ticking the day the magazine hits
the newsstands, which is the Wednesday before the issue date.

We made the following broad findings: Of the 2,456 covers SI had
run, 913 featured a person who, or team that, suffered some
verifiable misfortune that conformed to our definition--a Jinx
rate of 37.2%. The majority of those instances (52.7%) were bad
losses or lousy performances by a team, followed by declines in
individual performance (44.6%), bad loss or lousy performance by
an individual (25.2%), postseason failure (13.4%), injury or
death (11.8%) and blunder or bad play (4.6%).

Perhaps our most noteworthy finding was this: Athletes in
individual sports proved to be more vulnerable to a decline in
performance than their team- or smashmouth-sport counterparts.
Regardless of whether we'd uncovered incontrovertible proof of
the existence of the Jinx, this discrepancy suggested that we
were on to something. We decided to call in an expert.

Honey, I Shrink the Cover Subjects

Sports psychologist Jim Loehr has given a lot of thought to the
Jinx, and he believes it does exist. More precisely, he believes
that an appearance on the cover of a magazine read by more than
20 million people each week can have a demonstrable, often
deleterious effect on an athlete's performance. "I'd call this a
natural consequence of the changing dynamics of expectation,"
says Loehr, who does much of his work with golfers, tennis
players and Olympians, the very athletes most susceptible to the
Jinx. "Being on the cover changes the way people see themselves,
and they have to metabolize a different set of conditions.
They're supposed to be superstars now, and if they don't live up
to that, they've somehow failed. This changing perception causes
many athletes to feel pressure and have a much harder time
achieving their ideal performance. The Jinx isn't just a cover
phenomenon. It occurs whenever an athlete receives a particular
level of attention that builds expectation."

In sports, confidence is supposed to be all. Thus you'd think
the imprimatur of a national magazine would lead athletes to
ascend to even loftier heights. Not necessarily, says Loehr.
"All this attention can boost their sense of confidence," he
says. "But another result is far more common. It's the fear that
I'm going to be the center of all this attention, and can I meet
expectations? Most people have a fairly substantive arena of
doubt in their soul, a kind of imposter complex. Although they
believe in themselves, they're a little fragile about whether
they can continue their success, and unsure how much of it is

"A mature athlete, who hasn't been overly taken with all the
publicity, who's been through a lot, knows he's lost if he
doesn't metabolize a cover appearance in a constructive way. If
attention comes in doses, if there's a buildup, if an athlete
thinks, Of course I'm going to be on the cover of SI, that
athlete can be impervious to it. But if it comes suddenly and for
the first time, there's a level of stress and pressure that the
athlete has never experienced."

An Empirical Test (Warning: Latin Ahead)

Throughout history mankind has been seduced by what logicians
call the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy. If Event A takes
place before Event B, it's tempting to conclude that A caused B,
even if there's no rational basis for that conclusion. That
Casey Stengel, skipper of the fledgling New York Mets, appeared
on SI's 1962 baseball preview probably didn't cause the Mets to
lose nine straight games to begin the season and set records for
futility. They stank all on their own, thank you. From all we've
come to know about Leon Spinks, he hardly needed the bad mojo of
our cover, which he graced after defeating Ali in '78, to get
arrested twice and lose his next bout. Indeed in '82, when the
Bruins had an 18-game unbeaten streak end on Feb. 6, shortly
after Bobby Orr's appearance on the cover, some other forces may
well have been at work.

To avoid falling into the trap of post hoc, ergo propter hoc,
we'd be well served to challenge our 37.2%--indeed, to challenge
all our data--with the simple query: Compared with what? If SI
didn't exist, if there had been no Jan. 23, 1984, cover for
Wayne Gretzky to appear on, would the Great One have extended
his scoring streak beyond 51 consecutive games, rather than
watch it end on Jan. 28? Would Paul Hornung and Notre Dame have
lost three straight after appearing in '56? Would the California
Angels' Nolan Ryan, 10-3 when he graced the cover in '75, have
dropped his next eight decisions? Would all these diminished
performances have happened regardless of our silly little

This is an essential question. To frame it better we rang up
professor Gary Smith, who teaches statistics at Pomona College
and has conducted many studies on sports. He tells us that to
conduct a scientifically sound study of the Jinx, we'd have to
parse the career of every cover subject to find out not only his
lifetime statistics but also his frequency of injury, the number
of pratfalls he typically suffered around the house, etc., etc.,
ad nauseam. (We warned you about the Latin.) Then we'd have to
weigh all this data against the evidence we'd gathered for that
cover subject within the relevant time period, the "Jinx
window." It's also enormously difficult, professor Smith says,
"to separate the randomness in performance that sometimes causes
an athlete to perform above his ability and get on the
cover"--that is, progression from the mean--"from any kind of
psychological factor whereby once you're on the cover, you choke
or freeze," which is to say, the Loehr phenomenon of poorly
metabolized expectation.

Scores of negative forces might come under the rubric of the
Jinx. Each Jinx victim, in turn, is affected by scores of
variables, some unique to his or her circumstances, that we'd
have to control for. It would take a phalanx of reporters in lab
coats to test more than 2,400 cover subjects buffeted by so many
forces. Frankly, my dear, we don't have the time.

What's more, SI does exist--has for more than 47 years--and
there's no way to simulate its absence.

Lourdes, Damn Lourdes, and Statistics

The supernatural flip side of a jinx is a miracle, and the
rapturous counterpart to the cover of SI is Lourdes, the town in
southwestern France to which more than 100 million pilgrims have
flocked since 1858. Over nearly a century and a half, the Roman
Catholic Church has certified 66 cases of pilgrims miraculously
cured of incurable illnesses by a visit to Lourdes--miracle-cure
odds that are longer than a million to one. Given that the
spontaneous remission rate of cancer is somewhere between one in
10,000 and one in 100,000; that only three of those 66 certified
miracle cures involved cancer; and that the likelihood of dying
in an accident en route to Lourdes is many times greater than
the chance of being cured, you might want to spare yourself the
schlepp. Yet any one of those 66 Lourdes miracle cases would
sooner credit his restored health to that faithful pilgrimage
than to some mumbo jumbo about "spontaneous remission." In the
same way if you've suffered a misfortune following an appearance
on the cover of SI, it'll be hard to persuade you that your
cover turn had nothing to do with it.

In 1985 Tim Gilovich, a psychology professor at Cornell,
examined another proverbial truth of sports--that in basketball,
successful shots often cluster in the way we recognize as "a hot
hand." Gilovich found that NBA players who make one, two or
three consecutive shots are no more likely to make a second,
third or fourth shot than players who have just missed a shot.
Told of the Cornell study, Red Auerbach's harrumph could be
heard in the Berkshires. "Who is this guy?" the Celtics'
paterfamilias wanted to know. "So he makes a study. I couldn't
care less."

Auerbach's point is one many fans share: If the likelihood that
a shooter will succeed is as random as the flip of a coin, then
sports has lost, at a stroke, some of its logic and some of its
magic. "What's the harm of a little mystification?" wrote Carl
Sagan, who cited the Lourdes study and Gilovich's figures in his
book The Demon-Haunted World. "It sure beats boring statistical

Of course the last word in our boring statistical analysis
awaits. If the Jinx has existed all these years, its appearance
on this week's cover might well lead to its demise--might well
make it the victim of a kind of assisted suicide. In which case
any cover subject who henceforth stumbles would probably know
with approximate certainty that it wasn't the fault of the Jinx.

Unless, of course, it was.

COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY WALTER IOOSS JR. COVER The Cover that No One Would Pose for Is the SI Jinx for Real?

COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR.(WARNER) You Superstitious, Kurt? For the Rams' Kurt Warner, wearing number 13 isn't a problem, but when we asked him to be on our cover with a black cat, he decided that was too spooky. [T of C]


B/W PHOTO: CORBIS-BETTMANN Oh, you! Coach Terry Brennan's players carried him off after Notre Dame ended Oklahoma's 47-game winning streak in 1957.


COLOR PHOTO: HY PESKIN The ultimate price After being on the cover, Kinmont (left) was paralyzed, Owen died in a plane crash (right) with Olympic teammates, and O'Connor was killed in a 15-car pileup.


COLOR PHOTO: JERRY COOKE [See caption above]

B/W PHOTO: STAN WAYMAN/LIFE [See caption above]

COLOR PHOTO: HY PESKIN [See caption above]


COLOR PHOTO: TED KIRK/LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR Shucking the Huskers The Jinx has been unkind to Nebraska players, including Smith, Green (above, and right) and Crouch.

COLOR PHOTO: ANDY HAYT [See caption above]

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [See caption above]


COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MEEK Sub standard Podres was a late fill-in for Woodward (right), who was shot and killed after his Sportsman of the Year cover shoot.


COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. Nomar, no mas! Red Sox fans are sure SI had something to do with the wrist injury that kept Garciaparra out for most of the '01 season.


COLOR PHOTO: GREGORY HEISLER Can-miss kids Green Bay lineman Mandarich was one of numerous phenoms SI touted--erroneously--as sure bets.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER [See caption above]

COLOR PHOTO: PHILLIP LEONIAN What Jinx? The best argument against the Jinx: the dominant athletes who have appeared on the most SI covers, including Ali (38 times), Nicklaus (23) and Jordan (51).


COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. [See caption above]








































8 - 16 - 1954
Mathews is SI's first cover subject. One week to the day after
the cover date he becomes the first victim of the Jinx,
suffering a hand injury that forces him to miss seven games.

3 - 7 - 1955
Badminton star and FBI agent Joe Alston was to have been moved
to an undercover post, but publicity from his cover appearance
leads the Feds to keep him in investigations...for the rest of
his career.

9 - 3 - 1956
Lew Hoad is featured on the preview of Forest Hills, where he's
going for the Grand Slam. Ken Rosewall beats him in the final.

4 - 18 - 1960
For four years Cone is undefeated in the 100-meter backstroke.
At the nationals a few weeks after her cover she finishes
second, and at her next meet she fails to qualify for the Games.

7 - 11 - 1960
A week later, Jim Beatty, the U.S.-record holder in the
5,000-meter, injures his left foot in a tune-up for the Games. He
fails to make the finals in Rome.

10 - 3 - 1960
A week after its All-America quarterback, Bob Schloredt, is on
the cover, heavily favored Washington loses to Navy 15-14, thanks
to Schloredt's fumble of--you guessed it--a shotgun snap.

3 - 26 - 1962
Ricardo Rodriguez, the driver billed as MEXICO'S YOUNG FIREBALL,
dies in a fiery crash later that year.

7 - 20 - 1964
Shirley MacLaine is on the cover touting a college football
movie she appears in. The film gets panned, and Notre Dame sues
the producers over the school's portrayal in the film.

12 - 6 - 1965
Doug McIntosh and UCLA have won 17 straight basketball games when
they grace the cover. The Bruins lose two of their next three.

5 - 23 - 1966
Sam McDowell of the Indians, 4-0 with two one-hit shutouts, gives
up five runs without retiring anyone in his next start; in the
start after that he walks four before being yanked after 12/3

4 - 24 - 1967
Rick Barry, soon after this cover and a marvelous season, loses
his legal battle to jump from the NBA to the ABA and is forced to
sit out a year.

6 - 9 - 1969
Defending champion Lee Trevino is on the cover of our U.S. Open
preview; the next week he fails to make the cut.

11 - 10 - 1969
Oklahoma running back Steve Owens is featured on the cover; the
next week the Sooners fumble five times during a 44-10 loss to

1 - 5 - 1970
The Minnesota Vikings, favored by two touchdowns in the Super
Bowl, lose 23-7 to the Kansas City Chiefs.

12 - 14 - 1970
Texas, 10-0 and enjoying a 30-game winning streak, fumbles nine
times in its next game, a 24-11 loss to Notre Dame in the Cotton

7 - 17 - 1972
Shortly after Jim Ryun makes an appearance on our cover, Olympic
officials in Munich misread his entry form and place him in an
opening heat of the 1,500-meter with the formidable Kip Keino of
Kenya. Ryun winds up losing, fails to advance to the finals and
soon thereafter ends his amateur career.

12 - 3 - 1973
Alabama is 11-0 going into its Sugar Bowl date with Notre Dame.
But after coach Bear Bryant graces the cover, the Tide ebbs,
losing 24-23 to the Irish.

9 - 2 - 1974
Evel Knievel, after our preview of his much-heralded canyon leap,
fails miserably and thereafter loses much of his mystique.

12 - 16 - 1974
Rick Barry and the Warriors lead the NBA's Pacific Division. In
their first game after this issue appears, the Warriors lose to
the 2-23 New Orleans Jazz.

12 - 8 - 1975
Texas A&M and Bubba Bean make the cover for the 10-0 Aggies, who
lose their next two games by a combined 51-6.

6 - 14 - 1976
After being featured on the preview to the Montreal Olympics,
high jump favorite Dwight Stones struggles in heavy rains and
takes home a bronze.

8 - 23 - 1976
They may have COME ABOARD, but the Bucs and Steve Spurrier walk
the plank in their inaugural NFL season, getting shut out in
back-to-back games and winding up 0-14.

12 - 5 - 1977
Earl Campbell and the 11-0 Texas Longhorns lose their next game,
the Cotton Bowl, to Notre Dame 38-10.

6 - 26 - 1978
Andy North gets the SI cover treatment after winning his first
tournament, the U.S. Open. He then fails to win another event on
the PGA Tour for seven years. In 1985 he finally wins his second
tournament, another U.S. Open, and again makes an appearance on
our cover. He fails to win another PGA tournament for the rest
of his career.

8 - 28 - 1978
It takes a while, but ill things befall the Double Eagle II
crew. One crewman dies in a ballooning mishap in 1983. Another
dies in a plane crash in '85. In '95 the third nearly dies in a
skydiving accident.

10 - 30 - 1978
After winning his seventh marathon in a row, Bill Rodgers finally
makes the cover. In his next marathon he finishes sixth.

3 - 24 - 1980
After Tigers slugger Kirk Gibson appears on our baseball preview
cover, he starts the season 4 for 35 as Detroit opens 2-9.

10 - 20 - 1980
Apres his cover, le deluge for Paul Westphal and his new team.
Seattle loses 22 more games than it did in '79-80, and Westphal
sits out more than half the season with a stress fracture.

4 - 13 - 1981
Brett starts the season hitting .208, and his Royals go 3-10. SI
reruns the cover in August, after the strike is settled; Brett
makes the least of his second chance. He goes 1 for 20.

8 - 9 - 1982
The Braves drop 14 of 15 games in the aftermath of Dale Murphy's
appearance. He has a stretch of 6 for 31 to help the streak

10 - 4 - 1982
Penn State is unbeaten and ranked No. 3 until Todd Blackledge
makes the cover. A week later Alabama picks off four of his
passes and spoils the Lions' season with a 42-21 victory.

12 - 6 - 1982
The Redskins are THE UNDEFEATED--until they play the Cowboys that
week and lose 24-10.

8 - 8 - 1983
In the first Monday Night Football broadcast after Howard
Cosell's cover, the ABC commentator causes a tremendous outcry
when he refers to Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett as "that
little monkey."

7 - 16 - 1984
John McEnroe would win 82 of the 85 singles matches he played
this year, but he takes a first-round, postcover drubbing from
unseeded Vijay Amritraj in the ATP Championships.

11 - 19 - 1984
The SUPER DUPER Dolphins are 11-0 ... until they encounter the
kryptonite of an SI cover and lose their next game to the

7 - 15 - 1985
In the aftermath of this post-Wimbledon appearance, Boris Becker
loses first to Ivan Lendl, then to a journeyman. "I haven't
played so weak since my childhood," Becker says.

9 - 15 - 1986
The Jinx is contagious: A week after this appearance Ivan Lendl
took driving lessons with Paul Newman, who crashed the car
shortly after Lendl vacated it.

9 - 29 - 1986
In his next game after posing with the Giants' Lawrence Taylor,
the Jets' Mark Gastineau misses his first game in seven years.

11 - 24 - 1986
Six days following this appearance, quarterback Vinny Testaverde
of Miami is in a motor-scooter accident and misses the
Hurricanes' next game.

9 - 4 - 1989
Though commissioner Bart Giamatti's image doesn't grace this
cover, his words about Pete Rose do--and for an academic, words
are all. Giamatti dies of a heart attack that week.

12 - 18 - 1989
Days after appearing on our cover, Wayne Gretzky fails to get an
assist, thereby settling for a tie for the NHL record for
consecutive games with at least one.

12 - 10 - 1990
In BYU's next game, the Holiday Bowl with Texas A&M, Ty Detmer
throws one interception and separates both shoulders, and the
Cougars lose 65-14.

9 - 30 - 1991
On this date Ramon Martinez and the Dodgers have a two-game lead
in the NL West. Martinez loses his next two starts, and the
Dodgers finish the season a game behind the Braves.

5 - 24 - 1993
The Jinx does what National League pitching couldn't--drive the
batting average of the Giants' Barry Bonds down 40 points in two

8 - 16 - 1993
In the month following CEO Phil Knight's appearance, Nike's
six-year streak of record earnings ends, its stock plummets,
hundreds of employees are laid off, and 37 high school players
who had partaken of Nike's hospitality find their eligibility

8 - 30 - 1993
In his first five games after our preview Florida State kicker
Scott Bentley muffs seven extra points.

1 - 10 - 1994
Widespread NCAA improprieties come to light shortly after Florida
State is featured for winning the national championship.

4 - 25 - 1994
Dan (Big Daddy) Wilkinson, a defensive tackle from Ohio State,
appears on the cover of our NFL draft preview and then fails to
make a sack in the Bengals' first six games.

6 - 5 - 1995
Three days after his appearance Giants third baseman Matt
Williams, then the league leader in home runs, batting average
and RBIs, fouls a pitch off his right foot and breaks it,
forcing him to miss 2 1/2 months. "It seems for real," manager
Dusty Baker says of the bad mojo attributed to the SI cover.
"Don't put me on it."

10 - 2 - 1995
Mo Vaughn gets the cover treatment as the Red Sox enter the
playoffs. He goes 0 for 14 in the Indians' three-game sweep of

1 - 13 - 1997
Jacksonville's Mark Brunell and Carolina's Kerry Collins share a
cover during the playoffs. They also share the same fate in their
following games: playoff losses.

11 - 16 - 1998
Texas running back Ricky Williams may be THE TEXAS TORNADO, but
in his next game Texas Tech's Ricky Williams outrushes his
eponymous counterpart in a 42-35 Red Raiders victory.

3 - 8 - 1999
A week later Dennis Rodman takes a leave of absence to address
"personal matters" and misses four games. He files for divorce on
April 6; L.A. releases him on April 15.

6 - 5 - 2000
A day later Anna Kournikova is bounced from the French Open in
the second round, the earliest she has exited a Grand Slam in
three years.

9 - 4 - 2000
After Week 1, Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf has gone 17 for 39
with three interceptions. He throws seven more interceptions than
touchdowns for the season.

10 - 9 - 2000
Two games after his cover appearance the Rams' Kurt Warner breaks
his pinkie and, for the first time since he won the job, is
sidelined, missing his next five games.

1 - 22 - 2001
Amani Toomer and the Giants, featured after a rout of the Vikings
in the NFC title game, lose 31-7 to the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

5 - 21 - 2001
The Hornets, appearing with a 3-2 lead on the Bucks in the second
round of the playoffs, lose the next two games and the series.

10 - 1 - 2001
In his next game Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler has two fumbles
and two interceptions in a 42-10 loss to the Rams.

1 - 14 - 2002
As SI goes to press, news reports come out that cover boy Michael
Jordan's wife has filed for divorce.

For more Jinx examples, go to