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It is man's conceit, no matter what dot he occupies on the
cosmological time line, that his particular history is special.
That is why there are so many Golden Eras, often one right
after another. Yes, your guys invented electricity. Good one!
And you? You had Shakespeare--an industry of English majors
thanks you. ¶ Now, how about the past 50 years? We haven't
cooked up a catchy name for that era yet, but we can make a
good case for it. Our premise: 1954 marked the beginning of an
intriguing confluence of people and circumstance, talent and
ambition, that fundamentally changed sports, and this country.
¶ Still in play were the residual, beguiling celebrities of the
previous Golden Age of Sports--Dempsey, Snead (who had enough
left to win the Masters--and beat Hogan along the way!) and,
you might say, DiMaggio, who was marrying, and rapidly
un-marrying, Marilyn Monroe. But by 1954 there was also a sense
that a modern, even more exciting age of athleticism was upon
us. Sports were about to become vastly more integrated, more
democratic and, consequently, better. An English medical
student, Roger Bannister, ran the first sub-4-minute mile,
Rocky Marciano was steaming ahead on his undefeated career, and
Willie Mays, returning from Army service, made The Catch
(Version 1.0).

And how's this? Wilt Chamberlain was in his senior year of high
school, Arnold Palmer was turning pro and Hank Aaron was joining
the Milwaukee Braves. Mickey Mantle, though he'd been a Yankee
for a few years, invented the tape-measure home run that year.
There's a Murderer's Row for you.

It was no accident, then, that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED made its debut
in 1954. Our contribution to this quantum leap: We established
the modern vernacular. Yeah, that's all. (High five!) Over the
past 50 years, we've hashed out everything that afflicts and
anoints our culture in the language of sports. Think about it.
What moral quandary, what political debate, what social disquiet
hasn't been articulated within the framework of the games we all
share? A woman on the PGA Tour? Or how about this: Why can't a
black man get hired to coach a college football team?

In 1946, when the Greatest Generation (thank you, Tom Brokaw!)
came home after World War II, no one could have guessed that
sports would provide the shared experience that it has over the
past 50 years. It was a time of unprecedented prosperity in
America, a time to sit back, admire your house, your job, your
family, to luxuriate in the world's complete safety (now
guaranteed; you're welcome). It was also time to enjoy everyone's
favorite new appliance, the TV.

The country's traditionally rowdy spirit was momentarily embalmed
in an amber glow of postwar self-satisfaction. And yet: The
urgency of this modern life would prove impossible to ignore for
very long. Television accelerated the old story lines at a
terrific rate; rags-to-riches played out in the time it took your
tinfoil TV dinner to cook. Things happened fast, and they
happened to everyone at once. Maybe that implied shared values,
which extended far beyond our communal enthusiasm for The
Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (and what adventures they were!).
New ways of thinking about race, about business, about celebrity
were being developed, often in the laboratory of sports.

And then there was an explosion in all the major sports (in all
directions, it seemed) to the point where teams became civic
metaphors, ordinary athletes our myth-makers and the games
themselves a matter of national imperative. Almost everything of
importance could be expressed or anticipated in the sports
coverage of the day. The coming celebrity culture--in which fame
would be delivered instantly--was prefigured in our new idolatry
of athletes and was helped along by the proliferation of media
that fed our 24/7 interest. Ideas of professionalism and
amateurism got blurred, as the need to commercialize even our
play took precedence over innocence. Sports, as it evolved from a
local flavor to a national appetite, became a way to look at
race, gender, business--you name it. And suddenly, all sorts of
people could talk to one another, volatile debates defused by a
shared passion for sports. Not ready to talk about the
integration of schools? O.K., let's talk about this Larry Doby,
first black player in the American League. He can hit a little,
can't he?

Strange isn't it, that the very themes of achievement and
disgrace that animate our history would be expressed in something
so universal (and benign) as a box score, an improbable athletic
feat, a magazine cover. Who could have guessed that, henceforth,
anything worthwhile could be demonstrated on, say, a basketball
court--racial harmony, affluence, cooperation, style, commerce?
(High five!) Who could have possibly known that?


Henry Luce leaned forward, puzzled. This was preposterous
behavior! The team with a 13-point lead, instead of pressing its
advantage, was passing the ball back and forth. It was
stalling, icing the game. Luce, the cofounder of Time Inc., was
no particular fan of college basketball--O.K., he was no fan at
all--but this strategy simply didn't square with his formula
for success. He turned to his tour guide for the evening, an
employee who had volunteered to squire the media magnate to the
unfamiliar squalor of Madison Square Garden, and said, "That's
no good. You can't survive by hoarding. It's like making money.
Any small boy can save money, but you've got to spend money to
make money." Lest his metaphor be lost on his companion, Luce
explained, "The team that's ahead now is going to lose."

The story, logged in Time Inc. corporate lore, predictably ends
with the team that was ahead losing. We do not have the box score
to prove it, but anecdotes tend to be bent in favor of media
magnates, and the story, however apocryphal, does explain Luce's
inclination toward expansion of a publishing empire that already
included TIME, LIFE and FORTUNE. Time Inc., the company he
created with $86,000 in 1922 was, by 1952, flush to the point of

One of the principal engines of the postwar boom was
advertising, and that had been very good for Luce's magazines.
That year they'd captured more than $130 million in ad
revenue, about a quarter of all dollars spent in American
magazines. "We have $10 million sitting idle," Luce wrote to his
associates. He later said, "Wouldn't it be a good test if we
found out if we could bring out another successful magazine?"

There was no shortage of ideas. Among them were Highway Magazine,
Quitting Time, Railroad Fan Magazine and a semireligious comic
book, a proposal no doubt meant to pander to the beetle-browed
missionary's son who ran this empire. Also under consideration
was a sports magazine. Luce had zero background in sports and was
always perplexed when conversations among his peers veered to the
previous night's game. Actually, when it came to sports, he was
nearly always perplexed. He once started to leave a baseball game
at the seventh-inning stretch, thinking it signaled the
conclusion of the evening's entertainment. But he was not beyond
being influenced by the culture he covered, and he recognized the
growing importance of sports in an age of increasing leisure.

The idea of a sports magazine had long bounced through Time
Inc.'s halls but had never been encouraged. The company, littered
with Ivy Leaguers, was far too highbrow for that. One executive
later complained, "I suggested the sports magazine idea before
the war, and the bigwigs reacted as if I was talking about comic
books. Time Inc. would never dirty their journalistic pudgies on
anything so base as sports."

But now, desperate for a start-up, a sports magazine didn't seem
all that far beneath Time Inc., what with the country newly
devoted to play. With all those new consumers out there, buying
firearms and motorboats, maybe some kind of recreation magazine
could be made to prosper. Luce challenged his editors to shoot
the ball.


Swarms of yellow bulldozers, puffing and harrumphing, bowled
over orange trees and mashed potato fields, just like that. The
concrete trucks followed, the sweet swish of their contents
articulating cul-de-sacs. Then the bang-bang of framers, the
clang of plumbers, the sharp swick of plasterers. And soon
enough you were home, looking out your own picture window, not
at an orange grove or a potato field, of course, but--rather
more reassuringly--at another picture window.

Farmland was converted to housing at such an astonishing rate
that the effect was more like a cultural wall-to-wall carpeting
than construction. It was a miracle of suddenness (36 houses a
day in one development) and of economy. These homes could be had
for as little as $7,900. And if you were a veteran--and in 1954
who wasn't?--you could qualify for easy financing. The postwar
years witnessed a surprising boom, full of pent-up demand,
creating a new middle class that was educated and secure and
newly self-confident. Men ripped from small-time dreams to fight
overseas returned to the States to find that college (thanks, GI
Bill!) was easily accessible and that lifetime jobs were there
for the taking, as were inexpensive houses. Ambition in all
things was possible, even encouraged.

"This is Levittown!" read one ad in The New York Times. It
spelled out the deal. A GI (the suburbs were marketed principally
to that demographic bulge of newly returned veterans now creating
families) could move in with no down payment (a nonveteran would
have to pony up $100) and a monthly mortgage of perhaps $63
(including taxes). The ad rather needlessly concluded, "You're a
lucky fellow, Mr. Veteran."

The houses were small and uniform, and sharp-eyed snobs sneered
at the neighborhoods' covenants of conformity ("Remove weeds at
least once a week"; "Please don't leave laundry hanging out on
Sundays ..."), but more promise than problems percolated in these
freshly sprung subdivisions. For someone who'd washed up on the
beach at Normandy only scant years before, the certainty of a
ready-made life in a ready-made house was welcome beyond further
inquiry. A returning GI, coming from a blue-collar background in
which college was never thought possible, now had a degree, a
white-collar job at AT&T, a house for less than $10,000 and a
cul-de-sac full of friends who, in aspiration and circumstance,
were absurdly like himself. They'd get together on weekend
nights, the flare of tiki torches illuminating their happiness.

Such density of optimism, such constriction of viewpoint anyway,
masked some serious social shortcomings. For two decades it was
not possible for blacks to buy a Levitt house. Bill Levitt felt
we could "solve a housing problem, or we can try to solve a
racial problem, but we cannot combine the two." While the country
was opening doors as never before, some Americans would not be
allowed to walk through them.

This new American Dream was a feverish hallucination of national
consumption that went well beyond housing. If you had $199.95,
you could obtain a television, the new, giant 21-inch model from
Philco. Campbell was advertising a soup that would go from shelf
to table in just four minutes. Wait! Swanson had taken that
argument to its logical end and was pushing a meal that could be
served--without any more preparation than turning on your General
Electric oven--in front of that Philco. Who knew what additional
time-savers would soon be available--so you could have more time
to watch television?

The ambient sound of the suburbs, after all, was not the
clickety-click of baseball cards stuck in bicycle spokes but the
hum of Philcos. By 1954 there were 32 million sets (some capable
of color), a reverse nervous system, delivering sensation instead
of receiving it.

The news for this luckiest generation was always the same: This
is the time of your lives, and there's so much of it. In 1954
there were more paint-by-number paintings hanging in suburban
homes than original works of art, which speaks not so much to a
poverty of taste as to the sheer wealth of leisure time. So much
pointless art, or rather the leisure to create it, was proof of
one's status: emancipated from the rigors of survival. It was a
long, hard haul, but finally--suddenly!--you've got it made. You
have time to burn.


The search continued within Time Inc. for a new magazine to
launch, and in the summer of 1953 Luce, for all his own
personal indifference to the games people play, agreed that
"the compass needle always came back to sports" and convened a
department to look into the creation of a sports magazine. Luce
was largely absent from this process, as his wife, Clare Booth
Luce, had taken up ambassador duties in Italy, but he was hardly
detached. His cables home certainly communicated his growing
commitment to the idea, even if they often muddled the editorial
model more than was necessary. Among the departments he
imagined for his new magazine were Sports of the Past
("medieval boar hunting") and Matters of Health ("What are the
diet and sleeping habits of Ben Hogan?").

Ernest Havemann, a LIFE writer put in charge of this project,
began with wild enthusiasm. When it was suggested the new
magazine might have 1.5 million subscribers, Havemann said that
estimate was "ridiculously conservative."

In fact, the more Havemann evaluated the concept, the less
confidence he had that anybody would buy the product. Would this
magazine, first called Project X and then MNORX, go after the
croquet crowd and be an editorial excuse for the advertisement of
cashmerino sweaters, or would it tackle spectator sports, which
would, in one executive's opinion, most likely prove "poison to
advertising agencies"?

On July 22 Havemann sent out a memo with a list of story ideas he
had gleaned from a prospective writer: "The time he fell on a
cigar butt while wrestling Jimmy Londos ... the time he wrestled
a drunken Indian."

Havemann's misgivings went well beyond an all-wrestling table of
contents, and four days later he announced his intention to quit
the project. "Just won't work," he wrote. For one thing, he
didn't see how to bridge the interests of fans with wildly
divergent sporting interests. How many skiers wanted to read
about skiing? Certainly no nonskiers would. And if the magazine
pursued the heretofore ignored spectator sports (the only sports
magazines of the time were outdoors-oriented), what exactly would
the magazine end up with, besides drunken Indians? Havemann had
also developed a fairly low opinion of the combatants the
magazine would be covering. "Most athletes are just dull and
routine human beings who happen to have some special physical
skill," he wrote in his letter of surrender. "Many of them, as a
matter of fact, are a little nasty."

He concluded that "we should abandon the project, that any time
or money we spend on it will be wasted."

A Luce confidant who'd been skeptical wrote in his journal--with
some smugness, no doubt--that Havemann's memo had "effectively
killed off all idea of a 100 percent sports weekly...."

But it was Luce, not Havemann, who was calling the plays, and he
wasn't about to sit on a lead. At the beginning of 1954, having
digested all dissent, he reaffirmed his interest in the start-up.
"Man is an animal that works, plays and prays," he told staffers.
"No important aspect of human life should be devalued. And sports
has been devalued. It has become a lowbrow proposition."

He promised that his new magazine would henceforth put sports "in
its proper place as one of the great modes of expression."


It was popular to assume in 1954 that life was simple:
Everybody was focused on work, duty and family. Even
celebrities--of which sports stars were still the most
reliable, depending as they did more on substance than
style--insisted they were consumed with the mundane, to the
apparent satisfaction of the striving classes who deified them.
"She broils a hell of a steak," Joe DiMaggio said, describing
his surprisingly routine life with his new bride, Marilyn
Monroe. "When she's working, she's up at five or six in the
morning and doesn't get through till around seven. Then we
watch a little TV and go to sleep."

Rocky Marciano, then, was surely the poster boy for this
generation, which honored hard work and self-improvement above
all. Few organisms were ever constructed around such streamlined
purpose. He was a guy with no obvious skill, no ambition beyond
the most transparent, and certainly no social advantages. And yet
he was, in 1954, the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world
and, not only that, was regularly photographed eating spaghetti
and meatballs at his mother's table. A mama's boy.

Marciano incorporated all the great themes of the time (he was
even a returning veteran) and thus was the most important star in
this country's most important sport. This was no Golden Age of
boxing, nobody argued that, and when Rocky beat the faded Joe
Louis in 1951, he did not immediately ascend to the pantheon. He
was far too crude an athlete--a brawler, really--for that sort of
distinction. But his raw determination, particularly his ability
to transform apparently lost causes into victories, was
inspirational to the point of becoming a national characteristic
(and perhaps, one could imagine, the model someday for a
cinematic character also named Rocky).

In 1952, in what may have been his signature fight, Marciano
challenged Jersey Joe Walcott for the title and was well on his
way to losing, having been flattened a minute into the first
round and cut badly in the sixth. Walcott pressed his advantage
in the late rounds and needed only to coast to the finish to keep
his championship when, in the 13th round, Marciano, taking
whatever punishment was necessary and looking as if he'd been
turned inside out, waded in and landed a short overhand right. A
writer at the scene described Walcott "crumpling all the way in
sections like a slow-motion picture of a chimney stack which had
been dynamited." And you wonder why boxing was the principal TV
sport of the time?

When American traits such as doggedness and the use of fairly
applied force are demonstrated on such a grand stage, the
national satisfaction can only be described as acute. But in
Rocky's hometown of Brockton, Mass., where the gambling action on
his fights had become an underground economy, there was as much
relief as there was pandemonium. When writer W.C. Heinz visited
the town, he learned it had become routine for the citizens to
supplement their pensions with their winnings from Rocky's
fights. (A cabbie told Heinz that he took an elderly Italian
couple to the loan office before every fight, and for the
previous Marciano fight, "they borrowed $3,000 on their house.")
So Rocky's come-from-behind knockout of Walcott was met with a
civic sigh of relief.

Heinz also discovered that hometown enthusiasm could reach
dangerous levels. No rioting, nothing like that. But he did meet
a young man who in the excitement over the Walcott fight "fed his
hand into a ventilating fan" at the Ward Two Memorial Club and
would be "forever lacking the first joint of two fingers."

By 1954 the rest of the country had caught up with Brockton, and
Rocky was celebrated not just for his championship but for the
folk-hero life he was leading outside the ring. There was his
status-sanctioning visit to the White House, where Dwight
Eisenhower, perceived as a similarly plain-spoken and
simple-living man, greeted him and DiMaggio; there were frequent
appearances on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town show on Sunday
nights; and there was fame-affirming hobnobbing with fellow
celebrities. Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds visited him in
camp, Frank Sinatra was at ringside, Jerry Lewis hung out with
him. "Do you realize what you are, Rock?" the comedian told this
son of a poor immigrant shoemaker. "You are the boss of the

The press found him to be a wholesome embodiment of American
virtues, a terrific family man who bought his parents a house in
Brockton and changed diapers in his own. "He's a wonderful
father," his wife, Barbara, told reporters. "He gets up early
just to change and bathe the baby."

This placed him on a domestic level with, oh, Marilyn Monroe. It
was fiction--his wife later calculated he spent just 152 days at
home during the four-year period of his championship--but it was
undisturbed by more sordid revelations. He really was a mama's
boy; he really was without vices, or most vices. And he really
was an overachieving workaholic. He trained everything (his
eyeballs even, following a pendulum with his eyes as he reclined
in bed) to an extreme, sparring an amazing 250 rounds for one
fight (when a more reasonable 100 would have sufficed).

There was, despite his apparent awkwardness, a physical genius to
him. He weighed only 185 pounds, and no heavyweight champion ever
had a shorter reach, yet he surely had a club. A young fight fan
named Joe Rein, who would occasionally see Marciano in Stillman's
Gym in New York City, remembers the purity of his power: "I
watched guys come out of sparring with him, and it was just
seismic.... If you'd dropped them 20 stories to concrete below,
that's what guys looked like afterward. A unique gift he had. To
see him punch, it was like he was lobbing paving stones."

The absence of flair, physical and social, was hardly a
shortcoming during those times. Rocky was a straightforward
champion, genuinely, and the toast of his nation, which gathered
excitedly about their radios on June 17, 1954.

The lucky ones--some 47,000--had tickets to see him defend
against former champ Ezzard Charles at Yankee Stadium that night.
Although the nation was preoccupied with the fight, the days of
million-dollar gates were long since over, thanks to the easy
alternatives of TV and radio. (Lesser fights were saturating the
country on regularly scheduled network broadcasts, virtually the
only sport being shown nationally.)

Charles was the better boxer--almost any fighter was--but nobody
was better prepared than the champion. Rocky, not one to rest on
his laurels, had essentially been training for this fight for
almost seven months. And that was a good thing because Charles
would test him as no other fighter ever had.

Charles was scoring early in the bout and, in the fourth round,
struck Rocky with a lacerating right hand that produced so much
gore that the Police Gazette would later show Rocky's bleeding
mug on its cover, with the headline WHEN TO STOP A FIGHT!

Again, though, Rocky would come back with the imperturbable
violence of his heavy hands, settling for a decision this time.
Of course, who had doubted his cumulative effect? Victory,
however narrow, was the only possible result for so honest a
workman in these simple times. Effort was rewarded, a nation
reassured that it had selected the correct traits to worship
after all. Now that we were a country of ringsiders, it was
important to have such reliable displays of dignity. Marciano,
whose calm courage would resonate throughout this optimistic
land, had done it again.

Back in Brockton, the townspeople scrambled to collect on their


Dusty Rhodes was not a deep thinker when it came to baseball.
When he finally advanced to the major leagues, called up from
Rock Hill, S.C., he had yet to absorb the game's strategic
subtleties. Lefthander, righthander--what could that possibly
matter to him? Pitchers were all alike by their intentions. Why
distinguish among them by their preference of arm? His
indifference to the science of hitting, you could say, was more
or less complete.

In this way, of course, he was the ideal pinch hitter, ignorant
of situation or statistical probability. And more to the point,
an ideal hero of the day. His obliviousness of circumstance (and
that headline-ready name) made him the perfect flash
celebrity--catapulted from rubedom to a national figure of
absolute importance, all with a swing of the bat. With the
country wired up, coast to coast, this transformation was not
only possible but downright necessary. The naive, by their good
works, shall lead us all.

Leo Durocher, the Giants' skipper, trusted more in calculation.
He knew (besides that nice guys finish last) that Rhodes was not
often bothered, or perhaps even aware, of the conditions of his
appearances. "I just like to hit," Rhodes would say. Perfect.
Durocher seldom bothered to call for Rhodes unless the game was
on the line.

Durocher would need lots of players like Rhodes in the 1954 World
Series, players who enjoyed a casual attitude toward odds,
because his Giants were opposed by the Cleveland Indians--with
the best four-man pitching staff in baseball--who had earlier,
and rather easily, ended the Yankees' run of five world
championships by winning a record 111 games and the American
League pennant. Now the Tribe was poised to squash that lesser
New York entry, the Giants, in the Fall Classic.

A relatively new medium would be there to certify the shame. That
would be television, with its 21-inch-diagonal ability to
transmit drama. Baseball, at first, did not know what to make of
TV. Ever since it began allowing cameras on the mezzanine level,
in 1948, attendance had dipped--from 21 million ticket-buying
fans to 16 million. This had been somewhat of a surprise because
radio broadcasts actually encouraged fans to come out to the
ballpark. Radio broadcasters were ticket salesmen with

It was thought that TV would do the same. But beginning in 1947,
all three New York teams were on TV--all home games and most road
games--and attendance fell. But the increase in broadcast revenue
made that drop-off acceptable. Roger Kahn, in his book The Era,
remembers Dodger G.M. Buzzie Bavasi boasting of TV and radio
rights of $787,115--roughly $250,000 more than the team payroll.
"We were in the black before Opening Day," he said. Easy money.

In other words, dipping attendance or not, this was still the
national pastime, and there was still no event on the sports
calender more important than the World Series. Even one without
the traditional pinstriping of the Yankees. Even one with the
Cleveland Indians.

The Giants had one advantage, in the bubbling play of Willie
Mays, back in centerfield after two years in the Army. Mays, for
all his talents, may have been most valuable because of his
prodigious enthusiasm. It was written that the Giants drew early
crowds during spring training in Phoenix just to watch Mays
enliven a game of pepper.

He was pretty good come game time too, and that year he led the
league in hitting with a .345 batting average, while hitting 41
home runs. For this Series, though, it was his glove play that
had the country talking. One more example of how a single event,
by virtue of the newly democratic principles of TV (you didn't
need to live in New York, or even buy a ticket any longer to
figure in the enthusiasm--you just had to sit still and watch),
could become part of the national conversation. At how many
millions of watercoolers, schoolyards, dinner tables were people
saying, "Did you see that catch?"

It was in Game 1, at the Polo Grounds, with a record 52,751 in
attendance (no telling how many more glued to Philcos coast to
coast) that Mays contributed to one of the most famous outs in
baseball history. Sal Maglie was pitching, eighth inning, and
he'd walked Larry Doby and given up a single to Al Rosen, leaving
base runners on first and second. Up came Vic Wertz, who'd
already touched Maglie for two singles, a double and a triple.
Durocher pulled Maglie and brought in lefty Don Liddle to put a
stop to this.

Great move. Wertz drove a high fastball deep into centerfield,
where the bleachers were, it was plain to see, an insufficient
483 feet away--gone for sure.

Mays wheeled and, with his back to the ball, sprinted away,
headlong. Bob Hunter, a West Coast writer, was awed but not
surprised by what next unfolded, considering, as he wrote, that
centerfield was Mays's "private pasture, and he doesn't like any
loose horsehide shrapnel falling around him."

Mays put his glove up over his left shoulder--still, his back to
the ball--and gathered the horsehide shrapnel in an amazing catch
that, he later explained, he "had all the way."

No less amazing, he turned and fired the ball to second in time
to hold the runner at first, while Doby advanced to third. "The
throw of a giant," wrote one correspondent.

And yet the game would not be decided by an out, even a very long
one, but by a home run. A very short one.

It was the bottom of the 10th inning, same 2-2 score. Starter Bob
Lemon walked two Giants, and Durocher sent Dusty Rhodes in to
hit. He lifted the first pitch into rightfield, not much of a
drive, and it was Rhodes's impression that Lemon, in frustration,
tossed his glove even farther than the ball could possibly
travel. "Wind kinda caught it," said Rhodes, meaning the ball,
not the glove. And it scraped over the fence, a home run, not
much more than half the drive that Wertz had clobbered three
innings before.

The next day, Rhodes came through in the pinch again, but earlier
this time (the fifth inning), scoring Mays on a single for the
Giants' first run of the game. And then, two innings later,
Rhodes homered again, more honestly this time, the ball hitting
the roof 150 feet up from the 294-foot sign down the rightfield

And finally (for Rhodes) in Game 3, in Cleveland, he came off the
bench for a third-inning single that got the Giants started
toward a 6-2 win and, eventually, a four-game sweep of the
puzzled Indians.

Rhodes was a modest hero, and he did not prove to be a good
interview, unable to really explain his feats or even appreciate
their magnitude. "I can't understand why everybody's so excited
about my hitting," he said. "I'm not. Sure I got a kick out of
those homers, but I got a bigger thrill three years ago out of
watching my first World Series game on television than playing in
it. The first television I ever saw was when Bobby Thomson hit
that homer to beat Brooklyn for the 1951 pennant."

Later, in tiny Rock Hill, Rhodes was honored with a parade. As
far as being celebrated in New York, he did get coupons for free
dinners from two Chinese restaurants--an entire city's gratitude.
Did he somehow feel overlooked, underappreciated? "It was a
pretty short home run," he said.


The gentlemen at Time Inc.--and they were all gentlemen--were as
flummoxed as they were determined when it came to inventing
this new magazine. Nobody could get a handle on it, and the
buzz outside the building echoed their confusion. A survey of
admen predicted trouble: "Do baseball and boxing fans mingle
with fox hunters in pink coats? A hard book to sell ad space
for with the audience all over the lot.... Looks like a sure
money loser."

But Henry Luce's enthusiasm for the project seemed to inoculate
the staff against these toxic misgivings. Ernest Havemann, who
couldn't imagine a way to meld ad-friendly sports like badminton
with orphan pastimes like boxing, had excused himself from the
enterprise. In his place was Sid James, a veteran magazine editor
whose career had apparently stalled at LIFE. James was a good
candidate in that he didn't suffer much in the way of doubt or
despair. "He refused," one of Luce's executives wrote to his
publisher, "to get bogged down in the swamp of semantics and

He did not seem likely to get bogged down in the swamp of sports,
either, at least not at first. Nobody on the staff, with an
exception here and there, was much more expert in the genre than
Luce, although at least somebody corrected him when he reported
seeing the Globemasters play in Rome. "Globetrotters," that
somebody demurred, no doubt mildly.

Sports was sort of incidental to this project anyway. At the
moment, in August 1953, the impetus seemed wholly financial, a
way to tap into America's new leisure class and its huge but
highly unpredictable appetite for pleasure. In a prospectus from
the publisher it was suggested that we were in "a new time of
good living" and that "for the first time in a generation, many a
man found that it was possible to look beyond the doings of
soldiers and statesmen into the world of sport, of leisure, of

The prospectus also said, "The pedestrian fact of more leisure
time, more families, more young people, the increase in middle
income and the move to the suburbs have today created a
spectacular market for sports goods and leisure goods." And if
you didn't believe it? "Sales of croquet sets have increased
1,000 percent since 1948."

There was no question American consumers were flexing their
muscles. FORTUNE had already discovered that the "moneyed
middle-class" of the 1950s was devoting $18 billion a year to
"leisure-recreational expenditures." For Luce's new sports
magazine, this amounted to bullish market research.

There were lots of decisions to be made, from naming and staffing
the new magazine to defining the scope of its content. Jim Murray
had been called to New York from doing celebrity profiles in Los
Angeles for LIFE (it was Marilyn Monroe--"Five feet, six inches
of whipped cream" is how Murray described her--who introduced him
to Joe DiMaggio, not the other way around), and he lobbied for
the title Fame. Luce said no to Fame. There was serious
discussion about buying the monthly Sport, just for its name.
Luce said in a memo that he'd be willing to pay $150,000 for that
name. Sentences later, in the same memo, having sold himself on
the notion, he wrote, "Okay with me to pay $200,000."

MacFadden Publications, Inc., the owner of Sport, wanted

Luce was meeting often with the editors and conducting frequent
forays into the sports world, getting staff escorts to baseball
games during which he would pester the help--Who is that man
standing by the base? His involvement was reassuring on the one
hand, but it was not helpful in clarifying the editorial vision.

"The genius of our magazine," he wrote in March 1954, "if it has
one, will be to get bowlers and beagles, baseballs and beavers
under the same big tent." This would be quite a tent. One list of
potential stories prepared early that year read like this: "Life
of a bush league player, bullfight hospital, poodles, girl skin
diver (cover possibility), micromidget racing in El Centro,
champion swimmer Gail Peters (cover possibility), Irish sports,
Canadian football, Billy Martin and ... Bavarian boar hunt."

Staffing was another problem. The quality of newspaper
sportswriting did not strike the editors as exceptional. Instead,
staffers were recruited from within the company, educated and
literary types but not particularly sports-minded fellows.
Certainly the staff was not grounded in sportswriting
conventions. According to The Franchise, Michael MacCambridge's
history of the magazine, one writer went to a baseball game to
provide copy for an early test run and saw Duke Snider hit a home
run. "How far was that?" he asked the press box population.

"Well, about 390 feet."

To which he replied with, one likes to imagine, an exaggerated
sigh, "Exactly, please."

Now do you see why newspaper writers simply wouldn't do?

It was plain to see it would take some additional time and
experience before these young Ivy Leaguers could develop what
their lesser brethren liked to call a nose for news. In the
spring of 1954, still in the spirit of practice, two writers were
sent to spring training and disappeared into that baseball hubbub
for three weeks. According to MacCambridge's book, one of the
writers finally wired the office (one likes to imagine he wired
laconically, though that is clearly not possible): "Not much
happening here."

Editors were no less clueless. In an early scouting report one of
the writers correctly tabbed as a comer was the young Roger Kahn,
and, indeed, he was eventually hired from the baseball beat at
the New York Herald Tribune to bolster the magazine's reality
quotient. But when an editor insisted he prefile a story on a
Yankees-Indians doubleheader before the games were played, Kahn
realized, as he later wrote in The Boys of Summer, that the early
deadlines of a weekly magazine didn't fit his rhythms.

Kahn knew he'd have to quit, especially after he drew the
assignment of ghostwriting a story for a football writer--the
very writer who once proposed to write about "the time he fell on
a cigar butt while wrestling Jimmy Londos."

When Kahn told his boss he was resigning, he was met with that
unique mixture of brio and obliviousness that is unique to
magazine editors. "All right," he told Kahn. "Some of your
newspaper work was fine. Some I would have laid a heavy hand to.
Meanwhile, I've been invited to a small private party for a
ballplayer and his wife. Would you join me?"

Kahn knew he couldn't work at the magazine any longer but
realized, too, that he was now ruined for most employment
opportunities by his brief experience there. "I had seen carpeted
offices," he later wrote, "and Marilyn Monroe."


Art Donovan was in Guam with that last wave of Marines when the
U.S. unleashed its nuclear might on Japan. His first thought
when he heard the news: "Was this trip really necessary?"

Coming home, he did not exactly get a hero's welcome, to the
extent that the bartenders in California, his first friendly
land-ho after 23 months of bobbing around the Pacific, would
not serve him. It had been a long trip but not so long that he
was yet old enough to drink. We won the war for this? Matters
improved marginally by the time he reached his family's Bronx
kitchen. "My mother was cooking a ham." But even when he got
into Manhattan, with 20 months' pay in his pockets, a guy still
had a hard time slaking his thirst. The fellow at the Roosevelt
Hotel told Donovan he'd need a shirt and tie if he was going to
drink there (he wasn't).

Donovan, who would in time acquire the nickname Fatso, even then
marked his comings and goings by food and drink. All you need to
know is that all Art Donovan got out of World War II was a ham.
And he didn't really know where his next one was coming from.

So he enrolled at Boston College and, after a rather indifferent
academic career, was drafted by the Baltimore Colts, which was
not exactly a bonanza. In 1950 the NFL was hardly an experimental
enterprise, but it wasn't a surefire line of work either. There
were some good, famous teams--the Chicago Bears, the Philadelphia
Eagles, the Cleveland Browns. But there were also a lot of teams
that kept getting sold back to the league (the Colts, the New
York Yanks, the Dallas Texans), and Donovan played for each of
them. Who today would believe that in 1952 little more than
13,000 customers would pay to watch the Dallas Texans in the
Cotton Bowl? That the team would be sold back to the league
midseason and play out the rest of its schedule as a road team
based in Hershey, Pa.? (It won its Thanksgiving Day game against
the Bears--its only victory that season--before 3,000 fans in

Some players were enjoying a high profile, but Donovan was not
one of them. The league, notwithstanding a few storied
franchises, was yet in its infancy. Some games were broadcast on
TV (the Los Angeles Rams had a local contract), most not. The
DuMont Network picked up the NFL's 1951 title game for $75,000,
but national coverage was otherwise scant. So who was going to
get famous outside of Elroy Hirsch and Norm Van Brocklin? Or
rich, for that matter? Winning shares for the 1951 champion Rams
set a record, $2,108 for each player.

The game was a lot of fun, no question, and Donovan was making
some great, memorable friends. Gino Marchetti, who fought at the
Battle of the Bulge, was one. Another was a completely unhinged
player named George Ratterman, who'd marvel at the polished
expanses of hotel lobby floors and then belly flop onto them,
sailing along on the marble, until he crashed into a wall. "[He
was] a quarterback too," Donovan recalls.

But was professional football a career? Following his first
season, after which the Colts folded and the players were
dispersed in a draft (Donovan ended up with the equally hapless
Yanks), he went home and applied to Columbia University's
Teachers College. He'd be a teacher! Anything! He got a kind note
back from the school suggesting his grades at Boston College were
not really that promising. "P.S.," it continued. "If I were you,
I'd stick with the NFL."

He did, pending further brainstorms. After his third season, when
his team again folded--his contract was picked up by Carroll
Rosenbloom, who'd been awarded the holdings of the former Texans
franchise--he decided he'd try police work. Why not? He had
uncles who were inspectors and detectives. He took the NYPD exam.
He'd be a flatfoot! Anything!

But that year the Colts caught fire, a little, on the field and
in the stands. Donovan was benefiting from the attention of his
coaches and was becoming a pretty good defensive tackle, his
weight problems aside. (The team offered him a bonus every season
he kept his weight under 278 pounds.) Donovan knew he had a job
he liked, even if it didn't pay all his bills. But that was
O.K.--he had finally found a way to keep both children and
criminals safe, landing himself a job with a liquor distributor.

"I sold whiskey before practice, after practice and off-season,"
Donovan says. "The Colts were going good, everybody knew who I
was, and it was easy to get my stuff into stores."

Not that everyone from his Bronx neighborhood saw Donovan as a
big success. Back in New York, during off-seasons, he'd hang out
in front of Mr. Goldberg's candy store. "Artie," Goldberg
wondered one day, "are you out of work again?"

Donovan didn't mind, because playing in the NFL had gotten to be
serious fun. When a team made its West Coast swing--to play the
Rams and the San Francisco 49ers--it was a fiscal imperative that
the team stay out there for the entire two weeks. Airfare was a

"Oh, man, a paid vacation," says Donovan of those early travel
schedules. "One time, five of us rented a car and got a map of
Hollywood, all the stars' homes. We're driving around, and I
can't believe my eyes: I think I see Alan Ladd washing his car."

It was Alan Ladd (this was after Shane), and the NFL being just
on the cusp of public awareness, the actor looked up, startled to
recognize so much semifamous muscle in a rental car. "He says, 'I
know who you guys are, you're the Baltimore Colts.' ... Anyway,
he invites us in."

It had been about a decade since Donovan had first visited
California, to little purpose, but things were changing. Anything
could happen now. Was it really possible that football players,
in that short time, had become celebrities? Ladd, the famous
movie star, went off to get the boys a case of beer, and they all
had a grand time that afternoon in Hollywood.


It is not possible to get a definitive read on the commercial
climate of 1954 from the program sold at the NCAA basketball
tournament in Kansas City, but this is interesting: The ad
inside the front cover featured "Mr. Basketball," Minneapolis
Lakers star center George Mikan, wearing the Sureshot made by
U.S. Keds (team-color laces available). Competing inside the
back cover was the omnipresent Converse All Star, the sport's
dominant footwear, featuring the signed ankle patch of the
rather mysterious Chuck Taylor.

Before this season, of course, most of college basketball's
commerce had been under the table, as far as the general fan was
concerned. Interest in an already quaint and regional pastime had
been crippled by point-shaving scandals in 1951, and confidence
in this innocent little playground game was now shattered.
Attendance from 1950 to 1954 was halved. There was no TV coverage
of the NCAA tournament, never had been, of course, but now there
was scarcely any print presence either. Perhaps eight scribes
littered press row, leafing through that program and wishing they
were anywhere else.

Only outlaws, up to this point, had figured a way to make this
game pay. College basketball was otherwise innocent of economic
opportunity, and the chance to participate in what ought to have
been a sporting bonanza was largely unrecognized. (Did we say
there was no TV?) The game was, except for an eager booster here
and there, fairly pure, which is to say, without sponsorship.
Maybe a shoemaker could exploit what little interest there was,
sell a few sneakers. Good for them.

Removed from their sphere of fame, even the players found the
proceedings uninviting and, almost to a man, wished--like the
reporters at courtside--that they were somewhere else. The NIT,
which at least guaranteed the focus of New York's media, was the
place to be. La Salle had been at Madison Square Garden each of
the last four years, winning the tournament two years before, in
1952, behind the play of freshman sensation Tom Gola. The NIT was
big. When the Explorers won, Gola was invited to be on Ed
Sullivan's Toast of the Town show. Didn't get to say a word, but
there was old Ed, on national TV, saying, "Ladies and gentlemen,
Tom Gola!" and Gola walking out in his new suit.

But the NCAA's recent rule mandating that league champions play
in its "East-West" tournament did not give players a choice. When
La Salle got its automatic entry as champion of the Middle
Atlantic States Athletic conference, Gola looked around the
locker room and said, "Sorry, guys, we're going to Kansas City."
Kansas City's Municipal Stadium, you need hardly be told, was not
the Garden, the Mecca of basketball. There were no showers, no
locker rooms even; players dressed in their hotel rooms. If your
parents wanted to watch you play, they'd have to drive--a long way.

Gola, of course, could hardly have complained, wouldn't have
anyway. He was the son of a Philly cop with a pretty good
shooting percentage of his own ("Poppa's all right," Mom told the
kids one night, dinner having been interrupted by a phone call.
"He hit the robber three times with five shots") and did not have
great expectations to begin with. And, besides, he could have
easily ended up at Kentucky, where the team was spending its
one-year probation playing unofficial games (albeit to packed
houses). Before the Wildcats were punished by the NCAA, he had
gone to visit the school on a recruiting trip in 1950. The great
Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp took him out to see his tobacco barns
and look at his Angus cows. Oddly Rupp never said a word about

He also could have ended up at North Carolina State. During his
visit there a booster had sidled up to him and promised him $250
a month. Gola, after all, was 6'7" and growing, and he could play
three positions.

It was a heady time, that prescandal era, and deals could be
made, were expected to be made. (Wait--was Rupp offering him a
cow, was that what that was about?) College basketball, briefly
anyway, was the best game money could buy, and players knew it.
But Gola, maybe because he was a cop's son, wasn't particularly
on the take. Here's how hometown La Salle countered Gola's other
offers: scholarships for him and his two brothers, plus a job in
the library, cataloging and gold-leafing books, $15 a week. Deal.
Gola, his head full of Dewey decimal numbers instead of point
spreads, was lucky to be where he was when it all came crashing
down, feds crawling over campuses, programs being shuttered.

Gola was having a terrific season and was the toast of the game,
averaging 23 points and making everybody's All-America team, not
that the world was paying much attention. The game had been badly
damaged, and promotion of the sport had grown difficult. The only
business that seemed untouched by scandal in 1954 was the sale of
athletic shoes. Witness that tournament program: The rivalry
between Keds and Converse was growing contentious, with the U.S.
Rubber Company trying to muscle in on the Converse Rubber Company
with its U.S. Sureshot ("The Shoes of Champions--They Wash"). It
was tough going because kids thought they needed that Chuck
Taylor ankle patch to certify their seriousness about the sport.

Not that many kids had any clue who Taylor was. He was a rather
distant figure by 1954, having made his name back in the
Depression, playing for teams like the New York Celtics, the
Buffalo Germans and the Akron Firestones. Taylor joined Converse
in 1918 and became famous in the shoe industry. By 1954 virtually
all the players, with the exception of Mikan's Minneapolis
Lakers, were wearing shoes--had to have those shoes--peddled by
somebody they couldn't have identified in a million years. "The
sole reason, but not the only reason, why All Stars dominate,"
read the back page of the program. And there, on the page, was
Chuck Taylor's signature.

In the tournament La Salle had little trouble with Penn State in
the East part of the East-West Championship, leading from the
first whistle and winning 92-54. The championship game with
Bradley was not much tougher. Gola, who would be named the
tournament's MVP, led his team in a second-half comeback, and the
Explorers won it going away 92-76.

La Salle returned home on a TWA jetliner and was met at the
airport in Philadelphia by 10,000 fans. The mayor proclaimed "La
Salle Day," and the school's dean suspended classes for the day.
The fun was entirely local and strictly aboveboard. Outside of
Philadelphia, who cared whether La Salle won or what kind of
shoes its players wore? Who profited by its championship? Nobody.
College basketball was now wholesome enough--and, in any event,
sufficiently ignored for the moment--that it seemed a kind of


The dummy issue of Henry Luce's proposed sports magazine, 140
pages of practice journalism, was completed in January 1954,
and copies were distributed to a select list of people within
and outside the company. It resembled The New Yorker, the
editorial embodiment of class, yet it was unlike anything else.
Unlike, some critics quickly decided, a magazine at all.

The fundamental problems remained. The coverage of spectator
sports could please no more than a handful of readers in any one
week. There were 16 major league baseball teams, but they were
all in the eastern half of the country. Same with pro basketball,
but it had just nine franchises. There were only four U.S. cities
involved in professional hockey. Pro football had 12 clubs, 10 of
them east of the Mississippi. And even if there were fans who
were so indiscriminate as to read about games a continent away,
what were they going to read about in the dead of winter, when
there were gaping holes in the sports calender?

The dummy issue did not attempt to address any of these problems,
publishing a hodgepodge of fox hunting and wrestling, among other
topics. Ernest Havemann, trying not to say "I told you so,"
wrote, "I still think it merely proves--by being no better than
it is after all the effort that has gone into it--that you just
can't lick the problems. I further think that to compose a
critique of the dummy would be like trying to pick the deadest
fish on a mackerel boat."

Barron's wasn't much more impressed. "Somewhat disappointing," it
said. Luce's confidants, meanwhile, were assuring him that it was
getting good reviews from other quarters.

The second dummy--titled Dummy--was brought out in April, and it
was marginally better, although the cover story on the Masters
included a picture of Pebble Beach, not Augusta. The Washington
News said it was "doomed to failure" and especially didn't care
for the style of writing, which ventured too far from the
"labyrinthine and rococo" prose the sports reader was used to.
The rather normal English that was used in a story on bowling,
for example, was "as out of place in a sports journal as a chaste,
crisp radish would be atop a super deluxe banana split."

In other words, agreed a prospective ad buyer, it was "too
snooty." He advised editors to "get down to the level of the
common man and not be so New Yorker-ish."

There's little evidence editors were listening, else they
wouldn't have hired Herbert Warren Wind, he of The New Yorker, to
cover golf. They did, however, arrange to have baseball columns
from Red Smith, of the more down-to-earth Herald Tribune, and
vigorous boxing coverage from Budd Schulberg, fresh off writing
the screenplay for On the Waterfront.

The ideal mix of stories was still elusive. Managing editor Sid
James sent Luce a 54-page prospectus for the magazine but did not
seem ready to be pinned down. On the one hand he proposed columns
addressing the major sports, on the other a department called The
Footloose Sportsman, a kind of travelogue. His idea included
everything from World Series coverage to a memoir by Winston
Churchill "on My Thirty Seasons of Polo." All that, and the
Matchwit crossword puzzles.

Yet there was something about this project that was stirring
interest. Maybe not among magazine critics or ad buyers, but
among readers. The Time Inc. circulation department sent out a
test mailing to gauge reader response, and the result was
surprising, twice what would have been considered successful.
Later, when it came time to sell charter subscriptions, the
response was again flabbergasting, allowing the magazine to
guarantee advertisers a readership of 450,000--twice what LIFE
had started with, highest ever, for that matter, for a magazine
with a cover price of 25 cents.

There was still the matter of a title, of course. Luce couldn't
get together with MacFadden on the purchase of Sport, so it was
Dummy or MNORX until, lunching at the Plaza one day, the
magazine's new publisher, Harry Phillips, ran into an old friend,
Stuart Scheftel. "By the way," Scheftel said, "I own the title of
the magazine SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, and if you want it, I am willing
to talk about it." It was the title of two previous start-ups,
both unsuccessful, and had now been dormant many years. Time Inc.
offered $5,000 for the name. "I had hoped you would offer
$10,000," Scheftel said, "but I'll take the $5,000 provided I get
a free subscription."

As summer rolled around, Time Inc. announced its plans to publish
the magazine. "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED," said Barron's, "is obviously
no fly-by-night, but it is a plunge into the unknown for all
that, competing with some 89 specialized sports publications (The
Blood-Horse, the Chess Review, etc., etc.) and seeking as it does
to dramatize on a national scale activities that more often than
not have mainly only local interest."

Business Week guessed that the magazine might do all right if it
didn't wander too far from its core sensibility. "They want to
direct the magazine's appeal to the country club set," Business
Week said, "the upper-income people who are--or would like to
be--familiar with sports cars, skiing at Davos, the National
Open." No one, the magazine predicted, "was interested in a
straight sports magazine of the familiar kind, largely masculine
in tone."


Gore was his specialty. He liked to rake his knuckles over an
opponent's brow, where the skin was thinnest, and create the
old red mask. Blood everywhere. The crowds loved it from
Malaysia to Maine, and Wladek Kowalski was one of the circuit's
most popular and reliable heels. Even so, he never meant to tear
Yukon Eric's ear off. Big ol' cauliflowered thing, all knotted
up, "rolling across the canvas like a golf ball," and Yukon's
head suddenly like a spigot. That was an accident, no matter
what they say.

And what happened next wasn't his fault either, not exactly. The
booker for that fight in Montreal insisted Kowalski visit Yukon
in the hospital, which was not Kowalski's style at all. If there
was one word to describe his style, in fact, it would be
unapologetic. But the booker played on Kowalski's last remaining
shred of decency. It was just a block away, for goodness' sake.

"I'm grumbling that whole block," Kowalski said, "but I go up to
his room, which I now see is crowded with TV and newspaper
people, just to say I'm sorry. I don't want to go in but somebody
hears, Kowalski's here!, and I get pushed in. Well, there's Yukon
Eric sitting on the edge of the bed, and his head is bandaged
round and round like a turban. It's huge. And all I can think is,
He looks like Humpty Dumpty. I couldn't help myself. I just
started laughing. I couldn't stop, I was laughing so hard, so I
just backed out of the room and got out of there."

LAUGHS IN HIS FACE. "So anyway," Kowalski says, "that's how I got
rid of Wladek and became Killer."

Professional wrestling was enjoying an enormous boom, thanks to
TV. Its burlesque was fan-friendly. Nobody had to understand
anything more difficult than good vs. evil to enjoy one of these
shows. With the exception of the sideshow characters, the midgets
and the giants, these men were clearly athletic--Kowalski was a
sculpted 6'7", 280 pounds; Bruno Sammartino could bench-press 565
pounds--and capable of pleasingly complicated contortion. But,
more than that, they understood that sport had to be about the
most basic conflict, stripped bare, compact enough to fit into a
19-inch black-and-white screen in somebody's living room.

Kowalski became a master of promotion. At first he couldn't speak
at all, but he trained himself to harangue on car trips as he
crisscrossed the country. For hours at a time, however long it
took to get from, say, Austin to Dallas, he'd debate the weather
report on his car radio. Lots of wrestlers traveled together,
sometimes hooking up several blocks from the arena so fans
wouldn't be suspicious, but Kowalski was a loner on the road, not
allowing any smoking or drinking in his car, preferring to hone
his dramaturgical skills in solitude. Imagine the sight of him
traveling along Route 66, his fist in the air, declaiming the
humidity at full lung.

The grapplers were all learning to be theatrical, to take
advantage of this new medium. And the more wrestling became a
made-for-TV sport, the safer it was for the wrestlers, of course,
who had reason to fear fans above all else. Freddie Blassie, who
had given up being a baby face and found stardom as a heel out
west, endured a lot of abuse from hostile arena crowds, including
the loss of sight in one eye when a fan hit him with an egg, and
it all seemed an acceptable part of the game. When one of his
detractors stuck a knife into Blassie's calf as he walked into
the ring, the assailant was fined $115 in court, whereupon he
told the judge that if he'd known it would be that cheap, he'd
have stabbed him several more times.

Television, which found wrestling a cheap event to produce live
(not unlike boxing, which was saturating the airwaves in 1954
with as many as three weekly national shows), encouraged the cult
of personality. Blassie was not the greatest technician, but more
important to the game than any wrestling move were his interviews
with announcer Dick Lane, in which he promised trouble, most
likely a bloodletting, for some "pencil-necked geek."

Stories that were more complicated than good vs. evil (which
resonated hugely with the cold war feel of the times) took longer
to tell. In 1954 far more people knew about Kowalski's visit to
Yukon Eric's hospital room than Bobby Plump's last-second shot to
win Indiana's high school championship for Milan High. That win
by Milan, a school with an enrollment of just 164--can you
imagine?--was the kind of narrative that would take years to
acquire shape, slowly emerging from local yarn into national

Wrestling played to the country's new need for instant
gratification and clear-cut resolution too. Out west, Ray Kroc
was beginning to franchise McDonald's and kick-starting a
fast-food empire. Things needed to happen now--moral issues
decided within the hurried time scheme of the DuMont Network's
programming schedule. Bruno Sammartino, you could bet, would
somehow triumph over the wickedness of somebody like Killer
Kowalski. And very quickly--probably before the next commercial

Kowalski didn't share the country's black-and-white view of
morality. He knew you could be the good guy and your ear could
still fall off. Real life was vastly more complicated--and
probably less satisfying--than the televised veneer of reality
that passed for entertainment. Who needed to know that
Sammartino, whom Kowalski regularly bloodied in the ring, seeming
to bite off entire hunks of flesh, was his best friend? Who
needed to know, furthermore, that Kowalski was a vegetarian? (He
would bite things with a face on them but wouldn't ingest them.)

The country liked its life simplified, its heroes heroic and its
villains transparently (and, in the end, ineptly) evil.
Professional wrestling was the perfect entertainment, the
athletes catering to the quick-fix mentality of the time. It was
good to be a professional wrestler in 1954, men of such
conviction, roaring from territory to territory, small town to
big city, arguing with their car radios the whole way.


When he was drafted by the Syracuse Nationals, Johnny Kerr
held out for $5,500 on the advice of his roommate at Illinois,
who figured something so thoroughly professional as the NBA,
which had been in business almost the entire postwar period,
five years anyway, could easily afford the extra $500. Plus,
Kerr agreed he ought to get a little something extra on account
of his not being able to find Syracuse on a map. So that was
one way to learn American geography and make some bucks at the
same time: Enter the professional basketball draft. A couple of
the guys that year found out where Fort Wayne was too. Turns
out, it's in Indiana. Those guys were Pistons.

Well, you wouldn't learn much geography. There were only nine
teams in 1954, down from 17 pro teams in assorted leagues just
five years before, and the NBA's idea of the West took a guy only
as far as Minneapolis. Rochester (it's in New York) was also the
NBA's idea of the frontier. (Syracuse, which could have gone
either way, was in the East, for purposes of league symmetry.) So
what geography actually taught a guy was that the NBA wasn't
terrifically relevant to a lot of the country. There wasn't much
national about the National Basketball Association.

Nor was it especially representative of the country. In matters
of race the NBA wasn't even close to holding a mirror to its
culture. It had signed just three black players in 1950, and
through the first half of the decade, the dominant pro basketball
league was pretty much lily-white. It was taking the position,
rather obstinately a civil rights leader might have thought, that
three was plenty.

The NBA probably wouldn't have had any black players to that
point--a full three years after the major leagues were joined by
Jackie Robinson--if the Harlem Globetrotters hadn't spanked the
champs of what was then called the National Basketball League,
the Minneapolis Lakers, in 1948. Did it twice in a row, actually,
before the Lakers won one. That was a bit of an eye-opener.

Joe Lapchick, who used to barnstorm with the Original Celtics in
a famous rivalry with the all-black New York Rens, never forgot,
or even forgave, basketball's treatment of that great team. His
Celtics would check into a hotel after their game (which might
have ended in a race riot, a common enough occurrence that nets
were often rigged around the court to protect players) while his
friends on the Rens would board their bus, taking their meals
with them, in sullen deference to segregation.

The NBA respected the talent of the black players but was much
more interested in the disposable income of their fans. A poster
from that barnstorming period reads: As USUAL, SEATS SET ASIDE
NUMBERS. But the game certainly did not admit any idea of

Lapchick used to walk onto the court and, instead of a ritual
handshake to begin their game, embrace Rens center Tarzan Cooper.
It was a noble gesture, but that's all it could be. In 1950, with
the Globetrotters' performance against the Lakers still fresh in
everyone's memory, he had the opportunity to do more as coach of
the New York Knicks. Lapchick, who nearly quit in 1947 when the
NBA turned down his proposal to include the Rens in the league,
signed Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton, one of the three black players
admitted to the league that year.

Lapchick's son, Richard, was just five, and it was a puzzlement
that night for him to look out his bedroom window and "see my
dad's image swinging from a tree."

Perhaps there'd have been more outcry over the lack of equal
opportunity if anybody thought the NBA was much of an opportunity
in the first place. It was hardly the high life: The players got
$5 a day in meal money and traveled by train mostly, bus once in
a while. "And we were kind of tall," says Kerr. "Those trips to
New York City would take eight hours, and you'd have to assume
the fetal position all that time in those sleeper cars."

After home games the players, all of them, would retire to Kerr's
home for pizza, shrimp and beer. Even on the road, it was
fraternal to absurd extremes. Teammates became scarily
domesticated in their living arrangements, some of them
establishing partnerships that lasted a decade or more. Kerr
roomed with Al Bianchi so many seasons it became a kind of
marriage. "He brought the toothpaste," Kerr says, "I brought the
shampoo." Presumably the hotel supplied the soap, which players
would need above the requirements of most travelers. "We'd go
back to the hotel in our uniforms and wash them while we stood in
the shower."

The attitude of partnership extended across enemy lines. It had
to. With so few teams the league itself was a sort of
barnstorming tour. There would be doubleheaders at the Garden on
Tuesdays, what bettors called "get-even" night, and afterward
players from the four teams would gather for what amounted to a
company picnic at Frankie's Footlights.

There was not enough pay to encourage elitism, not enough
attention to fuel egos. In 1954 Kerr's Nationals were going great
guns, thanks mainly to George Mikan's short-lived retirement in
Minneapolis but also to the 24-second shot clock, just installed
that season. Team scoring, which averaged fewer than 80 points
during the 1953-54 season, shot up to 93. The Nationals, led by
Dolph Schayes (and with just one black player, Earl Lloyd), got
into the finals, against Fort Wayne, the following spring, in '55.

The Nationals would win in seven games and return home to a
five-convertible parade downtown, a dinner at the Optimists Club
and an ice bucket and plaque for each player.

For Kerr, his first year out of college, it could hardly have
been a more impressive start. Not only a bonus baby (that $500,
remember) but an NBA champion, the city of Syracuse at his feet.
And to think, the year before he couldn't have placed that city
on a map. They'd all come a long way, some further than others,
of course. Kerr just happened to land in life's fast lane, almost
literally, come to think of it. Such was progress: After the
season he returned home to Chicago, where his father got him a
job driving a truck, a big 18-wheeler.


The tradition of paying athletes in trinkets and trophies, as
if their glory were diminished by something so base as money,
was fading. Pro sports, still seen as a little rough and
tumble, a little disorganized perhaps, were becoming more
acceptable. There was a vulgarity to some of them (NFL players
lumbering across the landscape, knocking each other kablooey,
did not speak to a refinement in our tastes) but also
corresponding amusement value. More and more, they were gaining
official sanctioning, sponsorship. The notion that sports had
become an entertainment ndustry, and its athletes part of a
new workforce, was inescapable every time you noticed Mickey
Mantle posing with a Lucky Strike.

There were outposts of amateurism, but they were falling fast.
Even college athletes had their ears perked up for opportunity.
USC's great running back Jon Arnett took it as a joke when a
broadcaster suggested that the simple transformation of a
nickname might get him some classy wheels. "Cat," he told Arnett,
"I'm gonna get you a new car." Thereafter, when Arnett ran the
ball, he was identified as Jaguar Jon Arnett. Arnett did not get
a free Jaguar (or any other automobile), but there seemed to be
an understanding everywhere that such vehicles were available to
young men who could gain six yards a carry.

Sports like tennis and golf, though, still had a patina of purity
as bastions of fast-fading amateurism. They depended a great deal
on the amateur ideal, which was not so much that athletes should
not be paid but that they were so privileged by class and choice
of sport that they would never need to be paid. But now, with so
much time on everyone's hands, the wrong people were picking up
clubs and rackets, threatening these outposts of royal pursuit
with their wild and woolly participation, changing everything,

Tony Trabert, who was the French Open winner in 1954, was one of
those young guys confounded by the pretensions of tennis. When
Trabert hit the road in 1948, his father agreed to stake him to
$1,000 for the summer, to see if he could survive among the
country club set. "I got to Brookline for the national doubles,"
he says, "and the clubhouse was dark. Couldn't sleep there. A
motel cost 30 bucks, and I had just 50. Can't do that. I slept
outside the clubhouse, suitcase as a pillow. It was a nice

The game's insistence upon its quaint pretensions of amateur
purity was almost comical. Later, when Trabert won Wimbledon, he
cashed in a gift certificate from Lily White Sporting Goods. "Got
a couple pair of socks," he says.

Golf was more realistic, though it wasn't much of a profession.
(Its big winner in 1954 was Bob Toski; $50,000 of his $66,000
total earnings came in George May's rowdy World Championship.)
Amateurs were as likely to make news--and low scores--as the
professionals. The most famous golfer in '54 was Ben Hogan, yet
Billy Joe Patton, a 32-year-old lumberman, was almost an equal
draw. He finished a stroke behind Hogan and Sam Snead in the
Masters and probably had the largest gallery.

In fact, turning pro was not necessarily a golfer's best option.
A Coast Guard veteran named Arnold Palmer, in gauging his
prospects at age 24, certainly had reason to wonder whether
professional golf was the life for him. In 1954 he was a top
amateur, selling paint for a Cleveland businessman named Bill
Wehnes. It wasn't a bad deal at all. He was playing a lot of
golf, about as much as he wanted; a big part of his job,
actually, was playing with customers and Wehnes most afternoons.
Wehnes paid his way to tournaments too. A good life, actually. If
Palmer had landed that big order from a TV cabinet manufacturer
in Chicago in early 1954--with the kind of commission that might
have encouraged him to remain a gentleman golfer--it might have
been his life forever. That's the way he was thinking in 1954,
going into the U.S. Amateur Championship in Detroit.

Many of the amateur stars of the day, unlike Palmer, did not have
money worries. Perennial titlist Frank Stranahan was heir to a
spark plug fortune. Bob Sweeny was a 43-year-old playboy--an
Oxford-educated investment banker. But a Cleveland paint salesman
beat them all to win the U.S. Amateur that year and decided to
establish his own bona fides on the pro tour after all.

Palmer's decision was complicated by the fact that he was about
to be married. Invited to bandleader Fred Waring's tournament
after his big amateur win, Palmer arrived and met Winnie Walzer,
who in a rather whirlwind romance quickly became his wife. In a
way Palmer's proposal forced him into the professional life; he
won most of the $8,000 he needed for Winnie's engagement ring in
a little golfing foray arranged by Wehnes and pals, not turning
pro exactly but winning some suckers' money all the same.

Turning pro officially did not pay so well. The tour required a
six-month apprenticeship, which meant it would be a while before
Palmer could cash a check. Only an endorsement contract with
Wilson Sporting Goods made such a commitment possible. Palmer
took the $2,000 signing bonus (plus $5,000 for the year), married
Winnie (spending his honeymoon night in a truckers' motel off the
Breezewood exit of the Pennsylvania Turnpike), bought a tiny
trailer (with money borrowed from his father and father-in-law)
and embarked on the life of a touring professional. "We bought
the trailer in Phoenix," Palmer says, "a small 19-footer, and
pulled it around on the winter tour behind a Ford hardtop.

"We were young, we were having fun, and it seemed like we were
headed in the right direction. There were lots more like us on
the tour, quite a contingent, all of us pulling our little
trailers. We even bought a second trailer, much bigger, more
luxurious. Got it in St. Pete, pulled it up to Miami, up the East
Coast, finally to Augusta.

"Later we pulled it home to Latrobe, and I parked it in my
father's backyard. Winnie said, 'Arnie, I'm your wife, I love
you, and I'll do anything you ever want. But I'm not getting in
that trailer ever again.'"


Among the stories in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's debut issue, which
finally came out the week of Aug. 9, was a vacation guide to
trout fishing that President Eisenhower reportedly enjoyed.
Also a color foldout of baseball cards, which the magazine
identified as all the rage. Plus, mainly, a giant justification
for the publication of a weekly sports magazine. THE GOLDEN AGE
IS NOW, the editors declared in a headline.

That claim appeared to be aimed more at advertisers than readers,
not many of whom would have confused the glory of Dempsey's rule
in the '20s with the new popularity of bowling. The magazine
nevertheless believed that the sheer number of hunters (15
million, it calculated) and boaters (five million families) was
case enough for immediate coverage of the leisure class, a few of
whom would be likely to buy fishing tackle or an Evinrude (if
advertisers would just get on board too).

It was clear that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED was not yet certain which
sports needed to be illustrated, or could attract advertisers,
and wouldn't settle on a formula for some time. Spectator sports
were judged worthy of little more than "hemorrhoid ads,"
according to managing editor Sid James. Through the rest of 1954,
so that the magazine might skew more upscale than that, it
published only six articles on basketball but 14 on bowling. It
published 17 articles on clothing (but, oddly, none on bowling
clothing). It published seven on dogs, including information on
buying a puppy. Later that year there was advice on taking a

There were stories on athletes, too, and coverage of games,
though in lesser proportion to, say, bowling, so that the
magazine seemed to want to be, as it said in the publisher's
letter, "all things to all men." It was uneven, overwhelming in
its variety and, for all that, hugely popular. The magazine
disappeared from newsstands, and subscription requests rolled in
from a grateful audience, which hadn't realized what it had been
missing. Wrote Lord Beaverbrook, one of Henry Luce's friends, who
was as baffled by the sports smorgasbord as he was pleased, "For
25 cents there is too much value."

In that first issue, as well, was deadline coverage of a foot
race in Canada. It was hardly obscure--one of the milers,
England's Roger Bannister, had broken the four-minute mark
earlier in the year, and he was matched with rival John Landy of
Australia--and it was thought intriguing enough to this nation of
hunters and bowlers that television would broadcast it that
Saturday afternoon. But it could hardly have seemed a galvanizing
event at the time, not to a readership so fragmented that it was
as likely to be canoeing that day as watching two foreigners
huffing and puffing in Vancouver.

Yet it was not accidental that SI, as it was called even then in
editorial shorthand, decided to send its star writer, Paul
O'Neil, along with its top photographer, Mark Kauffman, to
Vancouver for its very first issue. As much as the magazine
blustered about the "greatest sports era in human history,"
meaning all those proud new owners of croquet sets, it also
recognized, deep down, that its fate would more probably hinge on
this ambitious population's appetite for achievement.

Dr. Roger Gilbert Bannister, as he would be formally introduced
in the article, was one of those few remaining examples of
amateurism, whereby a person might play at something while
training toward a real and far more justifiable life beyond
sports. In Bannister's case it could hardly have been more
justifiable; he was about to begin his residency toward a career
as a neurologist. The amateur ideal may have been losing its
foothold--it would eventually be driven into the quadrennial
ghetto of Olympic sports, dwarfed entirely by a new age of
professionalism--but there was still an appeal in its quaint
insistence on athletic purity.

Anybody remember Walter Camp, father of football? "You don't want
your boy 'hired' by anyone," the 19th-century coach said. "If he
plays ... he plays for victory, not for money ... and he can look
you in the eye as a gentleman should." These values were fast
eroding, now that your boy could be hired for newly fantastic
wages, but there still was an idea, however vestigial, that
sports ought to be played for the joy of it--that was enough.

Bannister was clearly of this sort, who in addition to running
for fun--mixing his training with his medical studies--would
fulfill national obligation as well. Following the 1952 Olympics,
in which he failed to win the metric mile in Helsinki, his first
thought was to quit his play altogether. But he knew the
four-minute mile loomed and that he still bore some
responsibility toward his country. "I suppose if it has got to be
done," he said, "I would rather an Englishman do it."

He did do it, ahead of Landy, who was nipping at the storied mark
down in Australia. On May 6, in Oxford, Bannister broke the tape
at 3:59.4. Six weeks later, racing in Finland, Landy ran the mile
in 3:58, bringing them both to Vancouver, where their duel was
billed, with a promoter's characteristic dismissal of 46 years of
future, The Mile of the Century.

It was Bannister's last mile race, it turned out, as he did in
fact go on to a life in medicine. Made something of himself,
Walter Camp would surely have agreed. But he didn't leave sports
without a last hurrah. A 4-to-1 underdog to Landy in this race,
Bannister was behind the favorite by 15 yards in the backstretch
of the second lap when he charged ahead for victory and another
miracle mile, 3:58.8, Landy just behind him.

DUEL OF THE FOUR MINUTE MEN, was the SI headline, and beneath it,
in a style that was both lyrical and instructive (and thus
disregarded the obvious objection that, by the time of delivery,
everybody who cared about the duel long since knew who won), was
O'Neil's dramatic account of the race.

Readers that week leafed through a strange potpourri, and a lot
of them, so starved for the confirmation of sports that this
magazine seemed to be promising, enjoyed it all. They were
indiscriminate in their pent-up passion; trout fishing was close
enough for the time being. But surely they were arrested, as they
leafed, by that story on the dueling milers and the explanation
of effort. Referring to Bannister as "the tall, pale-skinned
explorer of human exhaustion," O'Neil declared that "few events
in sport offer so ultimate a test of human courage and human will
and human ability to dare and endure for the simple sake of

Oh. So that's what this is all about.


Fifty years later: A traveler pauses in the airport bar and
leans into the evening. Televisions are cocked at all angles,
and he looks up from his drink to check the crawl of scores at
the bottom of the screens. It is of no particular importance to
him that the Sabres lead the Bruins (he is from Anaheim, after
all), but it is reassuring nonetheless, the background thrum of
his culture, all cylinders still firing away. Whoa! Bruins tie.

It's the end of the day, end of the week actually, and he's on
his way home. He orders another drink. The World's Strongest Man
(on his left) competes with NASCAR highlights (overhead), which
fight with two men in suits (on his right) trying to top each
other with catchphrases, for his diminishing attention. The crawl
shows a busy night: full NHL schedule, two college coaches fired,
baseball starting, and it looks as if the Big Aristotle needs toe
surgery again. His flight is called--back to LAX, at last. Bruins
take the lead!

Air travel is no longer a miracle of transportation, hasn't been
for some time. But our businessman, who is returning from a week
in Philadelphia, where he serviced business-form accounts, might
do well to evince a little appreciation as he gains altitude. His
comfortable life in the suburbs--orange trees bowled over, long
time ago, for his pink stuccoed, absurdly irrigated, 4 BR, 3 BA
home--would not be possible without the ability to fly city to
city and conduct commerce with zero regard for geography.
Philadelphia? He gets there as easily as Modesto.

A window seat, which is not his preference, but the flight is
full. No room to upgrade, either. He looks out at the blackness
beneath him and tracks his way home, according to the glow of
municipalities. According to the glow of their sports, actually.
Even in the dead darkness of an 8:45 flight from Philadelphia, he
can easily spot the coliseums, arenas and ballparks below. A long
time ago, perhaps 50 years or so (this is his understanding), he
would have imagined himself skimming above wheat fields, or some
such pioneer scene. It's his understanding, furthermore, that
cities west of the Mississippi didn't even have franchises. From
where he's sitting, America would have looked pretty featureless,
this time of night.

Does the flight path take him over Cincinnati? If so, those could
be the Reds playing--let's see (rustle of paper)--the Mets. Or
has the evening gotten away from him (the bartender at the
airport was pushing doubles, just $1 more), and that's St. Louis
already? East to west, one after another, great gobs of outdoor
candlepower demonstrating a city's importance (we're big
league!), lighting his long way home. St. Louis (or Cincinnati)
fades, and now Kansas City (or is it St. Louis?) blinks into
view. He can make out clots of cars in radiating parking areas
lit up too. No smokestacks, no slaughterhouses to identify civic
pride now. It's ballparks! Giant horseshoes of refulgence! Time
to Coors Field? About an hour, he thinks. Over wheat fields, as
far as he knows.

The country seems small from up here, but not regional or
parochial at all. It occurs to him that this is not a
particularly deep thought. From his window seat he strains to
pick out lesser orbs--high school football, he hopes--that dot
the landscape with their feeble incandescence. The plane bores
through the night, and our businessman, feeling nostalgic maybe,
pictures small-town bleachers, so innocent of the throbbing
business of games, so distant in their wattage from big-city
stadiums. Those bleachers, he thinks (a little more deeply this
time), are the training wheels of our sports culture. With each
mile he regrets those doubles at the airport bar.

We allow him to nod off now, and he passes over Coors Field
without noticing or further formulating societal constructs. The
country, with its knitting of interstate highways, sails beneath
him. Once it was far more vast, its parts distinct, unconnected.
It's as uniform as can be now (except for those bleachers),
regional differences (a brat in Milwaukee, blues in Memphis)
maintained less out of historical heritage than the need to
develop tourism (eat our brats, hear our blues).

Those glowing orbs are not only indistinct to our businessman at
30,000 feet, but they might also be equally blurry to him at
ground level. Their architectural similarity, it turns out, is as
much function as fashion. The standardization seems to encourage,
or at least support, the modern portability.

And if that portability seems a curse, with team owners extorting
skyboxes with the threat of easy movement, it was also a key to
the coast-to-coast spread of sports. Suddenly regional interests
(that became shrewdly attuned to financial windfalls like Chavez
Ravine, just for an example) became part of a truly national

The westward expansion that brought teams of all sports (even
hockey, his beloved Mighty Ducks) to all destinations (even
Anaheim) created fans where there had been none. Now everybody,
assuming there is sufficient passion, can argue for his place on
the map. By its team, Portland (Trail Blazers) shall be as
worldly as New York. All it takes is a shrewd trade or an artful
draft to truly demonstrate democracy. All created equal, when the
Arizona Diamondbacks can win a World Series against the Yankees.

It's all one big community now, our interests all the same. It's
hard to believe that sports wasn't one of the main reasons for
the ultimate settlement of this country. Everyone shares a common
language now, thanks to sports. It's how we talk to each
other--discussions of race, gender equality, drugs are likely to
take place in the form of athletic debate. Happily, there is
(we're pretty sure) something intelligent enough to moderate that
discussion, shape it, incite it when necessary.

Just as our energy is discharged harmlessly (perhaps
pointlessly--but that's another story) in pursuit of sport, so
are our differences now muted by shared passion. We're on
different teams, sure, but all in the same conference.

Our businessman has landed now and walks the pale hallways of the
terminal, passing the same franchised outlets he saw in
Philadelphia's. Here's a bar, comfortingly uniform in its
configuration, and its luminescence slows him. The
televisions--there are three--flicker with the news of the day,
the crawls at the bottom of the screens unable to keep up. The
same news he saw in Philly, yet it matters just as much in L.A.
"A social shorthand," he thinks. Deep thoughts!

He looks on just a little longer before completing that last leg
of his trip back to the suburbs, home and family. Here it comes:
Bruins win!

He had a feeling.

TWO B/W PHOTOS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY BETTMANN/CORBIS [COVER] 1954-2004 50th Anniversary 1954 WILLIE MAYS made his World Series catch ROGER BANNISTER ran the first 4-minute mile ROCKY MARCIANO was undefeated WILT CHAMBERLAIN was finishing high school HANK AARON was joining the Milwaukee Braves ARNOLD PALMER was turning pro MICKEY MANTLE invented the tape-measure home run Not a bad year to start a sports magazine







COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE SILK [COVER] [See caption above]


B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY MARK KAUFFMAN Fans in L.A. enjoy NFL action between the Rams and the Lions.




B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY NY DAILY NEWS Willie Mays robs Vic Wertz in the Polo Grounds on Sept. 29 in the World Series opener.

B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BETTMAN/CORBIS Wilt Chamberlain was a multisport star in Philly.







B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HY PESKIN Rocky Marciano rocks Ezzard Charles on Sept. 17 in Yankee Stadium.



B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY RONNY PESKIN The Browns' Ray Renfro catches a touchdown pass from Otto Graham in the NFL title game against the Lions.




B/W PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY AP English medical student Roger Bannister breaks the four-minute-mile barrier on May 6 in Oxford.


















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