Here’s what you’ll read in Sports Illustrated this week.
Is It O.K. to Cheer for Michael Vick? The Moral Dilemma Behind the NFL’s Most Compelling StorySpecial Guest Op-Ed: Bill Clinton’s Impassioned Plea to Bring the 2022 World Cup to the U.S.His Drive for Five Complete, Jimmie Johnson Takes His Place As the Greatest Driver EverRemembering Cal Coxswain Jill Costello: Cancer Couldn’t Keep Her Off the Water
How Chris Paul’s Summer Trade Threats Now Have the Hornets Flying High
(NEW YORK – November 23, 2010) – Michael Vick appears on the cover of this week’s November 29, 2010, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands tomorrow, with the billing The Enigma: What Michael Vick Tells Us About Ourselves. It is the fourth time Vick has been the featured athlete on the cover of the weekly issue and his first as a Philadelphia Eagle. In an in-depth look at the most compelling story of the 2010 NFL season, senior writer S.L. Price examines how the league and its millions of fans have had to confront uneasy questions regarding crime, punishment and personal redemption – all of which beg the question, Is it o.k. to cheer for him (page 34)?For all the positive steps he took in his first season with Philadelphia, Vick nearly blew his second opportunity this past summer, when there was a shooting following his 30th birthday party in Virginia Beach. This was in spite of the repeated warnings from his mother, Brenda Boddie, to shield himself from any remnants of his darker days. Recalling the aftermath of that night, Vick told Price: “I’m sitting on the chair crying, looking all crazy in the face. My brother, he’s sitting there, he ain’t got no expression on his face because he ain’t going through what I’m going through. I’m going through something totally different: I know what I want in life. I love the game of football. I know what I can do on the field and what I can provide for a team. That’s where my heart’s at, and it would’ve killed me to have that taken away. And I could just see in [my mother's] face, she was tired. She told us it was embarrassing. She wanted to disown us. That’s what she told me: She wanted to walk away. She’s like, ‘You went to prison for 19 months, and you come out and you still ain’t listening….’ Right then and there, I told myself, I am changing my life. I’m going to do everything they ask me to do. I’m getting myself away from this madness.”Vick was equally fearful of losing the trust of commissioner Roger Goodell, whom he was too frightened to call with an explanation in the three weeks following the shooting. Recalling that, he said: “That was so disrespectful. I should’ve been man enough to pick up the phone and say I’m sorry. But I was tired of saying I’m sorry-to everybody. You know? It was old. Look: no more excuses for anything. That was a bad situation. Somebody got shot. And I’m just getting out of prison; I’m still on probation; I just got reinstated into the NFL; and this is my first off-season-and this happened? I was ready to deal with whatever consequences I had to deal with, man. Because I was just ashamed, and I knew I was wrong.”NFL fans were already struggling to reconcile Vick’s misdeeds with his comeback, and the incident this summer only added to the skeptics’ chorus. But Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie believed Vick had been reformed – a sentiment shared by Lurie’s friend and noted civil rights leader Vernon Jordan, who told Lurie, “F—–’ A he deserves a second chance” when asked if the team should sign him. Most of Vick’s peers on the field – many of whom are also black men from hardscrabble places touched by crime – feel the same way. Price writes: “It’s too soon to say whether Vick’s case will, like the O.J. Simpson verdict, reveal a black-white divide, but Lurie was struck by the scene: In Martha’s Vineyard, after endorsing the move, Vernon Jordan then turned to the room filled with, as Lurie puts it, ‘well-known African-Americans’ and said, ‘What do you guys think? Does Michael Vick deserve a chance to get back in the NFL?’ The answer, Lurie says, ‘was like a rallying cry.’ “Says Eagles teammate Jason Avant: “We look up to him. The Bible says, ‘The righteous man falls seven times but he gets up again.’ He’s getting up and trying, and it’s helping him and helping our team. Guys look at him not as a quarterback; we look at him as an inspiration. We look at him as a guy who has been through hell and back-and he’s conquered it.”On the iPad: A photo gallery of Michael Vick through the years, from his electric two years at Virginia Tech to the pros.
SCORECARD: A PERFECT MATCH FOR 2022 – BILL CLINTONIn a special guest op-ed, former president Bill Clinton argues why bringing the 2022 World Cup to the U.S. – the vote on which takes place in Zurich on Dec. 2 – is a worthy goal for all. Clinton has four key points to his argument (page 14):1. Higher-than-ever enthusiasm for the game across America: “The last 16 years have seen the creation of the MLS professional league, an expansion of the game’s United States fan base to more than 90 million and now a roster of four million registered youth players. Last summer our passion for the sport extended beyond our borders: The United States was second only to South Africa in tickets purchased for the 2010 World Cup.”2. More diversity in the United States than ever: “We have a fascinating mix of ethnicities and cultures within our borders. Players from every competing nation would feel as though they were playing a home game right here in the United States.”3. New opportunities for the world’s soccer economy: “[This includes] greater television and sponsorship rights, increased franchise and team values and greater investment in player development.”
4. Mobilization of Americans to tackle global challenges: “If awarded the opportunity, we will use the 2022 World Cup as a platform to assist those less fortunate and promote environmental sustainability in line with the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals…. Additionally, as hosts, we would set new standards in environmental responsibility by minimizing the footprint of the event in six core areas: water, waste, energy, transportation, procurement and climate change.”
THE FIFTH CUP IS THE SWEETEST – LARS ANDERSONIn coming from behind to win his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup title, Jimmie Johnson made his case for being the greatest driver ever. Staff writer Lars Anderson was at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Johnson’s record-breaking win (page 44): “No one who has ever slid behind the wheel of a stock car-not Richard Petty, not David Pearson, not Dale Earnhardt Sr.-has consistently performed at his best when it matters most like Jimmie Kenneth Johnson, the greatest closer in NASCAR’s 62-year history. He did it again on Sunday, overcoming a points deficit in the final race for the first time in his title run, to win his unprecedented fifth straight Sprint Cup championship.”Johnson has won his five titles in just 327 career Cup races. The two men he’s chasing for NASCAR’s hallowed record of seven career championships, Earnhardt Sr. and Petty, needed 390 and 654 races, respectively, to win five titles. Says Bobby Allison, the 1983 Cup champion, whose 83 career wins is tied for third most alltime: “Jimmie may just be the best there’s ever been. He has no weaknesses. He’s just so smooth on the track, like he’s not even trying. Nothing fazes him.”
On the iPad: An interview with the five-time reigning Sprint Cup champion and a photo montage of key moment’s from each of Jimmie Johnson’s title runs.
THE COURAGE OF JILL COSTELLO – CHRIS BALLARDIn June 2009, Cal coxswain Jill Costello had just completed a promising junior season when she was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Immediately she went from being a carefree, energetic college student to being a cancer patient told by doctors that she probably had nine months to live. Senior writer Chris Ballard (@SI_ChrisBallard) chronicles her courageous tale (page 64): “When she asked her doctors about rejoining the team, they looked at her as if she were crazy. Crew? She’d need all her strength just to make it through each day. Jill didn’t care. She told her mom she saw cancer as ‘just another thing on my plate.’ Besides, she’d had three goals for the better part of her adult life: to graduate from Cal, to cox the first boat and to win nationals. She saw no reason to change them.”Coach Dave O’Neill had told Costello he’d save a spot on the team for her but never expected she’d take him up on it. Yet when she returned to practice in March, she was better than ever. Originally a rah-rah type of coxswain, Costello displayed a calmer mien upon her return, one who assured her teammates that everything would be o.k. regardless of a missed stroke, slow start or any other obstacle. That wasn’t all that she brought to the table. Ballard continues: “O’Neill’s other concern had been that Jill’s illness might prove a distraction. That was clearly not going to be an issue. Not only did she refuse to use cancer as a crutch, but she didn’t even talk about it. Before the first weekend of racing, in early April, Jill endured a round of chemo at Stanford on Friday, then called O’Neill-not to opt out of practice that afternoon but to say she’d be 20 minutes late because her treatment went long. The same day another rower called O’Neill to say she needed to skip practice: She had a fever of 99.1°.”
The day after receiving her Cal diploma, Costello was told by her doctors that the treatment hadn’t stopped the growth of tumors in her lungs, bones and liver. Days later the Bears finished second at nationals – painfully short of a national title – and yet Costello refused to be upset: “Jill didn’t break down and cry. She didn’t scream out. She didn’t wallow in the defeat. Instead she went to her mom and picked up [her puppy] Jack, then brought him back to the bleachers for the medal ceremony. That’s where someone took the photo that [assistant coach Sarah] Nevin set as her Facebook profile picture, the one that O’Neill included in the team training schedule, the one that [teammate Iva] Obradovic uses as her laptop background. It’s the same shot that was in the program at Jill’s funeral when she passed away less than a month later, on June 24, 2010. In the photo Jill is holding Jack aloft with one hand in front of the second-place trophy, smiling like the luckiest girl in the world. Look at the faces around her, of the teammates who should have been dejected, who had been so disappointed only minutes earlier. You’ll notice something: They’re smiling too.”
CHRIS PAUL: THE TIPPING POINT – IAN THOMSENOver the summer Chris Paul said he’d consider leaving New Orleans unless the Hornets made a commitment to get better. The team listened – making dramatic changes first to the front office, team and coaching staff – and now it’s riding high. Senior NBA writer Ian Thomsen (@SI_IanThomsen) spoke with key members of the team about their transformation. Said Hornets’ president Hugh Weber (page 56): “Making those normal tweaks in the organization wasn’t going to work anymore. The analogy I use is that for 22 years, we remodeled the house here and there. But it was going to take a foundational and a structural change to rebuild the house from the ground up…. The whole structure we were trying to build is not your typical sports hierarchy, which is, coach reports to G.M., G.M. reports to president. We wanted to build a triangle decision-making process where [rookie coach] Monty [Williams], [new general manager] Dell [Demps] and I would collaborate.”After just 12 games, Williams has already learned what makes Paul tick, as evidenced by how he reacted to a technical foul that Paul received during a win over the Trail Blazers earlier this month. As Paul recalls: “This is going to seem like a little thing, but 50 years from now I will never forget what he said to me. I got a technical and just about everybody is saying, ‘CP, calm down, calm down.’ And Coach pulled me to the side and said, ‘Listen, everybody else is saying calm down, I want you to keep doing what you’re doing.’ He could have yelled at me for getting a technical. But him just telling me to stay in that mode went a long way with me.”
On the iPad: SI.com senior editor Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) interviews Ian Thomsen about New Orleans’ hot start.
STEVEN STAMKOS: BOLT OF LIGHTNING – MICHAEL FARBERSenior hockey writer Michael Farber profiles the best pure shooter in hockey today: Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos. His ability to get the puck in the net – particularly on one-timers – has started to evoke memories of great scorers from this generation and the last. As Brett Hull told Farber (page 52): “He’s kinda claimed that spot that was reserved for [Brendan] Shanahan, Ovechkin and myself. I watch him on TV and I go, ‘Boy, does that ever look familiar.’ ”Farber adds: “Stamkos and Hull share Twilight of the Gods one-timers because of a nearly singular ability to blast them off any pass in the same zip code as their stick…. Like Hull, Stamkos is nimble enough to make adjustments – one stride forward or a half step back – but also is able to contort his torso and torque his hips to elevate the shot. His wheelhouse is the size of a Vladimir Guerrero strike zone.”
On the iPad: A detailed breakdown of where on the ice Steven Stamkos scored each of his 51 goals during the 2009-10 season plus video footage of his sizzling slap shot.
MLS CUP: RESPECT AT LAST – GRANT WAHLSenior soccer writer Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) was in Toronto to witness the often-ignored Colorado Rapids cap a stunning playoff run with their a 2-1 victory over Dallas for their first ever MLS championship. The win was especially sweet for captain Pablo Mastroeni, who finally raised a trophy in his ninth season with the club thanks in part to lessons drawn from his two World Cup appearances. As he told Wahl (page 62): “To be a successful team in this league, it’s different from Europe, where they pride themselves on talent and individual players. That team spirit-leaving the egos in the locker room when you go out to train-is something that the U.S. national team has always done well. And in tough times that spirit will get you past some great individual players and make them question themselves.”
SI PLAYERS NFL POLLFor which other coach would you like to play? (page 15)Rex Ryan, Jets….21% Jeff Fisher, Titans….8%Mike Tomlin, Steelers….12% Bill Belichick, Patriots….7%Sean Payton, Saints….9%[Based on 279 NFL players who responded to SI's survey]
FAST FACTS: Each of the top seven vote-getters – including No. 6 Mike Shanahan and No. 7 Jim Caldwell – has appeared in a conference championship game; all but Ryan have been to a Super Bowl…. Wade Phillips, who was 10th with 3% of the vote, was canned on Nov. 8…. Six African-Americans were among the top 13 vote-getters, including one, Tony Dungy, who hasn’t coached since 2008.
POINT AFTER: GRATITUDE ADJUSTMENT – PHIL TAYLORCody Ross’s off-season following an MVP performance in the NLCS and a World Series title has been a whirlwind of complimentary meals, standing ovations at restaurants and invitations for speaking engagements and autograph sessions. Yet as senior writer Phil Taylor discovered, the novelty of the adulation still hasn’t worn off on Ross. Searching for words to describe his newfound recognition, Ross told Taylor (page 74): “Crazy, fantastic. Touching, humbling. I’m trying to take all of it in. At the parade after the Series, there were hundreds of thousands of people there, maybe a million, and I wanted to thank all of them individually. I was trying to look every single one of them in the eye.”
Taylor adds: “The athlete looks for unconditional loyalty and support from the fan; the fan demands that the athlete deliver a flawless performance, game after game. But sometimes, all too rarely, the connection works perfectly, and both fan and athlete develop a deep appreciation for what the other has provided. Ross values the love from San Francisco supporters as much as they treasure the championship he helped bring them. Sometimes the fans say, ‘Thank you,’ and the athlete says, ‘No, thank you‘ – and they both truly mean it.”
iPAD EXTRAS FOR THE 11/29 ISSUE
- Smooth Operator - In this iPad exclusive, Steve Rushin (@SteveRushin) explains the origins of the Zamboni, which was invented by a Southern Californian who couldn’t skate and now has surfaced everywhere from Sweden to Shanghai.
- Scorecard - Video footage showing the art of faking a football injury (as demonstrated by Cal during its game with Oregon) and an excerpt of Titanic Thompson, written by former Sports Illustrated editor Kevin Cook.
There you have it. Lots of material. Good stuff too.