Can Peyton Manning overcome the curse of the S.I. cover story?
Oh, God, not the cover of S.I.
If you haven’t muttered those words this week, you are: (a) a Christmas-week home-body who hasn’t ventured to a grocery store or gas station where you might have encountered this week’s edition of Sports Illustrated, which bestows the cover page and Sportsman of the Year on Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning; (b) a Peyton Manning fan, but not enough of a sports fan in general to know that the athlete who adorns the cover of Sports Illustrated is often jinxed with the worst-of–the-worst bad luck; or (c) a scoundrel of a human being who doesn’t like Peyton and is happy to see him jinxed by S.I. (I’m talking to you, Phillip Rivers fans).
But for the rest of us — those of us who get weak in the knees every time we hear Peyton shout the words “hurry, hurry” and who know that the Sports Illustrated jinx is more dreaded than a tear in your ACL — this week we couldn’t help but scream: “Sweet son of Sam, not Peyton, not the cover of S.I.”
How real is the Sports Illustrated cover jinx?
Oh, it’s real.
The last time I paid any attention to it was earlier this fall, when Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron made S.I.‘s cover. Bear in mind, there are Penrys rambling all over Alabama and, with exception of God, country, and our (immediate) next of kin, there’s almost nothing we love more than Crimson Tide football. So, imagine the horror of my family and much of the state of Alabama when McCarron, the winningest college football quarterback like, ever, was glorified on the cover.
Fewer than 10 days after appearing on newsstands, McCarron and Alabama suffered the most bizarre, improbable defeat to hated rival Auburn.
Many analysts have taken to calling the ‘Bama loss the best college football game ever. I prefer to call it Dunkirk, and proof that the Sports Illustrated jinx is real.
John Elway feels McCarron’s pain. Back in the 1980s, when Elway was busy setting records and coming in second place, many a Bronco fan blamed Sports Illustrated for Elway’s failure to win the big one. Elway was featured on the cover of S.I. a couple of times before crushing Super Bowl losses.
The jinx has been around a long time. A few games into the 1957 season, the Oklahoma Sooners football team was declared “unbeatable” on S.I.‘s cover. The next Saturday, the team’s 47-game winning streak ended.
Sportsmen of the Year aren’t immune from the jinx either. In 2008, Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps was given the distinction on the sports weekly’s cover. Three months later, Phelps was arrested with a water bong and marijuana bag.
The uninitiated blamed Phelps’ arrest on free will and bad choices. More learned sports fans know differently.
Which brings us to this week’s cover story.
To read it is to be reminded what a one-in-a-million guy Peyton Manning is.
Preparation. “Chosen by Indianapolis, Manning turned the quarterbacks’ meeting room into his personal office. He watched every practice. On Saturdays after walk-through, he cleared the equipment room and shut the door so he could select his 12 game balls in peace.”
Success amid adversity. “The laser rocket arm — Manning’s description in that famous Sprint commercial — is more like a cap gun now. Yet he is currently piloting the best team in the AFC and ... threatening single-season passing records for yards and touchdowns.”
High character through intense disappointments. “He owns only one Super Bowl trophy, which constitutes some kind of moral failing in this all-or-nothing age.” His father Archie tells S.I. Manning was “heartbroken” when the Colts cut him.
Humanity. Manning, S.I. reports, weekly phones and writes fans experiencing hardship. Manning seems to live the Biblical admonition: “To whom much is given, much is required.”
In other words, the S.I. cover merely adds new color to a tale we already know well: The Broncos superstar quarterback is a superstar human being, too.
The story doesn’t outright say this, but it leaves you with the decided impression — if anybody can break the sinister curse of the S.I. cover, it is Mr. Hurry, Hurry himself.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.