Scooter Hobbs column: Reality ends SI fantasy
Published 10:00 am Saturday, January 20, 2024
For many of us of a certain age, the decision to disappoint our families, forsake honest work and wages and get into the sports writing dodge can be traced directly to Sports Illustrated.
It would begin innocently enough. You’re a young kid, you like sports.
You’d rush home from school on the appointed day — Thursdays, if I recall correctly — hoping it had arrived in the mail. You’d be full of anticipation and wonder, ready to be transplanted out beyond your youth baseball sandlots to a magical sports world, a fantasy where everything seemed larger than life and worthy of big color pictures.
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Mostly you wondered what would be on the cover — dang the SI Jinx — maybe it would be one of your favorite teams, hopefully the St. Louis Cardinals.
That’s the way the magazine grabbed you at a tender age.
I bring this up now because it appears Sports Illustrated is no more, ceasing operations. Almost the entire staff was laid off Friday, just shy of the magazine’s 70th birthday.
RIP. And what a shame.
To be honest, the magazine, certainly, hasn’t been itself for a good many years, apparently in financial ill health. It’s tried to survive mostly as a website, and there’s a still a lot of good journalism to be found. But it’s just not the same. The magazine went to bi-weekly to monthly to near insignificance.
Kids today will never know what they’re missing.
But in my youth, well …
Not to give away my advanced age here, but there was no Twitter or X at the time, no Facebook, let alone TikTok or whatever that contraption is called.
But there was Sports Illustrated in its glory days.
By the time it arrived each Thursday, you already knew who’d won the big events. But it didn’t seem to be confirmed until you’d perused Sports Illustrated’s take on it.
There were a lot of young sports fans eager to devour each issue, cover to cover, every word.
You thought you were no different.
But some of us were different, a little off perhaps.
Gradually Sports Illustrated reeled you in. The target of that youthful anticipation changed.
Maybe you had always liked to read anyway. Still, you thought you were just another huge sports fan.
SI was just teasing with you.
There was never any big epiphany. You didn’t just wake up and realize it.
But over time, without warning, some of us — still at a tender, impressionable age — started realizing we were
bigger fans of the magazine’s writing than the sports events and sports heroes we were reading about.
That should have been a danger signal — Ahuugaa! Ahuuga! — but no, you ignored warnings.
And then you were hooked. One day you realized — it had been coming on for a while — that your heroes, your idols, were no longer Archie Manning and Bob Gibson, but rather Dan Jenkins and, say, Frank Deford, the superstars of Sports Illustrated itself.
Mainly Jenkins, surely the greatest, most entertaining sports writer who ever lived. And, to my generation at least, he was probably to blame for sending more of us down this sordid career path than any other human.
Never mind, as one of my fellow scribes once observed, “Whenever I get to feeling content, I try to read Jenkins — on your best day you know you’ll never touch that.”
But we could all dream.
While still in college, I landed a one-day job at a Super Bowl in the Superdome passing out stats in the press box. Menial work, for sure. But we peons were invited to the NFL’s big media hospitality room afterwards, where Jenkins was “holding forth,” as he’d say.
I was totally mesmerized.
Years later, I happened to run into Jenkins in the lobby of a hotel as we were checking in before some big event.
This time I had the courage to introduce myself.
The rooms weren’t ready. There would be a wait. He suggested we grab a drink in the lobby bar.
I thought I’d faint.
But he was as crotchety and witty as I’d aways imagined.
After a beer or two in I related to him that he was the reason I decided to become a sports writer.
He just nodded, like it surely wasn’t the first time he’d heard such a confession.
No long after, I was reading a story about Jenkins himself. The article said he hated it when young sports writers told him he was reason they got into the profession.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com