Tom Blount: A collector’s item for sure!
One writer said it “just might be the greatest race of all time.” Roger Bannister of England and John Landy of Australia, both of whom had broken the then thought to be impenetrable four-minute mile earlier that summer, battled in the Empire Games in Vancouver, British Columbia. Bannister finished first at 3:58.8; Landy was next at 3:59.6, marking the first time two had run under four minutes in the same race.
That was followed by a pictorial of the first Ezzard Charles-Rocky Marciano fight (Marciano won in 15), and a feature on Duke of Edinburgh Prince Phillip touted his all-around athleticism, showing his prowess in the high jump, archery, flying, polo, rowing, sailing and cricket. Next came listings of the spectator sports: Softball, 125 million, followed in order by basketball, baseball, horse racing and football. Fishing (25 million) was the top participation sport followed by bowling, hunting, boating and golf.
A hypothetical Olympic decathlon duel – Bob Mathias vs. Jim Thorpe – was “won” by Mathias with Thorpe victorious only in the 400 meter and 1,500 meter runs. Red Smith, best sportswriter of his era, gave readers a behind-the-scenes look at baseball’s Leo Durocher and one of the last articles written by legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice, who died July 13, 1954, revisited “golf’s greatest putt by Bobby Jones in the 1929 U.S. Open.”
All of those were featured in a now well-preserved initial (Aug. 16, 1954) edition of Sports Illustrated delivered to freshman Donald Boone in Cobb Dorm at UNC Chapel Hill. Boone, who for decades has resided in High Point, became a judge.
Eddie Mathews, who began his pro baseball career (.363, 17 home runs) with the High Point/Thomasville Hi-Toms (Class D North Carolina State League) and the only person to play for the Braves in Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta, was shown on SI’s cover hitting against the New York Giants. [At the time, SPORT magazine and The Sporting News, which at that time was considered “The Bible of Baseball,” were the only other vehicles for serious fans to follow sports from around the nation.] SI’s cover price was 25 cents; a 52-issue subscription cost $6.
Another of the debut edition’s features was a letter from Herman Hickman, advising Jim Tatum on coaching the College All-Stars against the NFL champion Detroit Lions. Hickman was a Hall of Fame college football player for the University of Tennessee, played pro football for the NFL’s Brooklyn Dodgers and later was head football coach for Yale University (1948-51, 16-17-2). Tatum, head football coach at North Carolina (1942, 1956–58), University of Oklahoma (1946), and University of Maryland, College Park (1947–55) -- career record of 100–35–7, won a national title with Maryland in 1953. Among collegians praised in pre-game hype were Zeke Bratkowski, Cotton Davidson, Vince Dooley, Bobby Garrett, Neil Worden, Johnny Lattner and Art Hunter. Hickman’s advice was of little help. Tatum’s College All-Stars were whipped 31-6, a slight “improvement” over the 33-0 loss inflicted on Hickman’s College All-Stars by the Cleveland Browns in 1951.
That SI first edition also had features on trout fishing, beavers, poison ivy, boomerangs, a “You Should Know” piece for “if you are buying a puppy.,” and the art career of George Bellows, who had played basketball and baseball at Ohio State.
The 148-page edition had 54 full page advertisements in addition to dozens of smaller ads including 11 half-pagers. Among big advertisers were Ethyl, Goodyear, Stetson hats, Wilson, Winchester, Skyway and Samsonite luggage (both 2 pages each) and car companies Chrysler (3 pages), Kaiser (2), Cadillac, Pontiac and Ford.
For some of you, this will be a trip down memory lane; for others, history lessons or something about which to talk with Paw Paw about after Thanksgiving dinner.
Tom Blount retired as editor of The High Point Enterprise in 2012.