Jinx, buy me a Coke

A deep dive into the Sports Illustrated cover jinx

Sports Illustrated is one of the most popular sports magazines in the world. Athletes grow up dreaming about being on the cover one day. However, the opportunity may be more of a curse than a blessing. Both teams and players who have been lucky enough to make the cover of a Sports Illustrated issue have been subject to the SI cover jinx.

The legend of the jinx can be dated back to the first issue of Sports Illustrated in 1954. Milwaukee Braves star player Eddie Matthews appeared on the first-ever cover and his Braves were riding a nine-game winning streak. The day after the issue came out, they lost their next game and a week later Matthews was hit by a pitch, injuring his hand and forcing him to miss the next seven games.

Back in 2002, the folks at SI ran an exhaustive statistical analysis of the jinx. Of the 2,456 covers SI had run, 913 featured a person or team that suffered some verifiable misfortune, a jinx rate of 37.2 percent.

Some modern-day victims of the SI jinx are the 2015 University of Kentucky men’s basketball team, New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray, the 2015 Cleveland Indians and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

In 2015, the University of Kentucky basketball team was said to be the most talented college basketball team of all time. Led by star freshman Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wildcats looked poised to go undefeated for the whole season and win the championship. However, the Wildcats lost to the University of Wisconsin in the Final Four just two days before Sports Illustrated would release an issue with Towns on the cover with the caption “From the brink. To the brink. Kentucky closes in on… 40-0″

New England Patriots running back Jonas Gray was coming off a career game where he rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns. The following week he was late for practice and was told he would not start. Gray made the cover of Sports Illustrated a week after his breakout performance but would only receive 24 carries over the team’s final seven games.

The 2015 Cleveland Indians team came into the season with a lot of hype around them. The Tribe was pegged to be World Series favorites going into the season. A March 30 issue of Sports Illustrated saw them on the cover titled “Wait till this year. Why Cleveland? Why not Cleveland? Why the Tribe will win its first series since 1948,” It’s safe to say that Cleveland not only didn’t win the World Series, they didn’t even make the playoffs, finishing with just an 81-80 record.

In 2014, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was featured on one of SI’s five regional college football preview covers. Days after the issue came out, Miller re-injured his surgically repaired right shoulder, causing him to miss the entire 2014 season.

The Sport Illustrated cover jinx has provided some fascinating theories over the years. When thinking logically, the jinx can be blamed on SI picking players or teams coming off exceptional performances and thus blaming the disappointing results on the player or team simply regressing to the mean. However, players that have been featured on the cover have wound up suffering severe injuries after appearing on the cover. Is this just bad luck or is the Sports Illustrated cover actually jinxed?

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