Why The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Reminds Me Of Mom

And now that I have your attention, allow me to explain (you bunch of sickos!).

I’m not talking about Sigmund Freud’s infamous Oedipus complex. I’m talking about that annual rite of passage known as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue which has landed in mailboxes across this great land of opportunity each February for decades, about the time pitchers and catchers report, and the ensuing tug-of-war between those great sentinels of chastity and virtue, Moms, and those eager students of human anatomy, their sons.

I received my first Sports Illustrated subscription in 1974 in sixth grade–for the articles, of course. Talk about perfect timing! My parents knew I loved sports, reading and writing, so what better gift to buy their son? Unfortunately, when my first SI Swimsuit Issue arrived with Ann Simonton on the cover, I showed it to Mom. Rookie mistake. She said, “Oh, let’s show that to your Dad,” and I never saw it again.

The next year, a little more seasoned now and having learned from previous miscues, I was ready. With the second Monday in February circled and starred on my little pocket calendar, I made a beeline to the mailbox after disembarking from Bus #18. Contact! Cheryl Tiegs, let me just say this: Thanks for the memories.

Back and forth Mom and I went, February after February. Some years she would intercept it in the mail and throw it away, and some years I got there first. You win some, you lose some. C’ est la vie.

I think the annual battle between mother and son is symbolic of an even greater internal maternal struggle. It’s not easy for Moms. They want their boys to grow up and be good men but at the same time stay innocent little tykes playing with Tonka trucks in the dirt. Discussions of sex and human anatomy are often halting and threadbare; tiny, fig leaves of conversation which hardly hide the awkwardness and leave just about everything to the imagination. My Mom’s solution was to buy a sparsely-illustrated Christian sex education book (probably a throw-in from a Southwestern Company traveling preacherboy to help spice the deal) and surreptitiously place it on my desk where I would be sure to find it.

It was okay and answered a few of my questions, but Cheryl Tiegs was full of useful information. You know what they say: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Besides, I never was one to stick to a set curriculum. I was always more of an “independent study” kind of guy.

Years pass, and Mom is now dead. I’m leaving for Virginia to clean out the old home place and prepare it for an estate sale. Number Three Son calls out to me, “If you find any of those vintage Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues save them for me!” We’ve never subscribed. I think to myself: How does he know about Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues? I chuckle, figuring those SIs are gone for good, consigned to the trash bin along with my high school letter jacket (Mom always told me the “moths had ate holes in it”–don’t even get me started).  I shrug, say “Sure thing, son!” and shuffle on.

Once there Eyegal and I stand in the middle of the two car garage, surrounded by a sea of detritus, the flotsam and jetsam which bobs along in the wake of a humble and inconspicuous life. I spy an old utility cabinet buried beneath soggy cardboard boxes and ancient kitchen chairs. I reach down and open the doors and, behold, there they are! Stack and stacks of my old Sports Illustrateds! I can hardly believe my eyes, so I reach down and pick one up and finger its crinkly, colorful cover. November 11, 1974–“The Rumble In The Jungle.” Ali and Foreman. Cheryl Tiegs couldn’t be that far behind.

Eyegal sighs, rolls her eyes, and helps me spread out my buried treasure on the floor of the family room. As I recall, I hid some of the swimsuit issues inside of more innocuous ones (Brilliant! Mom would never suspect that!). Anxiously, I start tearing through them as fast as I can. Irina Shayk? Meh. I have fantasies of sharing my own cherished coming-of-age icons with my three sons: Lena Kansbod, Christie Brinkley, and, of course, Yvette and Yvonne, the Sylvander Twins! (1976 was a very, very good year.) What a father-sons bonding experience this would be! Maybe I would even keep one for myself–for old time’s sake, of course.

I comb through mounds of magazines, but, alas, nada. Nothing but football, basketball and baseball–imagine that. It becomes very clear that the treasure that I seek has eluded me once more. I am thrilled to have the ones in my hands, but the testosterone-driven adolescent in me–the tiny fraction of one left, anyway–mourns for a bygone era that will never be recaptured.

Drats! Foiled again, only this time from beyond the grave. Somewhere, Sigmund Freud–and Mom–were smiling.

  1. Mike the Eyeguy

    Dear Mom and Dad: Thanks for not blowing a fuse and canceling my subscription.

  2. Charlie

    I remember the SI swimsuit issue and the indignant “Cancel My Subscription” letters that SI proudly printed the next week.  Those issues were in a way better than  Playboy magazines. They left a little to the imagination, less as the years went on.  Good times! 

  3. Mike the Eyeguy

    Ah, good, I was hoping you would weigh in on that one, Charlie. Yeah, looking back my parents were pretty level-headed when compared to some of those steamed letter writers. It’s almost as if they sensed that I would grow up to be, well, at least generally well-adjusted, secret stash of adolescent pin-ups notwithstanding.

    I did look at some of the articles in those old issues (no, seriously) and I was amazed at how good the writing was in those days. Tom Wolfe’s “New Journalism” was in, and even something as relatively simple and straightforward as a championship game read like an intricate and spellbinding novel.

    I haven’t read SI in a while and I don’t know if they still have those same literary standards or not. I suspect it might have been dumbed-down a bit.

    Hey, here’s another blast from the past: Remember Spencer’s Gift Stores at the mall? Remember that poster of Farah Fawcett in the red one-piece? (May God rest her soul)

  4. NASAgirl

    hey, i’d take it and tear all the bathing suit pictures before giving it to my son.

  5. Mike the Eyeguy

    And I thought that’s what guys did (tear pages out) with the SI Swimsuit editions (and other assorted rags) on the rack at the drugstore. Man, you learn something new everyday.

  6. David U

    Dad would snatch that issue EVERY year and either throw it away or hide it from me and my little brother.  But, we still had the Sears Catalogue !!  🙂

  7. Mike the Eyeguy

    “But, we still had the Sears Catalogue !!”

    Attaboy, DU. When the going gets tough, the tough improvise and adapt.

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