Tom Brady Does it Again – This Time In Comeback Fashion
NEW YORK, NY (February 4, 2015) – This week’s Sports Illustrated features Super Bowl Champions: The New England Patriots and QB Tom Brady with a recap by Greg Bishop. With the big game in the rearview, SI offers a look at the needs and wants of all 32 teams, plus a list of the 40 best free agents available in an NFL Off-Season Preview. Pete Thamel analyzes how Western Michigan’s coach P.J. Fleck excels in the cutthroat game of recruiting. Watch out, Billy Goat: Joe Maddon is ready to change things up. Tom Verducci profiles the new face of the Chicago Cubs.
Also in this issue, NASCAR’s Kyle Larson just might provide the fresh air that the all-American sport needs, while Alan Shipnuck dives into the brash and controversial life of professional golfer Patrick Reed. Luke Winn analyzes John Calipari’s efficient and top-ranked defense at Kentucky and Ben Reiter examines New York Rangers’ Rick Nash and his rediscovered puck luck. Shipnuck also introduces us to Toronto Raptors’ GM Masai Uriri who leads with perseverance, integrity and generosity thanks to the influence of his hero, Nelson Mandela, and SI presents Athletes to Watch in 2015, from tennis and soccer to swimming and track, they’re poised to grab our attention.
Greg Bishop: ELATED
The lead-up to the Patriots-Seahawks defied logic (and maybe science). The game itself reversed the laws of probability (and maybe play-calling). But after an instant-classic win, this can’t be questioned: the place Tom Brady and the Pats hold in history. A game full of suspense, fantastic performances and questionable calls stands as perhaps the biggest feather yet in New England’s cap.
Pete Thamel: No Grind, No Glory
A day in the life of Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck shows what is takes to excel at the game of recruiting – mounds of caffeine, deep connections and an unmatched enthusiasm for the sport. The youngest coach in the FBS has changed WMU from an afterthought school to one that is hot on the recruiting trail and a force on the field. Orchestrating the biggest turnaround in school history, Fleck knows that to capture a recruit he needs enthusiasm, sincerity and a routine that is anything but monotonous. Although it seems to be working so far, Fleck understands that every day is a new one and new tricks are required.
Tom Verducci: This Is the…
…Year?! Savior?! Last we’ll ever hear of Billy Goats?! Whatever it is, it’s exciting. Welcome to Joe Maddon’s Chicago. Optimism as big as Maddon’s is rare for a team that has been so bad for so long, but Maddon – along with Vegas oddsmakers – has the Cubs going far this year. There are many questions swirling around them and as the season approaches, some fans believe this could be the year they win it all. Armed with a solid core of returning players and a slew of free-agent signings, the time of wishful thinking is past. To Maddon, this is the season of winning.
“After he was hired, I went to dinner with him at his restaurant in Tampa. I was blown away. He flat-out told me, ‘The reason I’m coming here is to win the World Series. There’s no sense aiming for anything lower.’”- Anthony Rizzo, Cubs first baseman
“Maddon is so engaging, you find yourself sitting up a little more, leaning forward in your chair a little more, your mind is going a little faster and you want to make him laugh. You want to rise to his level of energy, intellect and accomplishment. I think he has that effect on players. They want to match his energy and offer him ideas.”- Marie Epstein, wife of Theo Epstein, president
Andrew Lawrence: Fresh Face in the Race
Poised to challenge racing’s reigning old guard, 22-year-old Kyle Larson is already attracting new fans to NASCAR – at a time when the sport badly needs a boost. With four DNF’s in the past, Larson has come a long way from where he was. Despite winning Rookie of the Year Honors, he knows there is a ways to go. NASCAR is in the midst of a changing of the guard and as it stands, Larson is set to lead the new crop of youngsters as they look to shake up the Sprint Cup ranks in the years to come.
Alan Shipnuck: Dream Team
Brash? Absolutely. Controversial? No doubt. Patrick Reed has been deemed the bad guy and has certainly paid for it. Putting aside past relationships, college controversies and a near-death experience involving his wife Justine, the 24-year-old golfer now looks to pair his maturation and internal drive to continue a winning resume that includes four Tour events – a feat accomplished by only an elite few. With the help of the fearless Justine, Reed battled for his Tour card the hard way and has already shown he has the game to back up his ambition.
“I don’t want to be the bad guy; I just want people to realize how passionate and how determined I am and how much love I have for the game of golf.” – Reed
“When he came out he was a little mean, he was a little too confident. He’s still confident, but now he does it in a nice way. I could learn a lot from him as a player and as a person.” – Bubba Watson
Luke Winn: The Deep Blue D
Kentucky is littered with NBA first-round talent, but the Wildcats aren’t focused on offense. Rather, coach John Calipari and the Cats have put together the best defensive team in the nation – possibly in history – en route to holding an undefeated record and a no.1 seed. As the Big Dance approaches Kentucky has mastered defensive schemes and formed a substitution method that sacrifices nothing while costing opponents everything. Their defense is oppressive, their energy is never ending, and as the season continues, we just might see history being made.
“[They are] the best defensive team I’ve seen in the last 20 years, in terms of the way they get over screens, and the physicality of the way they play, the way they block shots.”- Rick Pitino, Louisville head coach
“The only film we watch is 10 clips during the pregame meal. It’s all about effort and energy. It’s about you versus him, like, I’m not going to let him make his name off me.”- Calipari
Ben Reiter: Goals in Bulk
Rick Nash had the Rangers playing for their first Stanley Cup in 20 years, but lost his puck touch when it mattered most. Now the proven scorer, who combines small-man skills with a big-man frame, is working to put the Rangers back in the Cup discussion. Nash went scoreless in three of New York’s four playoff series and scored only three times in 25 postseason games last season. He was booed by New York fans as it seemed he may have lost his ability to score. This year, thanks to improved fitness and health he is on pace for his first 50-goal season and possibly an MVP award.
“He knew how to play in tight spots. Now, he’s 6’4” [but] playing a little man’s game, stickhandling in small areas. We watched him develop from not a very big kid into a monster.” – Mark Hunter, GM of the London Knights, Canadian Hockey League
“It’s unbelievably unique in the NHL, that combo. He is a power forward, but he’s a different type of power forward– a power forward with great skill. Usually [power forwards] will bull through you. He doesn’t. – Doug MacLean, Blue Jackets GM
Alan Shipnuck: ‘He Lifts Us All’
Like his hero, Nelson Mandela, Raptors GM Masai Ujiri leads by example, with perseverance, integrity and generosity. His approach has resulted in a team that has captured the Toronto fan base, as well as a brighter future for his fellow Africans. The Raptors have become the most beloved team in the staunchest of hockey towns and it’s not by accident; Ujiri commands respect and treats everyone in the organization with honesty. His players sing his praises as he has built chemistry like no other, while holding each player accountable for success. So far it’s working, as Ujiri’s team is playing before sellout crowds and is possibly a title contender.
“You can’t buy this kind of goodwill in the community. Masai is the perfect ambassador for what we’re trying to accomplish here. In many ways he’s become the face of the franchise.”- Ujiri’s boss, Tim Leiweke, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment
“You don’t hear thank you a lot in this business, so I always remembered that. We had exchanged emails, but I assumed I would never hear from him. I was wrong. That’s one of Masai’s strengths: He reaches out.”- NBA Trainer David Thorpe