Originally created 02/23/01

Magazine has its own Super Bowl

The Super Bowl of football yielded the Ravens.

The Super Bowl of dog shows crowned a Bichon-frise.

The Super Bowl of auto racing claimed a legend.

The Super Bowl of sports magazines introduced Elsa Benitez heating up Tunisia.

It's called Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit edition. It is the often imitated, never duplicated titan of the skin industry.

The theme for this year's portfolio is "Goddesses of the Mediterranean," which is precisely why three of the six photo locales were Hawaii, the Bahamas and Las Vegas.

Enough geography. Why, you might ask, does SISE rank as a "Super" event before, say, the spring planting preview of Better Homes & Gardens or the fall fashion extravaganza from Vogue?

Simple - super models. That term didn't exist until SI made Cheryl Tiegs and Christie Brinkley household names. SI made models into stars. Elle MacPherson and Tyra Banks are as recognizable to any American male as Mark McGuire and Tiger Woods.

Then there is the specialized advertising that is often better than the issue itself. Such as the uncapped beer bottle that exclaims, "Oops, my top fell off." The condom company that proclaims it is "what everyone will be wearing this year." Or the nutrition bar that professes to "stimulate parts of the body other pages didn't."

This year's ad classic: the "Got Milk?" campaign featuring supermodel Gisele, draped only in a beach towel, touting the calcium benefits of milk with the question, "Weak in the knees?"

It has been hotly debated for years whether SI's annual expose: a) objectifies women; and b) belongs in the world's most popular sports magazine.

The answers are, of course, yes and no. Thankfully for many men across the world, Time Inc. does not care about either answer. SI faithfully churns out bigger and more spectacular swimsuit editions every February.

A few years back, the magazine stopped bothering to include any sports stories, printing a separate issue entirely to assuage the Puritans who kept canceling their subscriptions every year.

In 1999 SI gave us painted-on "swimsuits." Last year it introduced 3D technology to the genre.

This year's emphasis seems to be on volume - 214 pages of which 116 included pictures of women in various forms of undress. That's an impressive 54.2 percent rate of coverage.

This week's "regular" SI, which honors the late Dale Earnhardt on its cover, has only one picture of a woman in 86 pages: Jennifer Lopez with a neckline plunging well below her navel. Go figure.

Statistical leaders? Klum led the 20 featured models with 11 of the 77 pictures. Thirteen models misplaced their tops while six sheer ensembles provided as much coverage as an HMO.

For the female reader, SI obliged with 10 topless males: eight NFL Pro Bowlers, including Eddie George and Tony Gonzalez; Roy sans Seigfried; and Kirk Douglas as Spartacus.

As for the swimsuits, the best bargain is a $59 one from Diesel sported by Lujan Fernandez. (It should be noted that the bottom of Aurelie Claudel's Frivole outfit runs for $28. Her top ran away.) Janelle displayed the most expensive suit - a gold-shell creation from Pamela Dennis that can be had for a scant $5,600 at Barneys New York.

As for the Super Bowl MVP: I'd take Fernandez - splayed across pages 42-43 in a bikini and sarong provided by Lisa Curran Swim - over Ray Lewis or a Bichon-frise any day.

Reach Scott Michaux at (706) 823-3219.


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