'It was really disarming': Joey Harrington reflects on that Sports Illustrated cover with Ken Simonton
The former Oregon quarterback on what it was like to (twice) be on the cover of the most popular sports magazine in the world.
PORTLAND — Joey Harrington wasn’t expecting to like Ken Simonton.
The Oregon State star was the returning running back with Heisman dreams and played for a team that had given Harrington, Oregon’s quarterback, a not-so-loving nickname after the previous season’s 23-13 Oregon State win over the Ducks in the Civil War. But because Harrington was returning, too, and his Oregon Ducks were expected to be national title contenders just like Simonton’s Beavers, the two were forced to play nice during a 2001 Sports Illustrated cover shoot.
“College football is more cordial now than it was 20-30 years ago,” Harrington recalled. “They were Oregon State. You never had a chance to interact with them because once you chose your school you’re in for life, right? And especially after going Joey Five Picks and having everything that happened that junior year, God I hated them.
I cannot express to you how much I wanted to beat Oregon State that senior year. Then to have to go do this cover shoot with their star running back, who SI actually picked as the No. 1 team in the country — not us — and then to get in there and see what a good guy Kenny was and how funny he was, it was really disarming.”
It also helped, too, that the Aug. 2001 SI cover is one of the oddest in the history of the publication. The cover featured Harrington and Simonton holding swords piercing through stuffed animals of their rival’s mascot.
“State of War: In Oregon a national title is at stake.”
The cover was one of the 13 times the University of Oregon was featured on the cover of the publication since its first issue in 1957. Steve Prefontaine was on that cover. So too was Akili Smith, Justin Herbert, Byron Marshal, De’Anthony Thomas, LaMichael James, Chris Boucher, Jason Fife, Jeremiah Masoli, Jordan Holmes and some friendly guy from Hawaii who graced the cover three times during his career with the Ducks. And after last week’s announcement that Sports Illustrated laid off the majority of its staff, Harrington found himself a bit puzzled at how a publication that meant so much to his youth could essentially vanish after a 67-year run.
“I used to sit around the mailbox and wait for it because if Dad got his hands on it I may never see it again,” he said. “The articles were incredible. Faces in the Crowd. Rick Reilly on the back page. That was just the best.”