Sports Illustrated has provided some great writing over the years (perhaps all of which is now available online at through the SI Vault), but for the purpose of this point, I want to focus on both a recent story and two columns from a few years ago.
The Sept 29 issue of Sports Illustrated features a great cover story by Gary Smith on the Chicago Cubs... more to the point, on Cubs fans and their devotion (and frequently associated heartbreak).
The story brings Smith together with the same group of fans he met 10 years prior in the Wrigley bleachers and looks at what the team means (as well as what a Cubs World Series title would mean) to them.
Having just come back from a college football sojourn to Lincoln, Nebraska, I understand devotion to a team, but it was fascinating reading Smith's account of that devotion being associated with baseball. it's an entirely different topic, but my thought would be the only rival (in terms of fan association) to big time college football would be said Cubs baseball and soccer outside the US. Pro football, basketball, auto racing and hockey... certainly followed by given audiences, but I don't think with the same level of fervor as college football and Cubs baseball.
Anyhoo... the cover story is a great read and makes the reader think about what it is to be... a fan.
Not Recent: Rick Reilly pieces
"Worth the Wait" about high school runner Ben Comen who competes (and finishes) despite having cerebral palsy.
"Funny You Should Ask" about a made up conversation between a dad and his kid about sports, life and things in between.