Every now and then, I'll pick up a copy of Sports Illustrated, usually when the cover story grabs my interest. But for all the times I've bought SI off the newsstand, I'd never really thought about subscribing. That is, until last Friday, when that eighth subscription card fell out of the issue I was reading. Yes, that was the one that convinced me.

I have to admit, the first three subscription cards that fell out of the issue didn't make much of an impression on me. I was reading the magazine in the kitchen while heating up some soup, and every few minutes, as I turned a page, a card would fall out and gently drift to the floor. Before long, three cards were on the floor. I knew the cards represented attractive offers to get Sports Illustrated delivered straight to my door, but they somehow failed to register.

About an hour later, while reading the magazine on the toilet, two more subscription cards fell out. The first of the two (the fourth in all) landed toward the base of the toilet, out of sight. But the second toilet card (number five) fell right on my knee, facing me. I couldn't help but notice its offer of one year of Sports Illustrated for just $1.59 an issue. That's a savings of 54 percent off the cover price. Still, I was not moved to subscribe. Impressive as the offer was, it takes a lot more than that to convince a savvy, selective consumer like me to subscribe to a magazine. Besides, who pays attention to a meager five notices these days, anyway?

Though I didn't realize it at the time, the sixth subscription card was the one that started to pique my curiosity. I'm not sure if I was just getting bored of the article I was reading or if there was something special about this particular subscription card. I suspect it was a little of both: Rick Reilly's story on Jason Giambi was oddly uncompelling, while that bright orange card with the large "SAVE 54%!" in a white starburst was undeniably alluring. Yet, tempted as I'd been, it still wasn't enough.

The seventh card seriously upped the ante. Like the others, it reminded me that, had I been an SI subscriber, I would've paid just $1.59 for the issue I currently held in my hands. Only this time, "Save 54%!" was printed in white type in a bright blue circle. Suddenly, the $3.50 I shelled out at the newsstand seemed senseless and wasteful. But that's not all. Like cards two, three, and five, it sweetened the pot with an offer of a free copy of the exclusive "SI 2002 Swimsuit Highlights" video if I subscribed today. (Cards one and four offered the free 2002 SI Swimsuit Wall Calendar instead.) Man, I was seriously tempted. But again, it still wasn't quite enough.

Then came the eighth card.

Have you ever heard the saying, "Always save the best for last"? Well this must be the motto of Sports Illustrated's subscription department, because they pulled out all the stops on that eighth card. The opportunity to save 54 percent off the newsstand cover price was still there. So was the exciting free-video offer. Only this time, the card was bright yellow, not orange, and the words "Subscribe Now And Save!" were emblazoned across the top in red.

They even attached this subscription card to the actual magazine to show just how important this one was. I guess they figured that even if all the warning shots somehow fell out of the magazine, they would still have the big gun in place, ready for the kill.

It's all become so clear to me now. Those first seven subscription cards were just warm-ups. Sure, they featured essentially the same offer: savings of 54 percent off the newsstand price, a free gift, and a special, subscribers-only year-end issue. They offered the same convenient billing options. But somehow, this card made you know that a subscription would save you 54 percent off of the newsstand price. That's the real difference.

Just think, if only seven cards had tumbled out of that issue and onto the floor of my kitchen, bathroom, and living room, I wouldn't be on the brink of enjoying home delivery of Sports Illustrated for less than half the cover price.

I can't wait to get my first issue delivered in four to six weeks. It's gonna feel so great when I reach into that mailbox, take out that issue, and smile as a fresh bunch of subscription cards scatter all over my front steps.

It's a good thing I'll have all those cards falling out of my subscription issues. As soon as I start getting the magazine, I'll probably be interested in immediately subscribing again. After all, half the fun of a magazine is the act of subscribing itself. That and getting four or five letters warning you that your subscription is running out after you've received your second issue.

Thank you, eighth subscription card!