The Story Behind 11 Iconic Super Bowl Photos

Montana-to-Taylor. The helmet catch. Kevin Dyson’s outstretched arm. The Super Bowl is about moments that become frozen in time. So ahead of Sunday’s big game, we asked legendary Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss Jr. to give us the story behind some of his most memorable Super Bowl photos.

Super Bowl I (1967) Green Bay Packers 35 – Kansas City Chiefs 10 The thing that struck me the most about Super Bowl I was that no one thought this was a big deal. Nobody thought the AFL team had a chance. It was nice to be in Los Angeles, but if you look at the crowd, that’s a 100,000-seat stadium. It looks like there’s hardly anyone there. At the beginning of the game, when the captains came out, there were four people in the center of the field. Two captains from each team. Two referees. Today, there would be 50 people out there.

Super Bowl I
This is Jim Taylor running in Super Bowl I. I loved him. He’s a tough son of a bitch. I photographed him about three years ago. He was so excited to show me all his old gear. He brought down his helmet and a game ball. He was like a little kid with his toys. They’re just so proud of what they did. It was really touching.

What you notice about the photo is the facial expressions. With those single bar masks, you can see so much more of the humanity of the game. You don’t see anything today. It’s all covered up. The other thing that’s striking is the natural light. Playing an outdoor game in daylight gives you such a sense of place. When you play in a dome in Dallas or New Orleans, it kind of sucks the reality out of the game.

Super Bowl I This was before the kickoff at Super Bowl I. Lamar Hunt, Pete Rozelle and Hank Stram. Look at Pete Rozelle’s face. He was probably traumatized at the thought of playing this other league. It’s interesting that Hank Stram is in this shot, because for all the photos I’ve taken over the years, I never really got to know too many coaches. I spent an entire season with the Cowboys in the ’70s and I barely spoke a word to Tom Landry. I was terrified of Vince Lombardi. Everyone around him was. You just didn’t want to get near him. One look from him and you’d be terrified.

Super Bowl III (1969)
New York Jets 16 – Baltimore Colts 10

This picture is all about Joe Namath’s charm with people. You can’t get much cooler than Joe. My colleague Neil Leifer was sent to cover the Colts that week, and I thought he had the good assignment. I was sent to follow the lesser Jets. I went to the pool to see Joe Namath hanging out, and there was no one there.

If you look at the photo closely, you’ll notice Brent Musburger sitting on the left side. Those two ladies standing over Namath with the bouffant hairdos were from Alabama. They went to every game Joe Namath played. If you look at the paper that the guy is using to shield himself from the sun, Joe’s picture is on the back page. Joe Namath made the Super Bowl happen.

Just imagine Russell Wilson or Tom Brady sitting poolside with reporters today. It’s never going to happen. The only guy in the past few decades who could have pulled that off was Brett Favre.

Super Bowl III Here’s Joe running off the field after the game. If you took this same photo today with a digital camera, it wouldn’t be blurred. It would be tack sharp. But it wouldn’t have the same feel. It’s dreamlike. Somehow, it captures the fleeting moment of Joe.

Super Bowl IV (1970)Kansas City Chiefs 23 – Minnesota Vikings 7 Super Bowl IV was played at the old Tulane Stadium in New Orleans. I love the look of the low winter sun here. Look at the dirt. The chunky helmets. Look at the referee in the back of the photo. It was almost a different sport at this point. Pro football wasn’t making any money back then.

Super Bowl V (1971)Baltimore Colts 16 – Dallas Cowboys 13 This is Jim O’Brien’s game-winning kick in Super Bowl V. I shot this on an old F28 300 mm lens that we all used back in that era. It kind of vignetted the corners of the photo and circled out the background. You can look at that picture and it sort of pulls you in.

Super Bowl V This is Mel Renfro on the bench after O’Brien’s kick. This was in Miami at the Orange Bowl, and once again, look at the light. None of that light is ever going to happen again. All these Super Bowls are at night or in a dome now.

Super Bowl VI (1972)Dallas Cowboys 24 – Miami Dolphins 3 This was the most bizarre event I’ve ever seen take place at any game, in any sport. It was the 1971 Super Bowl in New Orleans. Dallas vs. Miami. This guy came out at halftime and lit himself on fire. He was completely engulfed in flames. This was supposed to be halftime entertainment. The only other thing that might have been more bizarre was when an exotic dancer came onto the field during halftime of Super Bowl IX. The crowd got so worked up into a frenzy that the cops had to come onto the field to escort her off. It might sound insane, but you have to understand, the NFL used to be a very different product in the ’60s and ’70s.

Super Bowl X (1976)
Pittsburgh Steelers 21 – Dallas Cowboys 17

This photo to me represents the end of a certain era. This was one of the last true outdoor daytime Super Bowls at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Two years later, they moved it indoors at the Louisiana Superdome and it was like being in a basement. It was depressing. They shot off fireworks at halftime and you could barely see the end zones in the second half.

Look at the sunlight reflecting off L.C. Greenwood’s black helmet. Look at the blood stain on Roger Staubach’s knee and the raw expression on his face. If you took that picture this year with the same players, with the same lens, but in a dome, it wouldn’t have the same feel. That’s Miami. That’s the light.

Super Bowl XXI (1987) This was one of my favorite venues of all the ’80s Super Bowls. This was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Atmosphere. Mood. Lighting. There were no luxury boxes at the Rose Bowl. There were no amenities. It was a college atmosphere. This photo could be a throwback to almost 1968. The look. The color. The green field. It has a very nostalgic feel. This was one of the last games I worked on the field before moving up into the stands. It’s just so crowded on the sidelines now. You can barely see.

Super Bowl XXIII (1989) This was right after Montana-to-Taylor in Super Bowl XXIII. He was filming the “I’m going to Disneyland” spot. You can see the guy on the right has the ear piece and he’s the producer. Joe had just said the line and you can see the joy on his face. Joe was a giant. Everyone loved Joe. When he left the game, there was a huge void for about five years. Joe was the star. It was like when Michael Jordan left basketball. Joe was everyone’s hero. I don’t know what it was about that Pittsburgh area that produced such incredible quarterbacks.

MVPs (2006) I took these portraits of all the Super Bowls MVPs with a giant polaroid camera on the same day in Detroit. My favorite is undoubtedly Joe Namath. Just look at that face. Look at the mischief in his eyes. How could you not love Joe?