Good Evening
Good Evening
SportsFootballSuper Bowl

These four people have photographed every Super Bowl

"Keepers of the Streak" is an ESPN 30-for-30

"Keepers of the Streak" is an ESPN 30-for-30 documentary about the four photographers who have shot every Super Bowl. From left, Walter Iooss, John Biever, Neil Leifer (the director of the film), Mickey Palmer and Tony Tomsic. Credit: ESPN

"Keepers of the Streak," which premieres at 7 p.m. Friday on ESPN, technically is a documentary about the four photographers who have shot all 48 Super Bowls - John Biever, Walter Iooss, Mickey Palmer and Tony Tomsic.

But beyond that, it is a love letter to the entire profession from director Neil Leifer, himself among the most accomplished sports photographers in history.

"Oh, sure, that's true," he said after a screening of the documentary - a joint venture from ESPN Films and NFL Films - in Manhattan on Wednesday night. "And I probably didn't succeed in one thing that I wanted to do. I wanted to show how difficult it is to do what these guys do.

"If I could re-edit it I would probably make that point, even just to show what it's like to go from the hotel to the stadium. But that doesn't make a good story."

Instead Leifer rightly focuses on the foursome's tales of what shooting the big game was like in the early years, on how the experience has changed and most of all on the images themselves, from the streak keepers and others.

That includes iconic pictures such as Iooss' cover shot of Max McGee from Super Bowl I, Leifer's shot of Vince Lombardi being carried off the field in Super Bowl II and Iooss' poolside shot of Joe Namath before Super Bowl III.

Iooss got that picture only because Leifer had first dibs on the Sports Illustrated staff and chose to spend the week with the heavily favored Colts.

In one poignant sequence, we see how Iooss book-ended his Super Bowl I cover by capturing the cover image of Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium, a function of refusing to shoot from the field and instead doing so from a heated seating area in the stands.

"There were probably 500 photographers on the field, and there's only one Walter in Row 40," Biever said after the screening. (Biever was 15 when Super Bowl I was played; his father was the Packers' photographer and got him a working credential.)

The four photographers are among 12 people the NFL is aware of who have attended all 48 Super Bowls. The list includes three writers, three fans, groundskeeper George Toma and Norma Hunt, widow of Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt.

As of Wednesday night, Tomsic was in the hospital battling a serious health matter, but he still hopes to make it to Glendale, Arizona, by Feb. 1.

Leifer, 72, said after covering the first 12 Super Bowls then missing XIII, "I remember just how badly I felt and I wondered about how these four guys managed to do this every single year. I have just marveled at what they've been doing and have continued to do and how well they do it."

But Leifer has had plenty of other big moments outside the Super Bowl, including shooting one of the most famous sports photos of all time - Muhammad Ali standing over a fallen Sonny Liston in Lewiston, Maine, in 1965.

Beyond that, Leifer's history with championship games preceded the Super Bowl era. He was there with his camera on his 16th birthday for the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Colts and Giants at Yankee Stadium, one of the most important events in the history of pro football.

"I was a Giants fan for starters, and had just gotten hooked on photography," he said. "I used to wheel in paraplegics from the veterans hospital. They'd line the wall in centerfield at Yankee Stadium and I was one of the few people to stick around to wheel them out.

"So when the touchdown happened [in overtime] it happened right in front of me."

After its initially showing on ESPN, "Keepers of the Streak" will re-air at noon Saturday on ABC.

New York Sports