Legendary photographer Walter Iooss Jr., who shot the Super Bowl I cover for Sports Illustrated, worked from an unusual perch in the stands for Broncos-Seahawks—and ended up with yet another SI SB cover, his 13th
PHOTOGRAPHS BY WALTER IOOSS JR.
NEW YORK CITY — From Joe Namath sitting poolside to this year’s Sports Illustrated Super Bowl cover—Seattle’s defense swarming Peyton Manning to force a first-quarter interception—Walter Iooss Jr. has shot it all at the Super Bowl.
As one of four photographers who has shot every Super Bowl—along with SI colleague John Biever, Tony Tomsic and Mickey Palmer—Iooss has 48 years of stories. He’s not quite ready to insert this year’s cover photo atop the list of his favorite shots (which mostly include iconic plays: John Stallworth’s fourth-quarter touchdown grab for the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV, Jim O’Brien’s last-second field goal for the Colts in Super Bowl V).
“This year was a game that was over at halftime,” Iooss says. “Usually you get the best stuff from late-game drama.”
Instead, SI’s cover depicted a critical play from game’s first 14 minutes—Michael Bennett and Bobby Wagner hovering in on Manning, who was subsequently intercepted by Kam Chancellor. And, arguably, the highlight of the game occurred 13 minutes before that, as a botched snap on the first play led to a safety. Because of the over-saturation of photographers at MetLife Stadium—plus NFL films and, as Iooss puts it, “TMZ, Hollywood Reporter, and anyone who can find themselves with a credential—Iooss chose to shoot from the stands, about 41 rows up in the corner of the west endzone. It’s a tricky vantage point and requires a bit of luck. “Things have to happen in front of you,” Iooss says. “For example, I was unprepared for that long kickoff return.” As for the cover shot—well, Iooss wasn’t too confident about it. “I don’t remember looking at my screen to check it,” he says. “And I definitely didn’t think it was a cover shot.”
For the rest of the game, Iooss focused on subjects, rather than action. He thought about who might be named MVP—Russell Wilson? Cliff Avril?—and took photos he thought might make the magazine. Then, of course, he took the traditional confetti shot. "Somebody always uses that shot somewhere," Iooss says. "I liked the one I took this year. It looked just like a blizzard of blue and green then in the distance you see two orange jerseys walking away." Perhaps the most telling photograph of the night.