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This Is What It Looked Like The Last Time Georgia Won It All

The 1981 Sugar Bowl featured Herschel Walker—and an innovative use of strobe lights.

Full Frame is Sports Illustrated’s exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI’s photography.

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A version of this piece was published in the December 2021 issue of SI.

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Before the 1981 Sugar Bowl, when No. 1 Georgia faced Notre Dame in the Superdome, photographer Heinz Kluetmeier had a light bulb go off over his head. His idea: Put light bulbs over his head.

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Photographers had long hung strobes to illuminate basketball and hockey games, but it was unheard of in a domed football stadium. Not only is the field larger, but also there are few places to hang the lights, which then weighed 40 pounds and had to be connected to the shooter’s camera by cables. But dome lighting was so bad that Kluetmeier decided to try it.

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If anyone deserved the spotlight in New Orleans, it was Georgia’s Herschel Walker, who had already set the NCAA freshman rushing record. Walker didn’t disappoint. Despite a dislocated shoulder, he rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Dawgs to a 17–10 win and the title.

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Kluetmeier and his strobes didn’t disappoint, either: Witness this dramatically lit shot of Walker’s second TD. While the result was amazing, the technique remains rare. “It’s such an ordeal to get that stuff set up,” says former SI picture editor Phil Jache. “I don’t know of another football game that was strobed like that.”

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SI’s director of photography Marguerite Schropp Lucarelli adds that you can even see a strobe light going off in the top right corner of the above image. And, while you can’t see it as clearly in Kluetmeier’s other images from the game, you can still see the lights reflected in the Bulldogs’ red helmets and the Irish’s gold ones.

Some of these photos appeared in the Jan. 12, 1981 issue of SI accompanying a story by Douglas S. Looney. If you want to see David E. Klutho’s images from Georgia’s College Football Playoff victory over Alabama from earlier this week, check out @sifullframe on Instagram. You can also read our extensive coverage from the game and purchase SI’s commemorative issue here. – Josh Rosenblat

Have questions, comments, or feedback about Sports Illustrated’s newsletters? Send a note to josh.rosenblat@si.com.

Full Frame is Sports Illustrated’s exclusive newsletter for subscribers. Coming to your inbox weekly, it highlights the stories and personalities behind some of SI’s photography.

To get the best of SI in your inbox every weekday, sign up here. To see even more from SI’s photographers, follow @sifullframe on Instagram. If you missed last week’s edition on unique composite images of NBA stars, you can find it here.

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