Vote for your favorite Sports Illustrated Super Bowl photograph

Sports Illustrated has been there for every Super Bowl, from I to XLIX. Find our favorite photos of all time.
Publish date:

Sports Illustrated has been there for every Super Bowl, from I to XLIX. In honor of Super Bowl 50, SI asked four photographers who have shot nearly every Super Bowl (Tony Tomsic, Walter Iooss Jr., Mickey Palmer and John Biever) and four former and present SI writers (Rick Telander, Greg Bishop, Tim Layden and Peter King) to pick their favorite images and share what they love about them.

Sports Illustrated's greatest Super Bowl photos, sortable by team, more

Find all the photos—and memories—below and vote for your favorite in each category. We'll declare a winner for each group at the end of Super Bowl week.

Tony Tomsic
Super Bowl I | Photograph by Tony Tomsic for Sports Illustrated

I went to the game on my own dime—got a round-trip ticket from Cleveland to Los Angeles for $116. I knew Green Bay was a straight-ahead, smashmouth football team, and I knew they would run the sweep. So on a couple of drives early in the game I moved after the ball was snapped, which is unheard of now. There were so few photographers and we had so much freedom.

As Packers quarterback Bart Starr dropped back, I went around the corner of the end zone to get this shot. If you did that now, you’d trip over wires and God knows what. I didn’t pick up Max McGee [85] until the very end. It was a long pass [a 13-yarder to make it 28–10].

There were other pictures I missed during the game because I was just having a good time. The ambience was almost like a high school game. It was just beautiful, festive—middle of the day, the sun was out, old-fashioned football.

Walter Iooss Jr.
Super Bowl IV | Photograph by Walter Iooss Jr. for Sports Illustrated

You see old Tulane Stadium in the background, the sun setting, back when games were played in daylight. When you shoot vertically, you think cover, but it’s not good for football because you’re eliminating everything except a player or two. This didn’t make the cover, but because of the combination of the moment and the sky, I shot it vertically.

The end of the game is so interesting and so important in sports. What happens when it’s over, and teams rejoice or lament? Hank Stram’s and quarterback Len Dawson’s hands about to meet, congratulating each other on the victory—it’s sort of perfect. You really get a feel for the stadium and the moment. Even Robert Holmes—his body and hand reaching in—leads you right into Stram’s and Dawson’s hands. All the pictures come down to about five-hundredths of a second. If their hands clasped, it was already over. And if Dawson were a half step farther to the center of the field, it wouldn’t be interesting.

Mickey Palmer
Super Bowl XLII | Photograph by Damian Strohmeyer for Sports Illustrated (Note: Palmer shot the catch from a different angle)

I was focusing on Giants quarterback Eli Manning on this drive because the Patriots’ defense was all over him and he was scrambling all over the place. And then I turned my camera real fast, and I was on the shot. I was very lucky to get it. I saw Manning scramble, so I figured I’d follow where he was throwing the ball.

Right after I took the shot, I realized I’d got it. I was hoping it was sharp, because I was moving so fast, turning the camera to follow the play. It’s the whole sequence of the shot. How receiver David Tyree went up, caught the ball on the back of his head and held onto it.

Throughout the game I had been going crazy because I was on both sides of the field. First I thought New England was going to win, then I thought New York was going to win, then I thought New England was going to win. So I was basically going crazy.

I was just hoping to get a good picture. A lot of it is luck, a lot of it is being at the right spot at the right time.

John Biever
Super Bowl XXII | Photograph by John Biever for Sports Illustrated

Redskins quarterback Doug Williams was injured on this play early in the first quarter, and then he came back and was the game’s MVP, so there’s a good story to the photo.

Everything came together for this shot. The game was in San Diego, in the late afternoon, so there was some really rich light. And there’s the composition—with the Denver defender [Rulon Jones] coming in, the flow of the picture moves toward Williams, and then to his mouth, which is wide open.

You can’t see Williams’s eyes, but I don’t think you need to because of his mouth. If it isn’t open in this picture, or his leg isn’t tucked in, it wouldn’t work. And a second later the defender would be in his way, which would have wrecked it. It’s got to be that exact moment. The fleeting moment.

In that game I was floating, meaning I was able to go wherever I wanted. Now they have us all assigned to specific spots, but sometimes that leads to a great picture because your location happens to be the best spot for a particular play.

Image placeholder title

Rick Telander
Former Senior Writer
Super Bowl I | Photograph by Walter Iooss Jr. for Sports Illustrated

I had just turned 18 and had committed to play football at Northwestern, and the first Super Bowl was a huge deal to me. There are a number of things I like about this photo. The Chiefs’ uniforms are roughly the same as now, and the Packers’ are identical—they’re classics. Kansas City cornerback Willie Mitchell has a forearm pad on, because you used your forearm like a club in those days. I love seeing receiver Max McGee—his body just looks horribly unathletic. He looks like a 50-year-old man they just got off the street and said, “Hey, will you put on this uniform? It’s got a belt, it’s pretty cool. Get out there and we’ll throw it to you.”

Another thing is the empty seats; that must be where the band sat. That was the halftime entertainment then: a marching band. 
And nobody is wearing gloves, which is why players catch everything nowadays. Back then you used your body to trap the ball. McGee is going to get this right in the breadbasket. That’s how it was done.

Peter King
Editor-in-Chief of The MMQB
Super Bowl XLIX | Photograph by John Iacono for Sports Illustrated

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has the perfect pocket around him: Each of his five linemen is blocking a Seahawk. Thom McDaniels, the father of Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and a very successful high school football coach in Canton, Ohio, saw the photo and told his son it was the most perfect football picture he’d ever seen.

The biggest thing heading into this game was whether New England could keep defensive end Michael Bennett (72) out of Brady’s grill. The Pats did a great job for the most part. And this play happened on the decisive drive, when Brady hit Shane Vereen on first-and-10 from the Seattle 32 with 4:12 left in the fourth quarter. After all those months of coaching to build the perfect pocket for his team, McDaniels can see this picture and say, Man, it was worth it. 

Greg Bishop
Senior Writer
Super Bowl XXXII | Photograph by John W. McDonough For Sports Illustrated

John Elway’s career is encapsulated in this photograph. Look at his legs: They’re airborne, sideways, turning like the blades of a helicopter as he gains a crucial third-quarter, third-down conversion against Green Bay. Look at his face: the grimace, the intensity, the look that says, I’ve lost three Super Bowls, and I’m not going to lose another. Look at his body: 37, ancient for NFL quarterbacks, beaten and worn, close to the end.

All that came afterward—Elway’s bouncing up, arms thrust into the air; the touchdown to cap that drive; the title that had eluded him—doesn’t happen unless this moment happens. Nor, maybe, does he lead the Broncos to another Super Bowl victory the following season before calling it quits. The picture is the best way, then, to remember Elway, a Hall of Fame quarterback who played 16 seasons for Denver without inhibition or restraint.

Tim Layden
Senior Writer
Super Bowl XLII | Photograph by Robert Beck for Sports Illustrated

This was the first Super Bowl I covered for SI. The overwhelming story line was the Patriots’ attempt to finish a perfect season, 19–0. Instead, the Giants pulled off one of the biggest upsets in championship history. 

Obviously the play of the game was David Tyree’s remarkable helmet catch, but I won’t forget opening my copy of the magazine that week and seeing the vertical photo—taken by SI’s Robert Beck, with whom I’ve worked on numerous features over the years—that opened the story. The New York pass rush against Tom Brady was relentless in that game, and in this photo he is getting crushed by blitzing linebacker Kawika Mitchell (55) and defensive end Justin Tuck (91). The football flutters into the upper, lefthand corner of the shot, symbolic of Brady’s futility. This photo captures everything about the Giants’ defensive effort that night.