Photographer Tony Triolo can cajole a reluctant subject into smiling, sitting, standing or turning a little bit more this way or that because persistence is part of his profession. But even Tony felt uneasy about an assignment involving Philadelphia Eagle Middle Linebacker Tim Rossovich. "Tim, old buddy," Tony began warily. "For this next one I want you to set yourself on fire. The flames don't have to be too big. Just keep 'em in the camera frame."
This is an article from the Sept. 20, 1971 issue
Though famous for such diversions, Rossovich was initially hesitant. As he tells John Underwood in the latter's raucous story beginning on page 90, "It is not something you do every day."
Underwood, who will work with Tex Maule on pro football this season, would certainly agree, but as he found out, "setting himself on fire is one of the least dangerous things Tim does. It started when he was in college. He accidentally burned himself while doing another stunt and he saw he could burn without getting hurt. One match sort of led to another."
Triolo's only interest in lighting Rossovich's fire was to illustrate the story. "I wanted him to put on his Eagles uniform for the picture," says Tony, "but the team wouldn't let us have one. So Tim tried burning himself up in a tie-dyed T shirt. Unfortunately, it turned out that T-shirt flames don't photograph very well. I had to tell Tim the bad news and ask him to set himself on fire again. This time we bought our own green football jersey and he was warmed up properly. It went off like lightning."
The Rossovich Method, not at all recommended to the casual emulator—not to say immolator—is rather precise. Rossovich spreads lighter fluid horizontally across the middle of his jersey. Then he posts someone nearby with a blanket ready to smother the blaze. The whole thing from match to snuffer can take as long as 30 seconds, enough for the flames to shoot over Rossovich's head and, in the case of Triolo's second try, singe his newly styled coiffure.
"That and the fact there were so few people watching him were about the only things that bothered Tim," says Triolo. "I told him his hair would come back like new in a day or so and that millions of readers would catch his act in the magazine. But Tim said, 'So what, if I can't see the expressions on their faces.' "
Triolo found it a lot harder keeping his cool. "It looked very dangerous to me when the flames caught," he says, but by then it was too late for second thoughts. His shutter rattling away like a woodpecker on a tin roof, Triolo moved in on his subject and, you might say, shot for dear life. "I knew I would not get a third chance," Tony says, "and I'd been told that if anything happened to Tim, his coach was going to set me on fire."
Happily, Tony managed to return safely to New York, Tim's hair grew in just fine—and now millions can see for themselves how some like it hot in Philly.
This weekend a new TV sports program is being unveiled (it will appear on various nights in different areas). Entitled Chevrolet Presents the World of Sports Illustrated and produced by Time-Life Films, the weekly half-hour shows will be both a study and report on sport and its peripheries; the whys and hows of victory, the people, crowds and subcultures. The program's hope, in the words of Producer-Director Bill Creasy, is "to present another view of sport, one that will be separate from the magazine, yet in the tradition of bringing to the public the color and excitement that is the world of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED."