Among the record number of 2,267 press credentials issued by the NFL for Super Bowl XIV was a sideline photographer's pass for the man who was the focus of nearly every sports photographer in the country last October. Willie Stargell, Pops of the Pittsburgh Pirates' Fam-a-lee and 1979 World Series MVP, was one of the eight SI cameramen who shot the Steelers' victory.
Stargell became a camera buff last summer and was drafted as the rookie member of our Super Bowl team by Associate Picture Editor Laurel Frankel, who coordinated the photography in our recent Sportsmen of the Year issue, which featured Stargell and Terry Bradshaw. When Stargell later mentioned to Frankel how much he would enjoy shooting his friends the Steelers at Pasadena, she checked with the NFL and eventually had him accredited as SI's newest photographer—the only time Stargell has ever been a cub.
The assignment delighted Stargell. "This is the most exciting thing to happen to me since the Series," he said. "I feel like a little kid who found out ahead of time what he was getting for Christmas—and it was just what he wanted."
Stargell approached his SI role seriously and with no small amount of insight. "I'm going to try to shoot the things an athlete looks for in another athlete," he said. "Every professional has a preparation stage and an execution stage. For example, say it's third-and-one and the Steelers are somewhere down around the Rams' 20-yard line. I want to focus on Matt Bahr and catch his expression in his preparation stage, when he's going over the things he has to remember to kick a field goal. Then, if the Steelers get the first down, you can see that the burden has been lifted off him. Or if they don't, he goes to his execution stage. I'd like to get that in a picture."
January 28, 1980
Stargell also was concerned that his presence would disrupt the Steelers' concentration, or that he might cheer his Pittsburgh colleagues—most of whom he describes as "lousy hitters"—too zealously. "I don't want to go anywhere near the Steelers' bench," he said, "because I know all the guys, and I wouldn't want to be there as a distraction. And I hope I don't show too much emotion on the Rams' side of the field, because I don't want to start cheering and have one of their guys give me a forearm to the lips."
As it turned out, Stargell shot the game from the south end zone, where he neither distracted nor infuriated anyone. He lost some picture opportunities by waving a Terrible Towel when he should have been clicking his shutter, but he called the experience "one of the most exciting things I've ever had the privilege of doing. It's been a real thrill."
It would be nice to report that Stargell's first assignment for SI was as good as his last one for the Pirates, but, alas, rookie Willie apparently needs more seasoning; none of his pictures made the magazine. Then again, none of our photographers can hit a home run.