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I’ve moved around a lot in my life, and one rule of thumb I have is to always root for the home team. I happen to live in New York, so on Sunday I blew out my voice at a local bar cheering on the football Giants. My favorite part of the game was watching the players and announcers battle through the -1 degree temperatures. Then I got to thinking about what it’s like for the photographers standing on the field for the whole game.
So this morning I spoke to a sports photographer you might have heard of, Walter Iooss of Sports Illustrated fame, who has had experience shooting football in the cold. He watched Sunday’s game on TV in Florida, but in 1967 he photographed the coldest football game on record, the “Ice Bowl” NFL championship at Green Bay between the Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. The temperature that day was -13 degrees, with a sweet wind chill of -48 degrees.
“What I remember is getting my wakeup call in the hotel that morning. It was 10 AM and -10 degrees,” says Iooss. “I thought, well, it will warm up later in the day, but it got colder instead. It was just a hard day. After the game, [fellow SI photographer] Neil Leifer and I headed out for the airport to catch a charter flight into Chicago. I was cold and hungry, and I bought a Hershey bar from vending machine in the airport. I unwrapped it as we walked to out to the plane, but by the time I got there the chocolate had frozen solid and I almost cracked a tooth on it.”
Iooss and Leifer agree that as cold as Green Bay was that day, they suffered even more at a famous Packers/Giants game played on December 31, 1962 at Yankee Stadium in New York. The temperature was a relatively toasty 13 degrees, but there was a howling 35-mile-an-hour wind that drove miserably damp air into your bones.
“The straps on my camera would snap against my face and freeze to it instantly,” recalls Iooss. “It was the only time in my career when I thought I would have to give up…I was down on my knees and felt like I couldn’t get up. Then I looked over and saw Leifer shooting, and he wasn’t even wearing gloves, so I thought, ‘If that little prick can stay out here, so can I.'”
While the photographers at the game on Sunday had to worry about what the cold was doing to the electronics in their digital cameras, Iooss had a different problem back in ’62. “The film was freezing and I would put the leader in my mouth to thaw it out so I could load my camera,” he says.
–David Schonauer