DECEMBER 28

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DECEMBER 28

FIFTY-FIVE YEARS AGO today, Neil Leifer spent more than three hours of his sixteenth birthday in New York’s Yankee Stadium, photographing the NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants. His picture of Baltimore’s Alan Ameche scoring the winning touchdown in sudden-death overtime is considered the greatest image from what has been called “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”

Leifer’s photo, which he sold to Sports Illustrated, wouldn’t have been half so good if he “had any money and any decent equipment,” he said. Standing ten yards from Ameche, the young photographer snapped a wide shot that caught the Colts fullback bowling into the end zone in the bottom half of the frame with a large swath of Yankee Stadium and a darkening sky above. Leifer later said that with more experience and top-flight equipment he “would have tried to fill the frame with Ameche going in for the winning touchdown.” Turns out, his limitations were his greatest gift. He said his shot was “so much better than any picture I would have taken years later when I was an established pro.”

 
Today, a teenage photographer with no credentials would never get close to the action of a conference championship or Super Bowl game, but security officials at the Colts-Giants game had other issues to deal with. “There were so many Colts fans, (mainly drunken Colts fans) on the field that the security had their hands full just making sure that they could keep those people off the field,” said Leifer, who had been shooting Giants home games all year. “So I ended up exactly ten yards in front of Ameche as he scored the winning touchdown. He came right at me and I got that picture.”