Thursday, January 18, 2007

Eyewitness to History

One of the great sports photographs ever taken is this shot above. It was taken by Sports Illustrated's Neil Leifer at the second fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston in Lewiston, Maine in 1965. After knocking him down in the first round, the 23-year old Ali stood over his vanquished opponent yelling "get up!"

I've had a print of the famous photo hanging in my office for years, and one of the elements that has always captured my attention is the photographer standing at ringside. He appears in this shot just between Ali's legs. The faces of the other ringside photographers are hidden because their cameras are in front of their faces. But not the balding gentlemen in glasses. At one of the biggest moments in sports history, he's just watching while his colleagues are snapping away.

I don't know who this gentleman is, and I've never made any particular effort to find out, but I think about him every time I see the photo.

Yesterday (January 17) was Ali's 65th birthday, and as part of their coverage, the folks at Sports Illustrated published a gallery of photographs from his fights at their website. As I was browsing through it, I came across the mystery photographer again in this photo.

I'm pretty sure it's the same guy at ringside again. This shot is from a fight eleven years later, the third meeting between Ali and Ken Norton. And once again, while all of his colleagues are shooting away, his camera is idle as he watches.

So now I'm intrigued, and I've started looking at both still photos and DVDs of bouts from the era to find more examples of the mystery man. Like Forrest Gump, he was an idle spectator at great moments in history. Who was he? More importantly, did he ever take any pictures?