“Riverfront Stadium, Cincinnati 1976” by Walter Iooss Jr.
This is my favourite sports photograph of all time. I did some rooting around online and tracked down a few more details about it. The Bengals are, and always have been, Cincinnati’s team and the player in this photo is unmistakably wearing Bengals colours. I could be wrong but from this angle it looks like his jersey number is “21”. In 1976, the Bengals selected Melvin Morgan in the 11th round, with the 314th overall pick of the NFL Draft and assigned him the number 21. Morgan played defensive-back in college but was primarily used as a kick-returner. He played for the Bengals for three years and never started a single game.
This game was played in the snow and at home. A quick search for “Bengals 1976 snow” on Getty Images brought up several other photos that Iooss shot that day including this one. The game was played on November 28th against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Bengals lost in a low scoring affair after Pittsburgh’s Franco Harris would score the only touchdown on a 4 yard run late in the fourth quarter to take the lead.
I always think that captions should never influence your perception of the aesthetic quality, and I stand by that, but in certain circumstances, information can help you engage with the image.
For a sports photograph, this isn’t exactly action packed. It’s not incredibly detailed or historically important for that matter. So what makes this so captivating to me?
It’s the atmosphere. By God, this not only has it, but has it in spades. Can’t you just hear that crowd? 55,142 people can make a hell of a lot of noise. The tension the rookie player must be feeling playing the division rival Pittsburgh in a game so close to the end of the season. I can feel that snow making my fingertips numb and the notion that although it’s uncomfortable now, I’ll feel better when inside in the warmth, sort of like when you’re small, walking home from school in the rain.