Fans of 90s football in particular will enjoy flicking through this collection of great NFL photos, released to mark the end of the century.
The end of the 20th Century inspired a flurry of football titles. Best Shots, put together by the NFL and published by DK, celebrates “The Greatest NFL Photography of the Century” despite featuring just six photos from before 1960. It also misses out some classic NFL photos, so its claim to “best” is tenuous. Still, there’s plenty here for football fans to enjoy.
The photos aren’t organised by theme or era and even photos from the same game are spread out. Action photos are alongside locker room snaps, while brightly lit sunny days contrast with snow games.
Naturally, there’s a tendency to favour photos that were recent at the time, so the 1990s are well represented. Even an average collection of NFL photos still contains lots of great pictures that will spark memories and allow fans to admire the skill of player and photographer.
Tom Barnidge began his career as a sports reporter for the St Louis Post-Dispatch in 1970 and spent 20 years as a writer and editor on St Louis newspapers. In 1991 he moved to the NFL’s publishing division, NFL Properties. As well as editing Best Shots, Barnidge is the author of The Jim Hart Story (1977), about the St Louis Cardinals’ QB, and was a contributor to The NFL Century (1999).
Sports photography requires a mix of skills. “Part of it is knowledge of the sport. Part of it is being in the right place at the right time,” says Al Messerschmidt in the introduction to this book. He adds: “And part of it is luck. Just plain luck. If you’re at one end of the field when a touchdown is scored at the other end, there’s not much you can do about it.”
That’s why, for every photo of a pivotal moment like Walter Iooss’s classic picture of The Catch (which isn’t included here), there are dozens of exceptional photos of unexceptional moments. Lynn Swann’s diving catch in Super Bowl X makes it into Best Shots, for example, but it’s not a great picture. Taken from behind and too far away, it doesn’t convey the just how astonishing a feat that catch was.
The best photos in this collection are the ones that showcase the exceptional skill of the players or which reveal personality and character but few of them show moments of action that fans will remember. Vestee Jackson’s one handed pass deflection for the Bears in 1988 or Webster Slaughter’s fingertip catch for the Browns in 1991 both make for amazing images, though neither is a memorable moment. The picture of Joe Montana sitting against the locker room wall before Super Bowl XXIII, meanwhile, is not the most famous photo from that game but it is a revealing one.
Of course, the other side of the coin is that many of the real classic NFL photos have become so familiar that perhaps including them doesn’t add very much. Morris Berman’s photo of a battered Y.A. Tittle on his knees is here, as is John G Zimmerman’s photo of Chuck Bednarik standing over a prostrate Frank Gifford. You’ll have seen them in plenty of other books. Much of the book draws in the 1990s NFL, which makes sense for a book published in 1999. What once made the book topical now makes it an interesting reference for a particular era of the league.
Best Shots isn’t an essential for fans of football books and it certainly doesn’t live up to its subtitle, The Greatest NFL Photography of the Century, but it’s a decent collection that will be of particular interest to fans of the NFL in the 90s.
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Photo: Jeffrey Beall