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Super Bowl: One Photographer Remembers Where It All Began 50 Years Ago

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On a sunny Los Angeles day in 1967, sporting history was made when Kansas City Chiefs took on the Green Bay Packers in the world’s first ever Super Bowl. There to capture the action was legendary Sports Illustrated photographer Walter Iooss Jr., who has photographed every Super Bowl game since its inception. And a lot has changed in 50 years, he says

“The first game had a very sterile atmosphere,” Iooss tells TIME. “It wasn’t a very good game. There were a lot of empty seats – the stadium was really too big.” Though the game fell flat, Iooss and fellow Sports Illustrated photographer Neil Leifer had the luxury of chartering two Learjets from Los Angeles to New York to transport the film back to the office. “That’s one of my finest memories,” he adds. “Two men, a lot of film and champagne on board.”

In the early days, there was only one week between the championship game and the Super Bowl. During the qualifying game, which saw the Dallas Cowboys lose to the Green Bay Backers 21-17 on a chilly December day in Wisconsin, the temperature fell to a frigid 13 degrees below zero and the game later became known as the Ice Bowl. It is the coldest NFL championship on record. “So the Backers went from freezing Green Bay to sunny Los Angeles,” says Iooss. “Everyone – including myself – was pretty happy about that!”

American Football is often called the most photographic sport, but in the days of analogue, it took great skill to keep up with the action. Back in 1967, Iooss was shooting on a motorized Nikon F using Ektachrome film. “Back then shooting on film was all we knew. We were using the best gear around but sports photography is a lot easier today in many ways,” he says. “You had to automatically focus back then. Plus now you can shoot 14 frames instead of four. But I’m not as sharp as the guys who cover football all year round.”

Fifty years on, Super Bowl has become just as much about the show as the sport, with the half-time performance attracting more attention than the players. “It’s certainly a spectacle now,” says Iooss. “But I think people still want to see a good game.”

Alexandra Genova is a writer and contributor for TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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