“I’m very proud of that photo,” Leifer says. “It’s been good to me.”
Leifer’s unparalleled expertise behind the camera is on display at the Newseum’s new exhibit, “Photo Finish: The Sports Photography of Neil Leifer.” The collection includes 50 stunning images, including a shot of Alan Ameche’s game-winning touchdown in the 1958 NFL championship (aka “the greatest game ever played”) and one from the “Miracle on Ice” hockey game at the 1980 Winter Olympics. Despite taking photos for Sports Illustrated for 20 years, from 1958 to 1978, Leifer can easily pick out his favorite shot.
“The picture that I’m proudest of is the Ali-Williams picture, which was shot with a remote camera, looking straight down on the canvas,” he says of his photo of the 1966 heavyweight championship bout between Ali and Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams. “Cleveland is stretched out, having been knocked down, and Ali is heading to a neutral corner with his arms up in the air in a victory pose. That picture is far and away the best picture I ever took.”
When Leifer left Sports Illustrated for Time, he carved out a new career as a top-notch news photographer, and he now makes documentary films. But as the Newseum makes clear, Leifer’s iconic sports shots are the work for which he’ll be forever remembered — for his skills more than his luck.