An award-winning photographer?s rare account of the Ice Bowl
Ted Rozumalski was one of the most acclaimed and accomplished photojournalists of the 1960s. The adventures of the job led him first to the Milwaukee Journal, then to Texas, where he worked for the Houston Chronicle. He shot photos for, among other publications, Time, Life, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated and National Geographic. With his camera as a brush, Rozumalski primarily painted the political and cultural scene that was in the United States during the early and mid-60s.
Serving as the White House photographer for the Houston Chronicle, Rozumalski would fly from Houston to Washington and back on Air Force One with President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was in the presidential motorcade in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, was the photographer for NASA’s Project Gemini space missions. In short, he lived quite a life with his talents and his camera.
For his efforts, Rozumalski was twice the recipient of the National Newspaper Photographer of the Year award, the first person to ever win the award in consecutive years. In 1966, he was named runner-up, narrowly missing the three-peat.
On the last day of 1967, Rozumalski found himself on the sidelines of the NFL Championship Game in Green Bay, Wis., covering the contest between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys for National Geographic. Not surprisingly, given the reputation of his body of work, Rozumalski produced stunning shots of the coldest football game on record. The unique angle he sees Bart Starr sneaking through a pile of bodies and into the endzone is one thing that separates them from any of the grainy, black-and-white images you might be accustomed to seeing; the fact they’re in color brings them completely to life.
Ted’s son, Robert Rozumalski, has undertaken the long project of organizing his late father’s estimated 100,000-photograph archive. He says around 1,000 of them are still “really important.” For those, he scans them from the original slide film Ted shot them on, cleans them up in Photoshop, then re-prints the images so they look as close to the original slides as possible. Now, Rozumalski is donating a select number of shots detailing Starr’s famous game-winning sneak to the Packers Hall of Fame.
“Just on a whim,” Rozumalski said of his decision to contact the Packers Hall of Fame. “I looked at the photos and when I began doing some research as to what other images were available, what had been taken, I realized there wasn’t anything else in color except the few I’d seen. I said I wouldn’t mind having these as parts of the Packers Hall of Fame. It’s an honor for us as a family. My dad would’ve really liked it.”
Color photographs of the Ice Bowl are so rare, Rozumalski explains, because newspapers wanted black and white shots and the only magazines on hand shooting the game were National Geographic – Rozumalski – and Sports Illustrated.
“When I started doing some research, trying to find out if there were any other color photos, the only ones I could find were from a Sports Illustrated photographer,” Rozumalski said. “If you Google ‘Ice Bowl photos color,’ a few will come up and they are all from the Sports Illustrated photographer during that last final touchdown sequence.
“You could tell he was from the right of my father, so somewhat of a worse angle than my father. I figure, by some back-of-the-envelope calculations, that he was about four feet to my dad’s right. They were the only two as far as I could tell shooting color on that day.”
Robert Rozumalski was born in Houston in 1963. He grew up in Milwaukee and went to school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While he lives in Boulder, Colo., now, he still has family in Wisconsin. He “of course” remains a Packers fan. “I grew up with the Packers,” Rozumalski says, “they are the only team to which I show allegiance.”
He never quite got the chance, when his interest level and age reached optimal heights, to ask his father, who passed away about 23 years ago, about the Ice Bowl in detail. A photojournalist is away from home often, and by the time Rozumalski was old enough to start asking questions, his father had started his own, different, business as a means to stay closer to his family.
But a story from sometime in the mid-70s, Rozumalski believes either in the Milwaukee Journal or their Sunday magazine, provided a lasting image of Ted Rozumalski on the sidelines that bitter cold day.
“My dad wasn’t interviewed for the actual story, but it was somebody relaying an anecdote about my father being there and how he was dressed,” Rozumalski said. “I believe it (the line) was, ‘He looked like a pregnant caterpillar.’
“It’s 15-below zero and it’s amazing he was able to get off five consecutive shots with the camera that are so close together when it’s so frigid out … Of course, he’s no longer with us, so a lot of these stories I can no longer ask (about). Of course, I wish I could … I only remember some of the comments he’s made over the years.”
Maybe the oddest part of how Rozumalski’s incredible shots of the Ice Bowl came to be is why National Geographic had sent him to Wisconsin in the first place. It was not for some important football game, or even next month’s issue.
“It was for the March of ’69 issue of National Geographic that depicts Door County, and for part of that spread my father shot the Packers photos,” Rozumalski said. “So yes, they were for a Door County (story). Just to give some idea as to how far in advance National Geographic planned their releases and stories back then: we’re talking almost two years before it was published.
“There’s quite a few photos in that issue that my father took of Door County, including one of me and my mother, so I can lay claim to that.”
The Ice Bowl, we know, was cold. But color photos highlight that cold directly under the spotlight – the frozen breath in the air, the blaze orange dotting the stands, the bare-knuckled craziness of many of the players, the officials and their snow-shoveling gloves, the completely unforgiving-looking turf – it all looks that much more strikingly frozen in Rozumalski’s shots.
No one quite knew what the legacy of the Ice Bowl would be on that day. But from a spread about Door County two years later in National Geographic to the Packers Hall of Fame now, the images, special both because of the man who took them and their one-of-a-kind quality, were always worthy of what the game would become to mean.