In 1964, Y.A.Tittle and the New York Giants became losers. “The only winner was Post-Gazette photographer Morris Berman, whose shot of a battered, bloodied, bald Tittle won national acclaim for photography.” Or so reported the Post-Gazette. Berman’s famous picture, shot during a Giants’ 27-24 loss to the Steelers at Pitt Stadium, indeed set him up for the win. It brought Berman the prestigious National Headliner award for best sports picture in 1964.
Our Julia Rendleman wrote about Berman’s photos of the Giants’ quarterback here in “The Digs” on Friday and challenged our readers with a question, “Which of Berman’s photos would you pick for print?”
That moment of a bloodied Y.A. Tittle on his knees after being tackled by Steelers defensive end John Baker, as it turns out, was meant to go beyond Berman’s frames and awards.
Julia’s post started a conversation on social media. A few people didn’t argue about Berman’s frames, they instead made an observation that the hit Y.A.Tittle endured would have been illegal today. One person on Twitter asked, ” I wonder if Y.A. was in ‘concussion protocol’ after that play?”
Another reader, who identified himself only as JG, shared in the comments thread a story of an unexpected encounter involving the famous picture at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio:
“Started dating my wife in the late 1980s and sometime a few years later (can’t remember the exact year) I decided a “perfect” date (for me that is) was a trip to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. There hung an enormous version of the iconic photo of the bloodied Y.A. Tittle.
“As we looked at the photo an older gentleman asked if we would like him to take our picture in front of the photo. More interested in a picture of us, we said okay. After taking our picture he went on to tell us he had taken the picture of Tittle and gave us some of the history of it.
“It was Morris Berman. I wasn’t ready to believe him, but figured there would be no harm in letting him take our picture with our camera. However after getting back home, I immediately looked up Morris Berman and found pictures that confirmed it was indeed him who had been at the Hall of Fame and taken our picture.”
Quite a few readers remarked on the power of the image and its emotional tone. Gordon Dedman noted that the power of Frame 25 resides in the loneliness of Tittle. “As suggested, it elicits compassion in a rough, tough sport.”
Brian David wrote on Facebook that he would have used a previous frame of Baker reaching out to Tittle — “It says something about compassion and respect. But I might have been wrong. And I was about one month old at the time, so I can’t really ‘get’ the context looking at it now. Makes me pine for a time when this kind of thing mattered. As editors, we had the role of seeing and hearing for our communities, large and small, and could bring focus to the vision those communities had. I think that society is really missing that perspective now.”
David Hunter wrote, “Nothing I have ever seen that was sports related can compare to these photos. If you’re not moved by them, check to see if you have a heartbeat. All-time greatest sports photos? This is it. That’s the list.”
One reader shared that he and his father were in attendance at Pitt Stadium that day — it was, the reader said, his first Steelers game. Another person remembered listening to the game on the radio and noted: “Photography was much more difficult in the day and action photos were harder to obtain. I suspect that is why the editor picked the action photo for the paper even though the iconic photo tells the best story.”
The best story or not, it’s not the only story.
Another Pittsburgh photographer was standing next to Berman that day to witness and capture the epic moment of Y.A. Tittle’s end.
And that photographer, Donald J. Stetzer of The Pittsburgh Press, ended up with a very similar image.
Thanks to Pat Tehan, former colleague of our Steve Mellon at The Pittsburgh Press who now works at the San Jose Mercury News, we are able to post Stetzer’s image here for further discussion.
Unlike Berman’s picture, Stetzer’s image — for which he has never received much acclaim — is starker in that the background is nearly devoid of people. It’s cropped as a horizontal image and is printed in dark, heavy tones. Tittle’s helmet lies on its side, behind the Giant quarterback. As Mellon says, “Here, aging is not merely isolating and unfortunate, it’s a malicious, sinister force. In Berman’s image, aging seems devastating, yet somehow more benign. Maybe it’s the people in the background, casually sitting along the sideline, their attention focused downfield.”
Stetzer’s image captured slightly different poetic tones in Tittle’s stare at his immediate failure and his future without football, one thing that for so long defined Tittle.
“I don’t want to retire,” Tittle would say, hoping to play football for the Giants in 1965. He felt he could make a comeback. He thought he deserved a second chance, especially since he had helped make Allie Sherman a winning coach for three seasons before the 1964 disaster.
The Giants thought differently.
“Y.A. Tittle never made it to camp in 1965,” the Post-Gazette reported. “Instead, he got a message that Sherman didn’t want him. The message was in the form of no message at all.” The Giants simply didn’t send Tittle a contract for the 1965 season.
That was, indeed, the end.