(back, L-R) Milt Plum, Bobby Layne, Sam Etcheverry, Bill Wade, Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Norm Snead & Zeke Bratkowski, (front L-R) Jim Ninowski, Fran Tarkenton, Don Meredith, John Brodie, Sonny Jergensen & Y.A. Tittle.Now Ben Cosgrove at Deadspin has the story behind the photo.
In 1961, LIFE magazine managed to get every starting NFL quarterback — including six future Hall of Famers — together in a studio for a group portrait. The photographer, Ralph Morse, was never one to have his subjects just stand there and smile, so he asked Unitas, Starr, Tarkenton and the rest to, in effect, act like quarterbacks. The result is somehow ridiculous, charming and kind of cool, all at the same time.Brilliant. You can read more of Cosgrove's work here.
Morse knew that there was no way he could follow 14 professional quarterbacks around the country individually — the way LIFE's sports editors wanted him to.
"Those editors were crazy," Morse, now 96 years old and still spry, recently told me. "One week I might fly to Dallas or St. Louis or Detroit to photograph one of the players, and maybe he'd be great. Or maybe he'd be awful. Either way, the assignment would take weeks — months! — and there was no guarantee we'd end up with what we wanted, anyway. I thought the only way I could make a decent picture is if I took it in one place, at one time, with all of the players. I called the NFL commissioner, Pete Rozelle, and told him what I wanted to do. He said I was crazy. He told me they'd have to do it on their day off, and they'd never agree to that.
"I said, 'Look. You're the commissioner, aren't you? They'll do what you tell them, won't they?' I suggested we do it in Chicago, somewhere in the center of the country. All they had to do was bring clean uniforms, and show up. We set a date, and I flew out to Chicago a week early to rent a studio. I had a local high school football team come to the studio every day for that week, and we practiced all sorts of scenarios until we had one that worked — the guys in front tossing the ball underhand, the guys in back throwing overhand. We also set up a sheet of plexiglass with a hole cut in it for the camera lens to poke through, so I wouldn't get creamed by 14 footballs coming at me.
"All the quarterbacks arrived on the scheduled day, and we had the whole thing figured out ahead of time. These guys were famous. They were busy. They didn't want to mess around. They wanted to get into their uniforms, take the picture, get out of their uniforms and go. And that's what happened."
In addition to Bart Starr, there are five additional Hall of Famers in the photo: Bobby Layne, Johnny Unitas, Fran Tarkenton, Sonny Jurgensen and Y.A. Tittle.
Zeke Bratkowski, although not a Hall of Famer, was go on to become a key contributor to several Green Bay Championships as Bart Starr's backup. When Starr was injured in the 1965 Western Division championship game against the Baltimore Colts, Bratkowski came off the bench to lead the Packers to a game-tying field goal to force overtime, and then another field goal for a 13-10 victory. One week later, he Packers would top the Cleveland Browns to win the World Championship, the first of their three-in-a-row under Vince Lombardi.