Picture-perfect Super Bowl record

On Sunday, Port native John Biever, who learned from his father and shot for years next to his brother, became the only photographer to have chronicled all 58 Super Bowls

JOHN BIEVER HELD a Nikon D6 inside Allegiant Stadium in Paradise, Nev., outside Las Vegas before the Super Bowl Sunday. The Port Washington native has photographed every Super Bowl. John has shot for Sports Illustrated and now for NFL Photos. Photo by Deb Finnegan Biever
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

He wasn’t the biggest legend at Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday, but John Biever has a claim to fame that even eludes the big names.

The Port Washington native has worked every Super Bowl — all 58 of them — as a photographer.

From Bart Starr to Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw to Tom Brady, Joe Montana to Peyton Manning to Patrick Mahomes, and everyone in between, Biever captured their images.

Even with 57 Super Bowls under his belt going into Sunday’s game, this year was a first. The game had never been played in Paradise, Nev., next to Las Vegas. Biever said it went well.

“We had a pretty good position. Front row in the end zone,” he said on Monday not long after his 45-minute flight home to San Diego, where he has lived the past 14 years.

That was the end zone where the winning touchdown was caught, but Biever’s view was blocked by an NFL Films guy.

Biever’s telephoto lens could reach Travis Kelce and Taylor Swift’s celebration in the opposite end zone, but he didn’t shoot it.

“They pointed out where she was. I was blocked for that whole scene,” he said.

Biever has shot the last nine Super Bowls for NFL Photos, which uses images on NFL.com and social media and for public relations. He worked for Sports Illustrated for decades and took a buyout in 2012. Now, the 72-year-old only shoots Super Bowls.

The gig entails the entire event — pre-game festivities, halftime shows, the trophy celebration and losing team’s sadness. Fifty-seven years ago Biever stood next to Bob Hope. On Sunday, Usher walked right by him.

“It’s almost as important as the game,” he said.

The job combines two of Biever’s favorite things — photography and sports — but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Biever never attended a Super Bowl party or watched any commercials until after the game.

“It looks glamorous, but it’s not all that glamorous. This is work. It’s a job you enjoy,” he said.

“You’re not going to complain, of course. You’re on the ground level of the Super Bowl.”

He got to spend the day with his wife. Deb Finnegan Biever works as a runner for NFL Photos, taking memory cards back to the technical department to process photos.

Biever has become part of Super Bowl lore himself. Many photographers asked to take selfies with him.

Learning from Vernon

Biever, a 1969 Port High grad, followed in the footsteps of his late father Vernon, the Green Bay Packers’ first photographer who basically was the pioneer of the industry for the NFL. He was the team photographer from 1946 to 2006 and was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2002.

Biever was at the 1965 NFL championship game in which the Packers beat the Cleveland Browns, 23-12. It was Jim Brown’s final game.

Biever and his brother Jim, who lives in Port, kept going to games with their father. Jim eventually took over for Vernon as team photographer and spent more than 35 years on the job, retiring in 2015. He published a book of his and his father’s photos in 2019.

Biever has no formal training, but working under his father might have been better than anything classroom courses could offer. Vernon’s insight into the green and gold turned out to be golden when Biever joined the world’s top sports magazine.

“At SI, they thought I knew the Packers’ playbook. I was always in good position for the key plays,” he said.

Biever attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison for two years, then UW-Milwaukee for two and earned a business degree. He worked as a stringer in Madison and for 13 years with the Milwaukee Journal. He was put on contract with Sports Illustrated in 1988 and joined the staff in 1998.

The iconic shot frozen in time

Biever shot his most famous photo when he was 16 and has been receiving royalities from its sale ever since. It wasn’t at a Super Bowl, but it might be the most memorable game in NFL history.

It was Starr’s sneak to beat the Dallas Cowboys during what was deemed the Ice Bowl with temperatures reaching -16 and wind chills approaching -50, causing many cameras to freeze.

“That’s the best picture I ever shot,” he said.

The picture sits on Biever’s mantle.

Super Bowl, super challenges

Players collided with Biever once. It was the opening kickoff of Super Bowl XXVIII in 1993 when the Cowboys beat the Buffalo Bills, 30-13.

“A blocker and a defender must not have liked each other,” he said, and they ran into him and broke his glasses.

Another challenge was at Super Bowl XLI in Miami when the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears, 29-17. It rained.

“That was a tough one to cover. Oddly enough, rain wasn’t in the forecast,” Biever said. “The photographers didn’t take much rain equipment along.”

A year later, Biever almost got the famous David Tyree helmet catch that helped the New York Giants beat the undefeated New England Patriots, but a referee was in the way.

Sports Illustrated’s first digitally photographed Super Bowl was 2003. Biever’s shot of wide-eyed Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Joe Jurevicius stiff-arming an Oakland Raider made the Sports Illustrated cover.

Greater than the gridiron

Biever estimates he has shot about 1,000 football games. Often, it was college on Saturdays and the NFL on Sundays and Mondays.

He has also done 14 Final Fours, 10 Olympics and 24 straight years of his favorite event, the Masters golf tournament.

“It’s so nice to go down there in the spring and see green grass and azaleas. You never see a weed at Augusta National,” he said.

His shot of Tiger Woods after winning his first Masters in 1997 made the cover of Sports Illustrated. Another cover was of Michael Jordan’s legendary shot to beat the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals.

Shooting downhill skiing was the hardest job. Biever had to climb halfway up hills and wear attachments on his boots so he wouldn’t fall.

Boxing is also difficult. While the ring is small, “you don’t realize how fast those punches are,” Biever said.

He likes to shoot from above at baseball games.

“I spent half my life on catwalks setting up camera remotes and strobes,” he said. “Never fell out of one, either.”

From the scoreboard at Yankee Stadium, Biever took a shot of President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch after 9-11.

“The game’s not always the important thing. It’s what’s going on around it,” Biever said.

Leaving it to Biever

The decorated photographer with more than 130 Sports Illustrated covers and whose list of accolades include two NFL Photographer of the Year plaques from the Pro Football Hall of Fame is in a shrinking class.

Three fans — Don Crisman, Gregory Eaton and Tom Henschel — have attended every Super Bowl but never worked any.

Norma Hunt, widow of Chiefs’ founder Lamar, attended every game before she died last June. George Toma was the groundskeeper for the first 57 Super Bowls but retired before this year’s game. Reporter Jerry Green of the Detroit Free Press attended the first 56.

Biever and his father shot the first 35 Super Bowls together.

“He was encouraging me to keep the streak going. That’s the way I’m looking at it now,” he said.

The streak nearly ended at Super Bowl III made famous by Joe Namath. Vernon couldn’t get a pass for John, but Steve Sabol of NFL Films provided one.

Biever’s goal is to attend at least the next two.

“After 60, we’ll see what happens,” he said.

To see some of Biever’s work, visit https://www.gettyimages.com/photos/john-biever.

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