Barry Kalinowski, the world’s most unlucky NFL football photographer, surprisingly announced his retirement today after covering the game for 34 years.
After graduating from Albuquerque Technical Vocational Institute (TVI) in 1975, Barry started his photography career at Picture Your Pet, a small studio in Roswell, New Mexico. “Dogs were impossible. Those dang dogs would just never hold still. I used squeaky toys, tennis balls, even dang doggy treats, but all they wanted to do was sniff everything, lay on the ground or lift their leg. And cats were impossible. This one time somebody brought in an Alpaca , and I tell you what, that thing was the nicest most cooperative vicugna I’ve ever worked with. That dang thing did spit once though.”
Barry lovingly calls this one "The Spitter"
Barry got his first break in sports photography at a girls high school basketball game in 1978. “I was there to see my niece play basketball, and when I took out my camera and started taking pictures from the bleachers, I got a lot of strange looks from parents. A man approached me after the game and said he would pay me cash money for some copies of a few certain pictures, and he would get me in touch with a guy he knew that did photography for the NFL and ‘other things’.” After the $25 exchange a week later for the pictures, and a business card for Tom Smith of Tom’s Vignettes, Barry had finally hit pay dirt when Smith got him a part time gig taking action photos of the newly formed expansion team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “Man that team sucked ass! When I started, their record over two years was 2-26. They were so bad I never had to use any film because they never made any good plays to take pictures of. I think I was their lucky charm though, because the following year they were one game away from making it into the Super Bowl.” Unfortunately for the Bucs, they lost to the Rams, and that same year Barry lost his job in Tampa. “I didn’t really care, I was embarrassed of the team, and since I only used one roll of film in three years, it was no skin off my teeth.”
Shortly after his layoff, Kalinowski got a call from a friend who had just landed a photo gig with the San Francisco 49ers, and they were in need of another field photographer.
"The Catch" - A picture Barry didn't take
“For whatever reason, I just had really bad timing when it came to taking good action pictures. Those guys are really fast. It seemed that every time I would need to reload the film, something spectacular would happen, and sometimes I would leave the lens cap on. I would usually get the celebration after the play, and I was really becoming skilled at getting crowd shots when they would cheer.”
His defining moment as the world’s unluckiest sports photographer came in 1981 when the 49ers were playing the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC championship. “I had been drinking a lot of Gatorade that game because I was a bit dehydrated from a stomach flu bout. There were only :58 seconds left in the game and the 49ers were on the 6 yard line looking to score to potentially win the game. I couldn’t hold it any longer and had to drain the lizard.
As I was standing at the urinal, I heard a huge roar from the crowd, so I zipped up, ran out and grabbed my camera. My buddy Walter Iooss said he just got a great picture of an incredible catch. Luckily for me I got pictures of people reacting to what is now known as ‘The Catch’”.
Kalinowski's most famous picture "Behind the Post"
Barry would spend the rest of his illustrious career missing many memorable NFL plays like Tony Dorsett’s 99 yard TD run (dead batteries), Billy “White Shoes” Johnson’s hail mary catch (sneezing attack) and David Tyree’s helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII (stuck in concession stand line). Barry is best known for his pictures of cheerleaders, team mascots and goal posts.
“Those dang mascots would just never hold still.”