If Iooss was up in the stands with his father and a long lens, it was almost certain that Leifer had figured out a way to get down to the field. "Every time I would see him, I'm thinking, How did this little redheaded punk get a credential?" recalls Iooss. "He was always driving me crazy, always a step ahead of me." Iooss's father finally called down to Leifer one day at a New York Titan game and asked if Leifer would meet with his son, perhaps even give the lad a few pointers. Leifer was 18. Like some sceptered grandee, he received Iooss in the lobby of the Time & Life Building. It was a meeting to which only Damon Runyon writing for The Weekly Reader could have done justice.
During the '60s and '70s, Iooss and Leifer competed endlessly for the magazine's cover, a prize each won so often that between them they account for seven years worth of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED covers. "We were at a game one time, and some guy goes through the line for a touchdown," Iooss says. "Neil comes running up to me, screaming, 'I left room for the logo! Cover! Cover!' I wanted to slap him, but I also believed him. That kind of thing always helped push me."
One of Iooss's first big assignments was to photograph the frigid NFL championship game between the Giants and the Green Bay Packers at Yankee Stadium in 1962. "It was the first time in my life I almost gave up," Iooss says. "I remember kneeling in the end zone with my knees frozen to the turf. I couldn't move my hands. My feet were throbbing with pain, and I had these metal straps around my cameras that would stick to my face so that I'd have to pull them off my skin. I finally said, 'I can't go on, I just can't go on.' And I look at Neil, and the little——'s not even wearing gloves! I decided if that bastard could go on, I could go on."
The rivalry remained heated at the championship game between the Cowboys and the Packers at Green Bay's Lambeau Field in 1967. "My wake-up call that morning said, 'It's 10 a.m. and 10 below,' " Iooss recalls. "I kept telling myself it wasn't that bad, but I knew it was awful. I tried rationalizing that it had to get warmer, but the temperature just kept dropping." By game time it was-16°.
"Every time I looked over at Walter," Leifer says, "he was standing by the sideline heater, warming his hands. And every time something happened that day, it happened right in front of me. I was having a great day. And then came the only play that mattered—Bart Starr's plunge through the line with 13 seconds left—and I saw that I had a better spot than Walter."
Iooss's spot was the least of his problems. "You'd put film in, and it would snap," he says. "Try to wind it—snap. When Green Bay got the ball for its final drive, I knew I could not load another roll of film. I'm sitting in the end zone with four frames left, and there were four downs to play, so I knew it was going to be one shot per down. The steam was pouring from everyone's mouth. Then came the famous plunge through the line."
Iooss fired off his final frame of the day and got the picture that ran in the magazine—the only picture that mattered—while Leifer ended up with an entire roll filled with the rear end of the referee, who moved just as the ball was snapped. "Walter has an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time and make the pictures come to him," says Fine.
"I've seen Walter be at the wrong place and get the right picture," Leifer says, "and I've seen him be at the right place with the wrong camera and still get the right picture. It's not true that Walter is luckier than other photographers. It's his gift. Walter has taken a lot of chances. Using his approach the probability of missing is huge. But he doesn't miss."
And he rarely loses his well-cultivated cool, a Zen-like state of readiness for those decisive moments. "He invites disaster because he loves to feed off that and create something great that he might not have considered before," says Dan Jenkins Jr., one of Iooss's former assistants.
Although, at 51, Iooss has settled becomingly into his postadolescence, he was once the doo-wopping, shing-a-linging, Philly-freezing embodiment of chaos theory, his life a happy accident waiting for a place to happen. He was known as Coast-to-Coast Iooss before there were frequent-flier miles, just as he was known as a man who could be counted on to bring his own red lightbulbs to parties. At the height of the '60s Iooss looked deep within himself and then told a seeker of truth, "Actually, you could say my specialty is the Funky Broadway."