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Moment of Truth
Gary Smith
July 26, 1999
There was no action in the TCU locker room before the 1957 Cotton Bowl, but what Marvin Newman photographed there is as close to the essence of sports as anything that happens on a playing field.
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July 26, 1999

Moment Of Truth

There was no action in the TCU locker room before the 1957 Cotton Bowl, but what Marvin Newman photographed there is as close to the essence of sports as anything that happens on a playing field.

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It's a double-wide hot seat over there, cooking Chuck Curtis's fanny too. Because it was in this very room, at this very moment at the Cotton Bowl last year, that Abe concluded his pregame talk by reminding Chuck-a-luck, as he was fond of calling his quarterback, that he was absolutely not to run back the kickoff, that he was to pitch it back to Swink. But Chuck-a-luck, who believed fiercely in his ability to perform or charm his way out of any fix, walked out of this room and fielded that kickoff on the run, down near his shins, and decided that all that forward momentum shouldn't be wasted on a backward lateral, and actually traveled a few yards before—crunch!—he took a lick that cracked three ribs and partially dislocated his shoulder, and the Frogs' star quarterback was gone on the game's first play.

Of course, Dick Finney, the backup quarterback—that's him on your farthest right, the one who used to call audibles with fruits instead of numbers ("Apples! Oranges! Bananas!")—came trotting into the huddle with that bird-eating grin of his and declared, "Have no fear, Finney's here." But fear truly was in order, because although Diamond Dick ran like a jackrabbit, he also passed like one, and Ole Miss stacked everybody but the trombone players on the line to create a terrible constipation.

Imagine what that did to Chuck Curtis, a strapping 6'4", 200-pound All-Conference signal-caller, a Pentecostal preacher's son who could sell a bikini to an Eskimo. In a few years he'll be buying cattle like crazy, owning a bank, winning three state championships as a high school coach and selling automobiles to boot, joking with a former Frogs teammate who protests that he can't afford to pay for a car, "Hey, ol' buddy, I didn't ask you to pay for a car—I just wanna sell you a car." In the '70s, when he comes up on charges of making false statements on bank-loan applications, there will be preachers preaching in his favor on the courthouse steps, alongside his Jacksboro High football team, cheerleaders and band, all crooning the school's alma mater, and he'll get off with a $500 fine. But no amount of preaching or singing or selling can hide the fact that Chuck-a-luck's ego, more than Toad's blown extra point, cost his teammates the '56 Cotton Bowl, and that he'll have to wear that around like a stained pair of chaps for the rest of his life...unless, in about 10 minutes, he can maneuver the Frogs past Jim Brown.

******

Now turn around. It's long past time you met Marvin Newman, the well-groomed fellow with the side of his snout pressed against that camera. Nearly forgot about him, he's been so quiet, but none of this would've been possible without him. Funny guy, Marvin: your classic pushy New Yorker when there's something he really wants, but when what he really wants is to disappear into the woodwork—presto, Marvin's a mouse. You can barely hear the click of that Leica he's pointing toward Abe.

He can't use a flash—that would be like taking a hammer to a moment like this. So he has to spread his legs, brace his knees, lock his elbows against his sides and hold his breath to keep that camera stone still. He has to become the tripod, because the quarter second that the shutter needs to be open to drink in enough light is enough to turn Chuck-a-luck and Toad and Buddy and Joe into a purple smear if Marvin's paws move even a hair. Doesn't hurt that he's only 29, because the hands won't let you do that at, say, 59. Doesn't hurt that he rarely drinks, either, because more than a few magazine shooters would still have the shakes at 10 minutes to one in the afternoon on New Year's Day.

He's a Bronx kid, a baker's only son who knew at 19 that he wasn't going to keep burying his arms to the elbows in a wooden vat of rye dough, wasn't going to do what his father and grandfather and great-grandfather had done, even if his old man nearly blew a fuse when that first $90 camera was delivered to the door. Marvin was too brainy, having jumped two grades before he finished high school, and too hungry for something he couldn't even give a name to, so he surprised his old man again, telling him he'd go to Chicago and study art at the Illinois Institute of Technology on his own dime, not that he owned one. Crawled right out on the limb and then had to prove to his dad that he could dance on it.

Who knows, maybe that's why he lies in hotel beds for hours, boiling with plans A, B, C and Z on the night before an assignment, brainstorming about how to come home with an image nobody else would have thought of. Maybe that's why his gut's already working on that ulcer. Could be why he hangs around the photo department at SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, promoting ideas that might snag him a color spread worth $600, till finally the photo editor nods, or maybe his head just sags in exhausted surrender. See, Marvin was one of the first to figure this out: If you're technically sound and willing to invest in the best equipment on the shelf—all those long lenses and motor drives just coming out—and if you played some ball and can anticipate where the next play might go, you're a hundred miles ahead of the posse of freelancers dying to land an assignment from SI.

But a tack-sharp action shot won't be enough to satisfy Marvin. He has to come up with something at this Cotton Bowl as heart-touching as the picture he nailed at last year's, that classic shot of Ole Miss's Billy Kinnard coming off the field after beating TCU by one point and planting a kiss on Ole Miss cheerleader Kay Kinnard, who just happened to be his new bride. So, recollecting from last New Year's Day how mouthwatering the light was in that locker room, Marvin made it his first item of business when he saw Abe in Dallas to start schmoozing, start persuading Abe how discreet he'd be, how lickety-split he'd get in and get out, and how much his boss was counting on him...so could he please slip into the Frogs' locker room just before kickoff? Heck, Abe didn't need schmoozing. Sure, Marvin! Why not drop by at halftime too?

Guarantee you, Marvin can smell and taste his own pregame heebie-jeebies from that year he played end on the Brooklyn College football team at a preposterous 125 pounds, and from all those times just before he ran the 800 when he'd start hacking so much that he even tried sucking on a pebble, and he cut a deal with his gut not to bring up breakfast and lunch until he was just past the finish line, first more often than not.

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