Photographer Brad Bradley, who first attended the Cotton Bowl Classic in 1948 and went on to photograph the college football game a further 74 times, has died aged 101.
Bradley was still shooting at age 100 and in an interview with PetaPixel last year he said he owed his tremendous energy and strength to the pleasure of his job.
“I just felt so good, so positive, about the job that we were doing that it gave me the courage to continue,” said Bradley. “Today if I have a job in photography, I feel like it needs to be done in the best possible way.
“I was blessed with energy and strength to endure some parts of the game that were tiring. I’ve always been able to rest a little bit and then get back up and do it again.”
Bradley, whose full name was James T. “Brad” Bradley but always went by Brad, learned photography at a young age with the help of his father-in-law, Jim Laughhead, who was also a sports photographer.
Bradley and his father developed the “huck ‘n’ buck” photo technique which was a way of getting footballers to pose so it looked like they playing the game. Action sports photography was rare at that time.
In the mid-20th century, Bradley was using a medium format press camera called a Speed Graphic. It got its name from its maximum shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second.
However, the camera was very difficult to use with the slit width and spring tension having to be selected for the focal plane shutter which allowed for 1/1000. You then had to insert a film holder, open the lens shutter, cock the focal plane shutter, remove the dark slide in front of the film, focus the camera, and then click the shutter.
“You didn’t have much depth of field,” said Bradley of the Speed Graphic. “Of course, because of the speed of the game, we had to use a higher [shutter] speed on the camera, and that reduces the depth of field. So, we had to anticipate where the football was going to be.
“We shot from the sideline. The only time we were ever in a different location was for an end zone play.”
Bradley shot the Cotton Ball Classic Hall of Fame induction ceremony back in May and the only Cotton Ball Classic game he ever missed was the 2020 contest during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Mr. Bradley is a Cotton Bowl Classic treasure,” says Cotton Bowl Athletic Association president and CEO Rick Baker.
“His impact on our game and generations of sports fans is truly immeasurable. Brad has been a fixture at our game since Doak Walker played in the Classic in 1948. He lived such an incredible life and we will miss him dearly. We will always remember and celebrate him as a Cotton Bowl Classic Hall of Famer.”
ESPN notes that Bradley was inducted into the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame in 2007, and the College Football Hall of Fame featured the Bradley-Laughead archives with a special exhibit in 2018.