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Remembering Bob Stinnett Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

9 November 2018

Oakland Tribune photographer Robert Stinnett started working for the publication, took a brief vacation to serve in the military after high school and returned to his post at the newspaper in 1948 where he continued to serve until his retirement in 1986.

He passed away on Tuesday at the age of 94 from "the infirmity of old age," as his son put it.

During his furlough from the news business, Stinnett served as a reconnaissance photographer on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific, earning 10 stars for being engaged in battle. He flew recon on an aircraft piloted by George H.W. Bush, and told all in his 1992 biography George Bush: His World War II Years. In 1999 after 17 years of research, he published Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor on the theory that the President Roosevelt knew the attack was coming all along.

The attack nobody knew about was the occasion of his most famous photograph, however. He tells the story in the video above.

John Elway had, with the help of the officials, overcome a 4th-and-17 on the Stanford 13 to steer the Stanford Cardinal to an apparent game-winning field goal by Mark Harmon with just four seconds left in the 1982 Big Game at Berkeley. But Stanford was penalized for celebrating and obliged to kick off from its own 25.

The Big Game (there is no older and no bigger) was first played in 1892. But some plays, like the one that kickoff ending the game in 1982, never seem to end.

Stennett had been assigned to follow the Axe, the trophy awarded to the winner of the Big Game. It was in Stanford's possession and he was following the committee around, which had the axe chained to one member for safe-keeping. The year before the Tribune photographer hadn't gotten the shot and Stinnett vowed to get it this time.

So there he was in the end zone, his camera set to f4 and 1/500 second.

What happened next has been debated for 36 years. But history records that Cal took the squib kick, lateraled five times and, with the Stanford band making an early and illegal entrance onto the field, scored the winning touchdown with no time on the clock.

And who was the only guy there with a camera to record history? Bob Stinnett.

His shot of Kevin Moen holding the ball above his head as he crossed the goal line surrounded by the Stanford band ranks as high as a holy card at the public university.

During his career at the Tribune, Stinnett "took thousands of photographs on subjects ranging from crime and riots and disasters, to society affairs, civic events, celebrities and everyday folks," according to one obit.

Stinnett's run of 94 years seem a little like a kickoff return itself. One that reached the endzone with the band playing.

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