ROBERT L. SMITH
RENOWNED BUFFALO SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHER
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Robert L. Smith has penned countless novels documenting Buffalo’s rich history and the region’s sports heritage.
Born and raised in Buffalo, Smith’s father, R Tex Smith, an amateur photographer himself, nurtured in his son an early interest in photography. While in his teens, Smith began his first commercial venture operating a film developing business in the Masten Avenue area of Buffalo. He continued perfecting his skills at Seneca Vocational High School as a photography major and later at the University at Buffalo.
A four year tour of duty in the US Navy in North Africa as a photographer and a short stint in the photography department at Bell Aerospace preceded his photojournalist career.
Smith joined The Buffalo News in 1956 and began a career with the paper that spanned almost four decades, lasting until his retirement in 1995. Smith also served as the Buffalo Bills official photographer for an astounding 42 years (1960-2001), and doubled as the official team photographer for the former NBA Buffalo Braves.
Smith’s first job with the Buffalo Bills in 1960 was to shoot the team’s press photos. From those early stages, Smith was there capturing some of the game’s greatest moments and names, from Kemp and Gilchrist to Kelly and Tasker.
“The Hit Heard Round the World,” one of the greatest plays in Bills history, was forever captured by Smith on December 26, 1964 during the Bills American Football League Championship win over the San Diego Chargers at War Memorial Stadium. The iconic photo, a perfectlytimed shot of Mike Stratton’s legendary hit on Keith Lincoln in the 1964 AFL title game, takes fans back to yesteryear and captures, in stunning detail, the historic moment of that contest. The “Football Ballet,” yet another extraordinary photograph in which Paul Costa made an overhead catch from Kemp that fell just beyond an outstretched Patriots defender, continues to define Smith’s outstanding body of work. Other famous photos include the only known pictures of the Sabres’ Jim Schoenfeld and the Bruins Wayne Cashman crashing through the Aud boards and fighting in the Zamboni entrance as well as the only known pictures of a young Elvis Presley playing at Memorial Auditorium for the very first time.
Smith published a book of his work entitled, A View Through the Lens of Robert L. Smith: Photos 1960-1995. This collection of his favorite photos taken from the Bills’ inception in 1960 was truly a labor of love and gave fans a brief glimpse of historic moments in Bills history. As publisher and author of the book, Smith donated a portion of the proceeds to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Buffalo Bills Youth Foundation.
He is the recipient of many Associated Press, United Press International and Page One awards, and will long be remembered for his professional contributions to the field of Photojournalism.
In a city historically known for its sports passion and long after the final play Robert L. Smith’s photos are frozen in time, forever taking those who see them back to moments that truly define Buffalo as a magnificent sports town.