Photography by Yuvie Styles.
Boxes stacked along one wall of Brad Bradley’s neighborhood home are filled with enough negatives, slides and prints to fill several coffee table books.
These hypothetical publications would feature striking portraits immortalizing legendary sports figures, from a young Michael Jordan to an old Tom Landry, and landmark events, such as the 1948 Cotton Bowl Classic, which was the first integrated college football game.
That was Bradley’s first Cotton Bowl, an event to which he would return every year thereafter. Bradley turns 100 June 23 and says he will keep attending as long as he can. His son, Jimmy Bradley, promises to make sure he has a ride. Bradley’s streak earned him a place in the Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame — he’s the only photographer ever inducted.
Jimmy Bradley says his father “has been a witness to social change.”
Today, they discuss that bowl game in ’48, when Penn State fell to SMU. Penn State’s two Black players were not allowed to stay in a room in Dallas hotels, Bradley says. After the game, players from both teams met for a quiet dinner at SMU’s student center — just a bunch of tired college football players and a sports photographer breaking bread. Bradley took no pictures at the dinner.
“I did not know at the time it would be an historic event. But looking back, it definitely changed the landscape (of college football).”
Bradley took up photography after returning from World War II. A photo from his Air Corps days shows him looking like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. He wanted to become a pilot, but once the higher-ups learned he could type, they put him at a desk ordering parts for B-24 bomber planes before being deployed to Okinawa, Japan, and one of the bloodiest Pacific War battles.
He made it back to Texas and married Betty Laughead, whose parents were Associated Press photographers. When Betty’s dad landed a contract to be the official photographer of the SMU Mustangs, he asked the Bradleys to move to Dallas and help create a real family business.
The Laughead/Bradley studio opened across the street from SMU’s campus on Hillcrest in ’46, in a spot occupied today by Jimmy John’s sandwich shop. The studio soon dominated the college sports photography industry throughout the southern United States.
And when the Dallas Texans (which folded in one season), and later the Cowboys, organized in Dallas, Bradley was hired to photograph the local pros.
“Up until Jerry Jones came,” Bradley says. “Then they got too big for us.”
Of the hundreds of sports heroes he has photographed — Shaquille O’Neal and Roger Staubach among them — Bradley says, without a second thought, his favorite was Doak Walker, SMU’s only Heisman Trophy winner. The gridiron golden boy of the 1940s was kind, fun and always an amenable model, Bradley says.
But Bradley says the work caused him to miss important family milestones and events.
“I was at Clemson (University) when Jimmy was born and LSU when my daughter was born,” he says.
In response, Jimmy Bradley smiles and says he’s grateful for everything his dad has created.
“I could not ask for a bigger blessing than to have all of this,” says Jimmy Bradley, gesturing to the boxed photos, which he aims to organize and digitize.
What’s kept Bradley going strong for so many years?
“Fun. It has all been so much fun,” he says. “It was, and it still is.”
He has been a member of the Exchange Club of East Dallas since the 1950s, and he still attends Wednesday meetings at the Lakewood Country Club. He also enjoys breakfast once a week at Kuby’s in Snider Plaza, where he says his favorite thing on the menu is “the cheap conversation with friends.”