Just like everyone else, photographer Mark Kiryluk has no idea why Red Miller posed with his arm around a big cat predator in 1983, but thank John Elway he did, because the picture is a gift.
We first came across Kiryluk’s photo for a story on Denver’s “junk sports” teams, franchises that belonged to experimental leagues looking to be the Next Big Thing (pro roller hockey, anyone?).
The late Miller, who led the Denver Broncos to a Super Bowl appearance in 1977 as a head coach, later coached the Denver Gold, a spring football team in the short-lived United States Football League. Denver Magazine hired Kiryluk to shoot Miller with the young leopard. He remembers it well.
First off, the leopard was not sedated, he says. Kiryluk — who is a longtime Denverite reader and somewhat frequent emailer — wants to make that clear because I previously wrote that the cat looks drugged (he does). As a result, it was not cooperative.
“As the photographer I took free rein of the whole scenario because the animal was not being cooperative for a while. It stood there for a while and then tried to get off the table and Red was little apprehensive about the whole thing.”
But then! The predator and the football coach kind of… hugged. Sounds kind of cute, to be honest.
“The animal actually almost blocked him entirely, he was all over Miller and covering his face,” Kiryluk said. “And I say to myself, ‘Oh, this is really going well now.’ The animal went and got a little more relaxed as he was being held, and I think he enjoyed being held like that.”
One of the pictures ended up on the Denver Gold media guide for the team’s inaugural season. I mean, I guess a leopard is gold so the stunt makes slight sense. But lots of things are gold that aren’t wild animals-turned-models.