FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Sitting in his office adorned with images of the past, Jimmy Cribb, the Atlanta Falcons' team photographer for nearly four decades, struggled to find the right words to describe what his time with the organization has meant to him.
"Let me think here," Cribb said after a lengthy pause. "What it's meant, I don't know how to phrase it. Simply, it means everything to me, as far as my life and my family."
Although he's a photographer, words aren't hard to come by for Cribb; he's a natural storyteller with a great story to tell.
A native of Alabama, Cribb left his hometown to come to Atlanta and begin a career in the automobile industry, where he spent a full 34 years and even retired from that job.
Cribb has only had two jobs in his life, and he stuck them both out to the end.
It was his time in the automobile industry that helped Cribb find his second career with the Atlanta Falcons, a career for which he was not qualified at the time. But that did nothing to deter him.
Jimmy Cribb has been photographing the Atlanta Falcons for 38 seasons. He has a story for almost every photo he has taken, and memories any Falcons fan would cherish. Take a look back at some of his favorite images through the years.
Two Falcons players walked into his dealership in the summer of 1976, and Cribb did a favor for punter John James which he says he "would have done for anybody." That favor, however, caused James to return the favor a few years later and invite him to a practice in the fall of 1979.
Cribb, a lifelong Falcons fan, jumped at the opportunity that would ultimately set his life on an entirely new course.
After practice, James introduced Cribb to quarterback Steve Bartkowski, who shared that he was hoping to go fishing on West Point Lake but didn't know of anyone in the area who could take him.
"I said, 'Yes you do, me.'" Cribb said. "I have a boat down there, and that's where I was raised. He said, 'Would you take us fishing?' And I did."
It's that conversation that began Cribb's career as a photographer for the Falcons.
Cribb brought along a camera to take some pictures of their fishing trip, and he sent them along to Bartkowski and James for them to remember the afternoon. Bartkowski enjoyed the pictures so much, that he invited Cribb to come shoot the Falcons game the very next week.
Cribb had never been a photographer in any official capacity, but Bartkowski secured him a credential and the very next day he shot his first Falcons game.
That chance meeting with James in 1976 led to Bartkowski's inquiry of a fishing trip in 1979 and eventually the opportunity that led to Cribb sitting in his office reminiscing, 39 years later.
During those 39 years in between Cribb has lived a life football fans can only imagine.
"When [Deion Sanders] walked in on the day we drafted him, and they flew him up here, he walked in the building dressed like this," Cribb said of the photo shown below.
"Listen, I didn't really know Deion from Florida State. I'd heard of him, and I knew he had to be good – we drafted him. But, I'm up here – he didn't get here until about 11:30 that night – but I'm still standing there waiting on him to come. Somebody hollered out, 'OK, Deion is here. He's getting out of the car.' So, I got ready, and he walked in the door. And I looked at that guy, and I said, 'What in the hell have we done?'"
Cribb of course would soon reverse course on that line of thinking with each outstanding play Sanders made as a Falcon, but it wasn't just the on-field performances that endeared Cribb to Prime Time.
As someone who is privy to the life of NFL stars when the cameras are turned off, Cribb has seen plenty of people who have two different personalities. And while Cribb says Sanders could flip the switch and become "the best promoter I've ever seen," the future Hall of Famer was never too good to talk with the team photographer.
"Once he got here, about a month after practices started, I'm walking through the locker room on a Saturday morning," Cribb said. "I happen to be coming through there as all of the players come in. They had a big lounge room with a big TV and couches and chairs and all, and the players would go in and just hang out after practice.
"Well, I'm standing there trying to get through and Deion comes out and he says, 'Hey, Cribsta! I'm going to the tarp, you stay with me. I'll take you with me.' In front of the whole locker room. Now I'm embarrassed, I don't even know what the hell he's talking about. Other players said, 'Yeah, Jimmy, stay with that guy, there's no telling where he's going to carry you.' But I asked him, 'What the hell is Cribsta?' He said, 'You the Cribsta!'"
No other player ever called Cribb by that nickname except for Sanders, and it became a symbol of the unique bond he had with one of the most famous athletes in American history.
That bond has continued over the years as Cribb has photographed numerous special occasions in Sanders' life including family portraits after the birth of daughter Deiondra.
"A few years ago we were in New Orleans getting ready to play on I think it was a Thursday night," Cribb said. "He used to do the TV deal with all the coaches, there was about four of them. They were down on the field on a stage, and I was walking down across the field and all of a sudden this voice comes, 'Hey, Cribsta! Come see me!'
"And I look over, and he's on the stage with these other guys. But I go, and I get over there and he brings me up on stage. He says, 'Hey guys, I want you to meet the Cribsta. He's the man that took my first picture. All the pictures in my home, he shot.'"
Cribb's tale is full of such anecdotes, each one told with child-like wonder that shows he's never forgotten where he's come from.
As the team photographer, Cribb has met pretty much every Falcons players over the last four decades. From Brian Jordan, Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn, who he says is among his favorite players, to Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Cribb has forged relationships with some of the biggest names in the franchise's history.
But Cribb did more than just build relationships. He developed into a talented photographer, a skill that helped him earn many trips to the Super Bowl as part of a select crew. Cribb's first was Super Bowl XXIII, which occurred on Jan. 22, 1989, and featured a comeback from Hall-of-Fame quarterback Joe Montana that helped the San Francisco 49ers earn a 20-16 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Not a bad start.
Cribb has shot 18 Super Bowls during his career, including both times the Falcons have played in the game.
"That was a big deal to me," Cribb said. "It was one thing to shoot a ball game at home or on the road like we do now. It's crazy down there on that field. At the Super Bowl, you don't have that. Every man by you is a professional … everybody treats you [with respect]. If you're part of that, then you made it."
At age 74, Cribb is ready to have the second retirement of his lifetime after the 2018 season. During his journey with the Falcons, which began so many years ago, Cribb has shot over 750 games and gotten pictures of more than 1,000 different Falcons players.
"My life is up here," Cribb said. "I go other places and I see other people, but that's not where I belong. This team is it, and it's always been this team."