SuperBowl XX…for photographers

The week leading up to Sundays big game in Miami always makes me think back to one of my best assignments–Covering Superbowl XX. It was 1985, I was a staff photographer at the Providence Journal back then and I had spent a whole month shooting playoff games in New York, Miami and Los Angeles. It was cold, snowy and bleak back home in Rhode Island but I was having a blast on the road. In the end, the Chicago Bears destroyed the Patriots 46-10 in New Orleans but I was living the dream.

It’s hard not to think back to those days and not realize how much easier the game would have been with digital. The superdome, where he game was played was pretty dark with flat ugly lighting. Most newspapers only used black and white pictures at that point and we were forced to shoot at iso 1600. That camera setting only gave us 1/500th of a second at F.3.5. In a real retro move, I pulled out the actual film, grabbed my Schneider 4x loupe and flipped the switch to the light box. Digital has spoiled us with great tonal range that made the film look hard. The combination of the high-speed way we processed the film and the poor lighting made for a grainy ugly result.

At the start of the game, looking up at some of the 72,000 fans I remember this outburst of camera flashes at the opening kickoff. I was pretty nervous in the beginning but I that didn’t last long. The first play from scrimmage was a long pass play to the Patriots Lin Dawson. He ended up getting injured right in front of me and I really mean close. I normally shot action from the sidelines with a 400mm 3.5 Nikon lens along with a 35mm lens on a second body. Remember, the 16-35 zoom was not yet invented so we all used prime lens. The medical staff working on Lin Dawson was so close I had to switch to a 20mm to get it all. My buddy and fellow “Pro-Jo” shooter Bob Breidenbach got a cool frame of me from across the field in the crush of shooters trying to get the picture.

At your average football game you can go pretty much anywhere you want. They do frown on shooters running onto the field but you can travel all 100 yards of the sideline and across the end zone. There is so much media at an event like the Superbowl, they have to provide some order by limiting your access. I remember having a sideline credential that kept me in just one corner of the field. If the action was happening on the other end of the field you couldn’t run to the other end of the field. The Bears were scoring early and often so I spend much of my time photographing the patriots on the sidelines with their helmets off looking defeated.

There were a series of messengers on the field that would collect our film and shuttle it up stairs to the Associated Press darkrooms. Our boss, Chip Maury (See earlier post on H.E.T.) was there to edit our film. He would make a small notch on the edge of the film by the sprocket holes and the AP lab techs would make an 8×10 print for him to put a caption on. It was real madhouse of a place with lots of shouting about deadlines and general craziness. Chip was a former AP guy and I’m sure he felt right at home.

The game went by quickly and it was very late before Bob and I were able to get thought the crowds and hiked up to the upper levels of the stadium to meet Chip. We had no idea if we had made any good photos (remember, no champing with a Nikon F3) but Chip showed us a whole pile of photos that he had transmitted back to the paper, using what was basically just a high tech fax machine. It was New Orleans so there was quiet a party going on as we left the stadium and hurried off to dinner.

This Sunday when the game starts I’ll be watching the sidelines to see what the photographers are doing. Super bowl 20, 30 or 40, film or digital, Nikon or Canon the goal of every shooter on the sideline is still the same. Get great action shots, tell the story of the game and just like the players, have a great game.


Yep, that’s me on the sidelines of Superbowl XX throwing my weight around to get a better angle on the play. The action on the sidelines is nothing like whats on the field but there is often pushing, shoving and its not the place for the shy!!!

Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon was one of the big stories of Super Bowl XX. The former Brigham Young University star set a Super Bowl record with two rushing touchdowns. McMahon completed 12 of 20 passes for 256 yards before leaving the game in the fourth period with a wrist injury. Both photos were made with a Nikon F3, 400mm F3.5 lens and Tri-X film.

For me the week I spent in New Orleans, leading up to the big game was really more fun that the actual event. Media day was a huge circus and its ringleader, as usual was the sunglass wearing Jim McMahon. I loved the dramatic feel that the TV lights gave the picture and by standing behind the player, an unusual camera angle for a press conference it exaggerated the effect. Nikon F3, 20 mm F2.8 lens and Tri-X film

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