Sometimes you kind of wish the Rah Rah (that is NOT an Indonesian noodle dish -- actually it might be, but I don't KNOW that it is) was something you could personally share in. To be able to stand up, wave a pennant, a flag, a scarf, and just scream like mad for a minute in support of "your team." I'm watching the Ohio State (#1) - Michigan (#2) football game, some twenty video cameras showing us every little movement, every zig, most of the zags, and a considerable number of DownByContacts. It's a helluva good football game. In the beginning of the fourth quarter its 35-31, and fairly living up to the hype that preceded it. Having been shocked just yesterday by the death of long time Michigan coach Bo Schembeckler (I can still hear Jerry Ford pronouncing his name in that inimitable midwestern voice), the crowds seem to rally, and take up their call. There are probably 80 something thousand people inside the stadium, and you be be sure that just outside the gates are another 15 or twenty thou, sitting happily at their picnic tables, carrying on the "tailgating" which probably started 8 or ten hours ago. There are thousands of folks who make the trek to see their team every week -- mostly retired folks who are able to take the time -- and who never actually see the game. Somewhere down on the sidelines are a few dozen photographers, looking for a moment of truth.
Once at Penn State I remained transfixed by the Alabama fans who had driven 900 miles but just couldn't quite pull off that last 500 yards. When the game started, instead of going inside, they remained in their RVs and Vans, mountains of smoking meat and cold beer to try and get them through it. To my mind, that would be the supreme let - down. Anytime you ALMOST make it, well, you realize you SHOULD have made it.. but failure, while "not an option" is sometimes the only option you have. At Penn State, the Bama folks, however, couldn't have been any happier: they could hear the cheers, the rants, the boos, and the roars just a 2-wood away [Ok: technically NO ONE, not even Tiger can hit a two wood 500 yards, but on pavement, it might could just be possible]. Inside the stadium beers are $7 instead of 85 cents. The bbq in the tailgating crowd tastes way better than a lousy stadium burger. So there are things you can do to mitigate the Almost Got There syndrome.
It's Saturday evening, and Im sitting in the New York apartment, with a Boddingtons (you know, the nitrogen-burst draft can, it fizzes, and then creates the single greatest glass full of beer ever poured from a can), and the Amtrak schedules in front of me, kind of hoping that Michigan can conquer (for Clare Marash .."Go BLUE!!"). The ups, and downs of a football game are hard enough to anticipate, but as a sports photographer, you have to always try and anticipate where the "moment" of truth will occur. The really good photographers are interesting to watch - to see how they position themselves, how they think a play or two ahead, imagining whether or not it will be a pass or a run. It's an art which in the end transcends craft. It takes that extra little something to know ahead of time where to point that lens. For years in Kansas there was a gent who worked for a daily paper who was as fond of bourbon as he was of Dektol. Too often when he arrived at a ball game, he'd already be half in the bag, virtually unable to pick up a camera, much less, take a decent picture. So, in the spirit of brotherly love, one or another of his photo colleagues would "make a holder" for him (in the old days, when film was carried in a film holder, a piece of film on each side of it -- two pictures -- "making a holder" meant to shoot two pictures) so he wouldnt go home empty handed and lose his job. Bill Snead, now editor at the Lawrence World Journal in Lawrence, Kansas, once told me that, having spent a few of those games covering for his inebriated colleague, he went to apply for a job at the place where the man worked, and mentioned that he knew the fellow. The Editor, who was clueless about the job-saving subterfuge,said "Yeah, he's a hellvua sports photographer!"
So, you just never know. You do your best, you takes your chances, and you hope you're right. Tonight (I'm now writing two hours later, alas, Michigan has lost to Ohio State 42-39 in a thrilling game) the best pictures were made by folks who were not only able to anticipate where those "moment's" might be, but for a few seconds before and afterwards, were able to remove themselves from the Rah Rah part of watching. We all have favorites. We love to see the favorites do well. But the moments of clear thinking are the ones that triumph. I was once admonished on the sidelines of a Colorado College game by an older, very elegant gent from the Gazette Telegraph who was shooting pictures beside me. Cy Dyer (a fraternity brother) grabbed a hand off and ran thirty yards for a TD. Just when I should have been shooting "the picture", I was so busy yelling and cheering for my friend that my picture... well... I'm sure it sucked. Stan Payne looked at me with a very stern visage, and said "You must learn to be more dispassionate."
In a more dispassionate moment I captured Dave Lanahao's 99 yard run: Colorado College 1967
As with most interactions we have with people from long ago, we remember them with crystal clarity, while they usually have absolutely no memory of it. It's like what they call asymmetrical warfare. Something is hugely important to one side, and barely noticed by the other. So, from time to time I might actually stomp a little, and even yell at the TV, but for the most part I try and take Stan's advice. Watch. Watch closely. Analyze. Think clearly. And do all this in about a half second. You may lose a little of the zest that those around you share, but you sure can see a helluva lot of things going on when you do. We're just sayin'. David.