Talk about football! You should have been in Bryant Denny Stadium this past Saturday. Johnny Manziel, otherwise known as Johnny Football, led Texas A&M into the game as a two touchdown underdog against the top ranked University of Alabama Crimson Tide. Before the end of the first quarter, Johnny Football had the underdog Aggies up by 20 points. Alabama finally woke up from their post-LSU victory slumber and we had ourselves an amazing game.
I have shot many, many football games over the years and this one will be one of my favorites, not because of the outcome but because of the game. First of all, the game kept giving up nice pictures. That makes any game great from the photographer’s point of view. But the atmosphere was as intense as you could hope for, maybe better than last year’s game of the century between Bama and LSU in the same stadium. The Bama fans were as intense as I have ever seen them during the game and the stadium was as loud as I can remember it.
All that gets the juices flowing. You know when you are shooting a special game and that causes you to rise to the occasion. There is nothing like a big game to inspire your best work. On the other side of the coin, two weeks before against Mississippi State, the fans were kind of flat, the game was kind of boring and Alabama did what Alabama does and made a victory look, well, boring. That takes the wind out of my sails too. By mid-second quarter of that game I was looking at the clock just hoping the thing would get over with. No so Saturday! I was thirsty for more.
The game came down to the final Alabama drive. AJ McCarron was working his two minute magic. In fact, Alabama may have pulled off the victory had McCarron not slightly under thrown a pass to a wide open Kenny Bell. He made the catch but was tackled. Had the pass hit him in stride he would have walked into the end zone and Bama would have taken the lead. Such was the nature of the game. McCarron, scrambling on third and goal, nearly made it into the end zone two plays later. He was stuffed on about the two yard line but wow, what a game.
Johnny Football is, I think, part eel. That guy was so quick and slippery the Alabama defenders could not catch him and when they did catch him, he frequently squirted away and still made a play. That kid is going to win a Heisman, if not this season, then soon. I have several photos where Alabama defenders have him surrounded yet he manages a Houdini style escape and still makes a play. Bama’s defense, highly effective all season, was suddenly unable to get off the field on third downs. It has been a strange turnaround from the early part of the season. If you watched the LSU game, Bama’s defense had the same problem.
Now, how does all that add up to photojournalism. I will tell you, it was tough keeping up with A&M’s offense. My norm is to shoot from behind the opposing team’s offense because Alabama’s defense has been so effective. In this game, it was a coin toss. Do I stay behind them and watch defenders chase Manziel or do I get ahead of them and watch Manziel either pass or run free through the Alabama defense. That was the way it went so I did a lot of sideline running Saturday.
Normally, shooting the Alabama offense this year has been easy. I would get in the back of the end zone and let them come to me because they were simply eating up opposing defenses. I am not sure what A&M did to Alabama’s offense but they definitely slowed down the Crimson machine. There were several three and outs which seriously limited the chances to get shots of the offense and made the choice to be down field from them seem like a poor one. Again, it was kind of a coin toss where to shoot from.
For the last two seasons, I have used a 300mm f2.8 with a 1.4 extender and I am really comfortable shooting with that combo. In fact, it gives me a slightly longer than 400mm equivalent and I only go to f4 to get it. With the D4′s high ISO performance, f4 is not an issue at all. I think I have been shooting at ISO 5000 and getting a shutter speed around 1/1250 at f4 after the sun goes down so that is not bad at all.
I don’t always carry a second body but I did for this game. I keep looking for that elusive shot of a guy diving for the pylon. I like that shot but I have never done it, mainly because I have usually only had one body. I carried my Canon 5D with a 24-70 in hopes of nailing it. I got close once but only close. An incomplete pass with the guys tied up happened right next to me. Not bad but not what I wanted either.
Well, here is hoping that K State, Oregon and especially Notre Dame lose in the next two or three weeks and Bama gets back to being Bama. A trip to Miami in January seems like such a good thing. I may have to write a letter of complaint to Coach Saban if I don’t get my January BCS trip! That would get a laugh, or at least a smile, out of the coach, maybe.