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Through the Eye of the Holder

I’ve heard it said – and I feel the same way – the best thing about shooting college football is seeing and working alongside good friends. The game itself is just a reason to gather.

Well after 38 years, I got my first assignment for Sports Illustrated. And they were paying me to hang with my old buds… and, to, um, make some quality photos.

Aside from a set of spare hands from the paper, I’ve never had an assistant for a football game. When SI asked me who my assistant would be, I immediately thought of an old high school friend, Bart.

Bart knew me when I was an athlete, when we played basketball together at Glencoe High School. One thing I love about my friendship with Bart: whenever I see him – no matter the amount of time that’s passed – it’s like I saw him yesterday.

He’s also a brain-washed Beaver Believer, having wasted his “education” at OSU (Oh!). I knew he’d get a thrill being on the sidelines for this game.

I did have a couple reservations about hiring a friend for my first “big assignment,” but I didn’t need anyone to fire remotes or come up with strategy. Having someone schlep gear was purely a luxury and not a necessity. I survived quite nicely at The O without one. And I wanted to do what I’ve always done, work hard but not to stress the situation. Having Bart there was wonderfully comforting.

I did ask Bart to avoid wearing OSU colors, though he snuck in an orange T-shirt under his jacket. Such a homer! A few times, I found him yelling and rooting and hollering and demanding the ref throw a flag. And I smiled.

Meanwhile, Bart’s wife, Amy (in black), and friends were cheering us on from the upper level.

Some of my favorite people are in these two photos. And it’s not the Oregon marching band (PIPE DOWN, Yo!). Patterson, Pietsch and Silent Bruce, left-right, if you’re scoring at home. Bowmer is the shocked AP shooter.

Football pictures, by and large, are really overrated. I’ve gone through entire seasons of file football photos, searching for something interesting and cringing the entire time. But I smile every time I think of spending hours running up and down the sidelines with friends, dodging TV camera cranes and eager Beaver boosters.

Ironically, this game marked the 10th anniversary of my very first Civil War – arguably the most important OSU/UO match up in their history.

In 1998, I was working in McMinnville, an hour north of Corvallis, and somehow scored a pass for Civil War. The weather was frigid and wet. My fingers were prunes and I found out my gear was not waterproof.

OSU never beat UO back then, was a sub-.500 team and was trying to play spoiler for the Ducks and their travel plans to San Diego and the Holiday Bowl.

The game went into OT. And it looked like OSU had won when a 4th-down pass by Oregon QB Akili Smith was knocked away. Fans swarmed the field and went berserk. Only they didn’t happen to hear the whistle or see the flag for pass interference. Oregon regrouped and forced the 2nd OT.

At that time, there weren’t many quality sports photographers I knew about in Oregon. Tom Boyd was one of them. I wanted to kick ass like him. Still do.

The first time we met was at this game, and I found myself copying his every move.

Freshman Ken Simonton scored the game-winning TD on this play above. Because I was such a copy-cat and standing right next to him, Boyd and I had identical photos. I remember returning to the News-Register pretty proud of myself for keeping up with Boyd.

One photo that I personally have loved – and it doesn’t mean it’s even in my portfolio because it’s not – is the reaction right after Ken scored. He ran right next to me and was immediately jumped by those OSU students who had rushed the field after the first OT. The scene was insane. And I just love the look on Ken’s face. I have it framed over my desktop computer.

This TD is what first put Ken on the college football radar. It’s also the first time I started to feel more confident about myself as a sports photographer.

Once I started working for The O in 2000, I covered the Beavs and found myself more at home there than at my alma mata Oregon. And I got to know Ken on and off the field. I was pretty honored when he asked me to photograph his wedding.

For this Civil War, Oregon State brought back that 1998 team for a reunion at Reser Stadium (né Parker Stadium). Ken was there with a huge smile. After a warm hug, he told me he’d be leading the band in the fight song. That’s when I got the huge smile.

Shooting for SI, I shot mostly action. Didn’t really have my best game. SI staffer Robert Beck was there and made a nice action photo (see below). Largely because OSU lost – and failed to make it to the Rose Bowl (sorry, Bart) – the magazine ran only one photo. Though if you look closely in the background, you’ll see me stylin’ with my kneepads and jeans.

Bruce, Boyd and I have had many discussions about how to shoot football. I’ve never thought myself particularly stellar at action, but I do have fun with moments. Here are some of my favs from this game.

I really wish OSU had won. The fans would have gone nuts like 10 years ago. And I think I would have better, more meaningful images from the night. But you do the best you can with what you got.

A year ago, I was in NYC to photograph Kaiju monster wrestling and met up with the editors at SI for a portfolio review. That’s when I first met Don Delliquanti, SI’s college football picture editor. Honest, candid and compassionate, he understood that I didn’t need to get random photos in the magazine. That’s more like hitting the lottery. What I needed for that next step was to get assignments. Big difference.

Don kept me on his radar for anything in Oregon. I missed my first chance while on the road, ironically for ESPN, shooting the Arctic Winter Games. He remembered me for Civil War and I’ll always appreciate that.

What’s sobering is that when I asked him about billing, he told me to send the invoice to him and another editor, in case he was fired (“laid off”) that week. How shitty is that? The future of this industry is very scary. This business needs more people, like Don, who encourage emerging photographers, not less.

No news yet about the survivors at SI.

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