A photographic glimpse of the future from the NFL sidelines

Sports commentary

Last Sunday was the biggest dance I’ve been to yet. Nearly 60,000 crazy fans packed Seahawks Stadium in Seattle for NFL Sunday football against the Philadelphia Eagles, and I had front-row tickets.

Actually, I had better than front-row tickets. Through luck of the draw, I had gained a sideline photography pass for Sunday’s game. Still I was only half-excited. I’m not a sports geek. Heck, for half the game I kept thinking Seattle was playing the Jets. Afterall, they do have the same colors.

Yet the drama of live, professional sports is alluring for other reasons. There is no spectacle in sports where 60,000 people converge every weekend across the country to witness and fuel a battle between men on a lit stage. Money, lights, music and media have made NFL football into a Shakespearian production in which all the world is a stage.

Or rather, all the world is seemingly the audience.

Through extensive production, Monday Night Football has become a regular topic of discussion around the office water cooler on Tuesday. It’s bigger than big.

So I walked into Seahawk Stadium with only half of this in mind. I was thinking it was going to be a bit bigger than a Portland Trailblazers game. But, in fact, it was a lot bigger. I was looking at a whole new ball game here.

Around every corner was a security guard. As I meandered through the building, I was told to “follow the blue line.” So I followed the blue line. Finally, it led me to the field.

I was ushered across the field and told I needed a vest along with my pass. And I needed to sign a waiver, just in case I got creamed by a 6-foot-6, 320-pound defensive lineman. “No worries,” I thought. “I’m small and quick.”

Finally, after two trips around the stadium, I was loaded with everything I needed. My vest, my pass, my gear. It was time to play.

For the first minute I stood back just to see what other shooters were doing. I didn’t want to cross some “line” and get booted 10 minutes into the game. That would have been a lot of effort for nothing.

I noticed everyone behind a yellow line. That was the golden rule. If you stepped over the line, there was somebody there to pull you back in line. Two yards in front of the yellow line is a white line. That two-yard space, I found out, is “owned” by FOX television.

They can stand, walk, block or do whatever they want in that space with cameras or microphones. Funny how money will even get you closer on the sidelines. I also found out that most photographers have a disliking for FOX — unless you happen to be a FOX photographer, of course.

And since it is professional football, everybody is after the money shot. The endzone shot. You know, the one where the ball is dripping off Koren Robinson’s fingertips as he hauls it in before falling over the orange cone in the back corner of the endzone.

Every photographer is there and ready. NFL football is predictable to a degree. If it’s third down and 17 and you need a touchdown to tie, the ball is going to the endzone.

That is the common ground for every photographer in the stadium. Each shooter seems to be set with a minimum of two cameras, each with a different lens. Some photographers had as many as two assistants, with other camera combinations ready in hand if the action called for something else.

Also, for the first time, I noticed every photographer shooting digital. I saw no film. At halftime, the photographers were ushered down a hallway along the “blue line” to a press room where waiting laptops and high-speed Internet connections allowed instant transfer of all images worldwide. Image cards were cleared and batteries were recharged. By the second half, the first half was already filed into history. Photography is now at the speed of sports.

It was great. I almost got hit twice. The music was loud. The crowd was enormous. The players were mammoth. The production was nearly unbelievable.

The result was phenomenal.

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