It's a late fall evening on the depressing field where two semi-pro teams are squaring off. I've had to sign a waiver both to be on the sidelines and in the dangerously decrepit press box on the roof of the rickety stadium. Smoke from a foundry across the road belches yellow fumes; it stinks right out loud.

     Armed with a Rolleicord twin-lens reflex camera and Graflex strobe, I stare down, following the action through the viewfinder. I've only been shooting for the paper for a few months, and am still learning the craft, so I'm studiously intent on the focus, following a mastadon linebacker who is planning to dismantle a scatback near the sidelines. I click the shutter, and turn away from the action, which is by then perilously close.

     And I forget the cardinal rule of the twin-lens reflex: The images are reversed. Instead of getting out of harm's way, I turn into the path of the mastadon as he goes out of bounds, and find myself upside down, hurtling through the air, while thinking “Uh-oh”. Whooomph. I hit the ground, hard, on my back.

     It's then that I make two vows: First, get a single-lens reflex camera that doesn't reverse the image; second, pay more attention to the game. I do both in the years to come....


     It's Grey Cup time again, when the two best teams in the Canadian Football League duke it out for one of the oldest trophies in professional support.

     I love all football, especially the Canadian game with its wider, longer field, three downs, kicking rules, faster action and twelve players.

     I started young, watching in black and white as “my” gold-and-black (yes, it's why I'm a Steelers fan) Hamilton Tiger-Cats took on their hated rivals, the Toronto Argonauts. In my teens and twenties, we threw Grey Cup parties that usually included a lot of beer and touch football. I even played a bit – quite ineptly, I assure you – in my final year of school. Looking at the yearbook photo of me with my team mates (wearing black and gold) makes me smile. Ruefully. I still have the jersey, good ole number 66.

     So it was natural for me, when I first got a newspaper job, to want to photograph the game, and I did so at the amateur and semi-pro level. I eventually got quite good at it, once I learned when to duck, and by the time I went back to university in 1971, I was able to become one of the college newspaper's official game photographers.

     We shot in the rain, we shot in the heat, we shot in the snow, occasionally dodging beer bottles thrown at us from the hostile stands of other universities. We banged off frame after frame on 35mm SLRs like my now-primitive Nikon Fs. We knew how to follow the action, to be at the right place along the sidelines at the right time. We knew how and when to “push” the film in the darkroom and to mess with the enlarger to optimize the prints. We mostly rolled our own film, mixed our own chemicals.

     On a couple of occasions, I rode in the back of an Econoline van with the cheerleading crew for an away game. (And, no, it's not what you're imagining, either.)

     One of my sharpest memories is of the day I took the photo you see below.

     My friend Sandy, a school teacher and photographer who also shot semi-pro games, and I were dressed in our militia bush jackets (lots of pockets for storing film and lenses), frayed jeans and heavy boots. I was also sporting a patch on my left eye because I had a stye. We looked piratical, slovenly and disreputable, but nonetheless talked our way in and had a fine time as the heavily favoured home team lost 42-3. We shaved an hour off the five-hour return trip in my V8 Duster, laughing like the loons we undoubtedly were.

     That year our team won the Vanier Cup – the national championship – and some of my photos were included in the commemorative magazine put out by the university. I was quite proud of that, since I wasn't actually on the university paper's staff. 

     I stumbled across the magazine the other day, while going through some music books. It's one of a handful of personal mementoes that survived the marital wars of the early 1980s.

     It stands up pretty well, considering the equipment we were using. In fact, there are some remarkable shots in the collection, made by some remarkable young men and women who were on the staff and who were a pleasure to be around.

     I treasure the memory of them, too.

The moment the ball gets knocked loose from the running back, No. 21. Scanned in from the magazine. I have the negs somewhere.
Shot using a Nikon F, probaby 250 at f8, with a 135mm Soligor lens.

Views: 107

Comment by koshersalaami on November 29, 2015 at 3:25pm

Same ball?

Comment by JMac1949 Today on November 29, 2015 at 3:50pm

Good story and a great pic... R&L ;-)

Comment by nerd cred on November 29, 2015 at 4:10pm

piratical, slovenly and disreputable,

Isn't that how newspaper photogs were supposed to look then? ;-)

My dad was a photo editor. I don't think he was ever a photographer but he respected them. After he retired, when I was working in a university athletics department, I asked their photog if he ever used freelancers and mentioned my dad, thinking he'd love the break from my mom. The guy made some condescending remark about the specialness of sports photography as opposed to regular news work. I brightly mentioned the prizes dad won for football and rodeo pictures and his tune changed. I never followed up with dad because why open him up to the inevitable pissing contests?

Nice picture, too.

Comment by Boanerges on November 30, 2015 at 6:47am

Hey, Kosh, thanks for commenting. Yup. Same ball.

Thanks, JMac. It was a fun afternoon.

Nerd, the photogs at the paper where I last worked were, in my opinion, the last best of the old newspaper breed -- the go anywhere, do anything kind of people. I never did it full-time (always at best a two-way man), but how I admired them. Your Dad would have been one. As for the clothing, I've written elsewhere about my "normal" winter attire, which included army combat boots and a navy pea jacket and watch cap. My bosses didn't approve, but then they were safely ensconced in a warm office miles away, so I said to myself "Scroom" and kept on dancing.

Comment by older/exasperated on December 2, 2015 at 4:58pm

One time at the farm the kids were sledding on the big hill behind the house that had a dry creek bed at the bottom in the middle was this smooth limestone rock flat and about 6ft wide dropped it gave a slight lift airborne and I was going to get a picture of Andrea coming down going over me laying flat on the front of the rock. I started shooting as she came close and shot the final one thinking she had gone over me and she did right as I raised my head what a head rush, that's when I gave up sport photography. My best to TPR as always.......o/e

Comment by Boanerges on December 6, 2015 at 2:30pm




Thought you knew when to keep your head down.

Anyway, I'd like to make it perfectly clear that no camera was harmed in the making of this post.


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