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|| News Item: Posted 2000-08-28

Photographers Don't Do Phoners!
A Shooter's Journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

By Karl Mondon, The Contra Costa Times

Photo by Karl Mondon/Contra Costa Times

Photo by Karl Mondon/Contra Costa Times
Sports columnists can make horrible traveling companions.

And sometimes, even worse photo assignments.

These creatures live lonely, solitary lives humoring the voices in their head and sharing the road with a photographer is very unnatural. They think pictures are only worth a thousand of somebody else's words. Luckily, Neil Hayes is different. He actually packs a change of clothes and appreciates photography.

With the Pro Football Hall of Fame getting ready to induct four 49ers last month, I had the chance to hit the road with Hayes in western Pennsylvania as he "advanced" the event with a week's worth of stories for the Contra Costa Times. He chased the roots of Joe Montana in an area legendary for producing big-time quarterbacks like Beaver Fall's Joe Namath and Monongahela's Paul Timko.

Timko? Yeah, but more about him later. Neil's a fine writer, mind you. He packs a sweet pen. He finds quirky threads in the most boring of subjects. But shooting for a columnist is like aiming at a moving target. Their focus changes faster than a 400mm autofocus with a bad synchro motor.

They can go out there interviewing old high school football coaches then they want to write about how all the steel mill's have closed down and then what about banned substances, blah, blah, blah. Easy pickings for columnists who can time-travel relying on other people's accounts and their own cleverness. They sit down at their laptops with rose-colored glasses and type out 15-inch rhapsodies.

For the photographer, these assignments look like a lot of pictures of old people holding older pictures and lame real estate photos bearing historic plaques.

Lucky for me, Neil likes art with his stories. On our second day out, he tracked down Elinor Johnson, the adoring aunt of Joe Montana whose humongous Monongahela collection of "Joe" memorabilia would earn her a first ballot induction into the Parade Magazine "Special Edition Plates" Hall of Fame.

If you've ever seen an Elvis Presley addict's house you know what Elinor's looks like. Replace the King's heads with Joe's and you've got the idea. Elinor was a sweetheart. She opened up her home to us and told how this skinny nephew of hers had enriched her life. Having myself been a 49er fan since the tough Brodie days, I had to confess to Elinor, that her nephew had enriched my life, too. Without Joe, I don't think I'd ever have tasted one World championship, let alone four. My baseball team sure doesn't seem capable of getting the trick done.


Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin
Now Neil has this theory that he can get hold of anybody with just six phone calls.

On Thursday, facing what was looking like our weakest story day, Neil demonstrated his telephonic version of the Five Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. Knowing that the Ringgold High School quarterback that Joe Montana had dethroned in 1972 was named Paul Timko, maybe we could track him down and get his take on Montana's induction.

Problem was, we were checking out of the Belle Vernon Holiday Inn in one hour and had a 3-hour drive to Canton, OH. On a whim we cracked open the Monongahela Valley phone book and found a few Timko listings. Within two phone calls Neil had found Timko's mother. "Yes," her son was the infamous Paul Timko but no he didn't live in town anymore. "He's a carpet layer in Pittsburgh." Hayes eyes were flashing. I could see him drawing up his story idea.

"The Tale of Two Quarterbacks: Four-Time Super Bowl Winner, Hall of Fame Inductee; The Other, Pittsburgh Carpet Layer."

Hayes burnt up three more of his phone calls on carpet companies: Sorry, no Timko here. On his sixth call, Hayes hit the jackpot. Paul Timko was employed there. But he just left five minutes ago. He's on an installation and there's no way to reach him. Screwed again, Neil left a brief message anyway and started packing his bag.

Then, just before checkout, the cellphone rang. It was the man who'd lost his job to Joe Montana 28 years prior. And he's talking. He's happy to talk and Neil's happy to listen.

But now I'm getting nervous. Neil's got a story and I got jack.

Photo by Karl Mondon/Contra Costa Times

Photo by Karl Mondon/Contra Costa Times
Photographers don't get to do "phoners". "Don't you hang up before you get me an address on where he's at or where he'll be, don't hang up!" I shouted in a whisper. Sensing his photo colleague's suicidal fear, my columnist friend smoothly found out that Timko would be visiting the area that evening for his monthly dinner with mom.

"Get him to meet us at the high school football field," I charaded desperately.

"He doesn't remember where it is," Hayes said. Well we did, and we got him up there for a photograph and a lot more quotes. Timko was a great guy. He's not going to the Hall of Fame but he has a healthy, philosophical outlook on life. And his knees are in a lot better shape than Joe's. To check out Hayes columns on Montana's first quarterback controversy, visit:


The induction ceremony at the Hall of Fame was pretty much a disaster from a photographer's standpoint. The rubes that picked out our photo spots were either myopic or just mean-spirited. The choice: shoot from the grandstands in the back or shoot from the side through tent poles, a television monitor and over Mean Joe Green's size 11 head. The benefit of the side shot was you'd be right in front of the busts during their presentation.

And of course after 3 hours of suffering through a rather emotionless parade of speeches, the gang-bang photo op with all 5 inductees and their statues came up and who jumps in front of us at the last possible second?

Photo by Karl Mondon/Contra Costa Times

Photo by Karl Mondon/Contra Costa Times
An ESPN camera-pointer. (Please see Hanashiro's story last month on these video assholes.) We yell outrage. He ignores. A Hall of Fame authority tells him to move. He refuses, "I'm with the network," he barks.

If I'd had a hatchet, I would have severed that guy's umbilical cable in a second.


On the final day of my road trip, a truly awful exhibition football game between the 'Niners and the Patriots was scheduled. And to make it worse, our news desk called asking for a front page picture of a Monday Night Football TV commentator. Do you ever get the impression TV's taking over our universe? The media covering the media. Yuk.

Anyway, thank God the subject was Dennis Miller whose irreverent and caustic views on HBO has been one of the boob tube's few redeeming qualities lately. I lucked out before the game when I found ABC producer Don Ohlmeyer at a concession buying his new talent a sausage and a Storm
Photo by Karl Mondon/Contra Costa Times

Photo by Karl Mondon/Contra Costa Times
drink. I guess Miller hadn't been paid any money yet. Those shots were OK but when I edited my later take of his walk to the broadcast booth, I saw Miller getting an earful from a football redneck giving the great ranter a rant of his own.

Did Miller's broadcast produce any converts? I don't know. The game stunk so bad I don't think Jesus would have gotten a bigger ratings share. But one observation I heard Miller fume was right on the money: He found it odd that you can't buy any good Cantonese food in Canton. On that he's indisputably correct and it's a damn shame.

There's NO Asian food in Ohio. And upon reflection, that's probably why my boss, Alan Greth, ever offered me this road trip in the first place. Knowing that a vegetarian in Ohio would be hard-pressed to get his meal expenses up, he probably figured he'd save a nickel on my stomach.

Cheap bastard.

Nice try, Alan. Unfortunately, there's no meat in beer.

(Karl Mondon is a staff photographer at the Contra Costa Times.)

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