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|| News Item: Posted 2000-11-21

On Any Given Sunday
By Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin
Week in and week out every fall sports shooters across the country cover football games at every level, from Pop Warner to the NFL. At the college and pro level we are always wary of the possible danger of getting creamed on the sidelines by oncoming action. Many of us have had close calls. We have had players jump over us or run by, just missing our cameras and us. Sometimes we can't get out of the way in time and sometimes the athletes don't have enough time to avoid hitting us.

November 12 was a typical beautiful fall Sunday at Candlestick Park as the 49ers hosted the Chiefs in a 1:05 game. All the photographers were excited about the gorgeous light and the memorable pictures they would make. Little did we know that what we would remember wouldn't be our pictures, but the terrible collision between Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez and one of our own, freelance photographer Mickey Pfleger.

During the 3rd quarter Mickey was on the 49ers sideline around the 20-yard line when Gonzalez was shoved out of bounds. The 6-4, 249 pound tight end had no control over his body and barreled toward Pfleger at tremendous speed. Pfleger had gotten up from his kneeling position and was moving backwards out of the way when Gonzalez smashed into him with full force, knocking him backwards with such power that Pfleger's head bounced off the Candlestick turf, knocking him unconscious.

The crowd was hushed, Pfleger lay motionless on the ground and Gonzalez yelled and waved frantically for paramedics to come over. Play eventually resumed but Pfleger remained on the ground for several minutes while friends, colleagues and his son Tai (a photographer also) circled around him.

Photo by Jack Gruber/USA Today

Photo by Jack Gruber/USA Today
After several anxious moments Pfleger regained consciousness and was wheeled off the field on a stretcher. According to Tai, the first thing Mickey asked was how his cameras were (he later revealed that there wasn't a scratch on ANY of his Nikon camera gear). The fans gave him a loud ovation and 49er PR Director Kirk Reynolds told Pfleger to wave to the fans to let them know he was all right.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief seeing Pfleger alert as he was taken to the hospital.

After the game the highlight of the collision was shown repeatedly on local newscasts and we all waited for news of Pfleger's condition. Word came out that he was doing fine and in great spirits. He would be held overnight and released on Monday.

That was when this story took a bizarre and chilling twist. Upon his release from San Francisco General Hospital Pfleger sent out the following letter via email to friends and colleagues via the San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographer's email list:


Dear Friends,

I wanted to thank everyone who has expressed their concern for my health after "going down" last Sunday at Candlestick Park after taking a hit by Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez. Words cannot express how I feel after receiving the tremendous number of phone calls and e-mail messages from friends everywhere. You have my heart felt thanks for your kind words and support.

I would also like to thank Tony Gonzalez of the Kansas City Chiefs. He was truly concerned about my condition after he accidentally collided with me after going out of bounds in the third quarter. He phoned his sister several times after the game and while he was en-route back to Kansas City. He asked her to try to contact me to see how I was. I talked with her Sunday evening at the hospital.

There was also a very large bouquet of beautiful flowers sent by Tony waiting for me at my home when I was discharged from the hospital on Monday evening, along with a wonderful note from him.

Thanks also to (PR Director) Kirk Reynolds and everyone in the 49ers organization who rushed to my side to help me and give me immediate medical care, along with, of course, the paramedics who were at Candlestick Park.

I also received tremendous care from the staff at San Francisco General Hospital.

I have recovered completely from the concussion I received at the game. Surprisingly, I am not sore anywhere and do not even have a headache. I just have a little minor stiffness in my neck--very minor. While in the emergency room, the doctors decided to give me a CT scan to check my brain, since I did experience a seizure while I was unconscious. The CT scan was not conclusive and the doctors therefore admitted me to the hospital Sunday night and I was scheduled for an MRI on Monday afternoon.

The MRI showed no visible effect from the concussion. However, the MRI did show that I do have something else wrong with me--something not related to the concussion I received at the football game on Sunday afternoon. It showed that I have a brain tumor. The doctors expressed optimism that it the type of tumor which can be treated. I will have a biopsy done in a few weeks to see what type of tumor it is and a schedule of treatments will be started.

Needless to say that this was a shocking surprise to me. But I remain optimistic about the future and I intend to fight back against the tumor with all my strength. This is a challenge I will take on with all of my strength and determination. And this challenge has become much easier for me because of all of the support I have received from friends like you who have touched my life throughout the years.

Please feel free to phone me or e-mail me at anytime.

I will be going to the 49ers game this Sunday (11/19/00) and I am looking forward to seeing many of you who will be covering the game.

Thank you again!

Mickey Pfleger (650) 355-1772


Photo by Mickey Pfleger

Photo by Mickey Pfleger
As news spread of Mickey's condition he became a Bay Area celebrity who was well on his way to getting his 15 minutes of fame. His story was featured on many local TV newscasts as well as several newspaper articles.

His positive outlook and wonderful spirit was infectious as he showed up at Candlestick a few hours before Sunday's game against the Falcons the following Sunday.

After being greeted warmly by several friends he was hounded by several TV and newspaper reporters asking him what it was like to return to the park.

After the game Pfleger reflected on the events of the past week.

"I believe things happen for a reason. I wouldn't have known anything about it otherwise because I felt fine," Pfleger said.

"I stayed in the endzones...I didn't go on the sidelines. I wasn't afraid I didn't know how I would feel. I had a little concern and I didn't want anything to happen."

"You could say I was a little gun shy. It felt a little different shooting. I wanted to comeback and stay as far away from the action as I could. I am not gonna be afraid- I don't want another felt good to shoot. I really enjoyed it."

He then added, "I got called over to the railing by a fan before the game who had a great picture of me laying on the ground with Gonzalez standing over me. He asked me to autograph it for him and I asked him for a copy. He said he would make me a blowup and give it to me at the next game."

"I have learned so much from all of this. Why waste your life? I am gonna live each day to the fullest. I am really gonna do that. I am wasting a lot of time and this is a wake up call to focus on what is important. I am gonna eliminate the things in my life that are wasting my time..."

Pfleger is scheduled to undergo surgery on Nov. 30 so doctors can get a biopsy of the tumor and determine treatment options.

Photo by
Pfleger is a well-known Bay Area freelancer who has several Sports Illustrated covers to his credit. His photo of receiver Jerry Rice jumping into the arms of tackle Steve Wallace was used for a U.S. Postal Service stamp issued last year to commemorate the 49ers' success of the 1980s.

Perhaps his most famous photo is considered the quintessential shot of Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott. In the photo taken during a playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings in January 1990, Lott has just returned an interception for a touchdown and has both arms outstretched in celebration. The picture adorns the back cover of Lott's book, "Total Impact."

Pfleger has also worked on assignments for ESPN The Magazine, Time, Newsweek, National Geographic and Smithsonian.

(Brad Mangin is a San Francisco-area freelance photographer. His web site, hosts the Sports Shooter archives.)

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