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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2001-03-30

Demons, Outlaws and Maniax
It's not a dream, it's the XFL!

By Jeff Carlick

Photo by J. Gregory Raymond/XFL Photos

Photo by J. Gregory Raymond/XFL Photos
It's a crisp winter day in March, the sunlight is screaming down the middle of the field and in the stands; it looks like a convention in hell with 35,000 blood-red devils screaming at nothing and everything. Quarterback Pat Barnes calls a timeout and storms to the sideline. "I can't believe the f*@#$%* fullback doesn't know the play!"

I hand my 400 off to my trusted assistant, walk past the defensive line coach onto the field and into the huddle, standing next to a cameraman wearing riot gear and start taking pictures as Coach Jim Skipper says something about a pass play. "Now get back on the field and do what you do best," he boomed.

I walk back to my assistant standing at the front of the player bench, grab my 400 and take a knee. Barnes drops back to pass, scrambles to his right, pumps it downfield and and and Ughhhh, it's a wounded duck that lands 20 feet from anyone.

A weird dream, right?

Wrong! This is the XFL!

* * *

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin
When I first got a call from long-time friend Greg Raymond, Director of Photography for the XFL, he asked me if I'd like to work for the league and that we'd have Z-like access. "Z" is Michael Zagaris, team photographer for the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland A's. With the 49ers, Z has a locker, gets his feet taped before games and showers after games. His behind-the-scenes images reflect that he is like a member of the team.

As every photographer knows, access is everything.

But I had no idea that the XFL also stood for xtreme access.

* * *

I've been shooting football since the mid 1980's and like 99 percent of the photographers, limited to behind the 30-yard-line and not one inch past the yellow line. For most of my career, I've been shooting for trading card companies.

I was with Pinnacle Brands for years, until the company went out of business a few years ago. So my typical day of work was to shoot pre-game head shots and isolated action, then line up in the back of the end zone next to 30 other photographers and hope the plays would come my way.

After the game, I would bolt onto the field for the obligatory shot of players hugging each other and then waving to the fans as they made their way to the locker rooms.

It's a great way to make a living, don't get me wrong. But we do get jaded.

And now, here I am in the locker room of the weirdest sports league this side of the World Wrestling Federation.

* * *

Photo by
The Las Vegas Outlaws are just about to take the field for a practice game that is a dress rehearsal for NBC television. The only people in the stands are a handful of wives, kids and girlfriends, an executive or three and cheerleaders.

It's weird. In a few minutes, there was going to be a football game with everything but fans. Just television cameras, referees, players and coaches and 25,000 empty seats.

And still, there was electricity in the air along with a camera that whizzed around on cables strung from the light standards.

In the Outlaw locker room, two linemen sat on a bench and took turns sniffing smelling salts, their heads snapping with each snort. What a wake-up call!

Across the room, Adriano Belli, a defensive tackle, sat in front of his locker stall and simulated a rush to the passer, his arms ripping through the air with ferocious swings. He got more violent with every swing of his arms and is seemingly worked himself into a froth, yelling the whole time.

When Belli stopped flailing his arms, my eye caught his. Subtly, he winked. Yep, it was a show.

It's still football though. The real thing. Guys flying around a hundred miles an hour and someone could break their neck. Plus, these guys are just scratching out a living and chasing their dreams. This is important. To them, at least.

* * *

It's just a couple minutes before game time. Head coach Jim Criner calls for his team to gather up. Time for the Lord's Prayer.

I drop to my knees in the middle of the room and players gather all around. This could be a cool picture. Criner tells everyone to take a hand. I sense a moment of hesitation from the player next to me, a bit awkward since I have both hands on my camera. Suddenly, the player drapes his huge arm over my shoulders and bows his head.

Well, guess I won't be taking this picture.

* * *

Photo by Jeff Carlick/XFL Photos

Photo by Jeff Carlick/XFL Photos
I've been asked to take a picture of Tom Stewart, one of the on-field cameramen slated to work the game between the Memphis Maniax at the San Francisco Demons.

I connect with Stewart before the game and it turns out the picture is for a story running in the LA Times. In the third quarter, I run into Stewart on the sideline and he asks if I've gotten what I need. Well, I tell him, I've been hoping to catch him in a sideline huddle during a timeout.

A minute later, there's a timeout on the field and he looks at me and nods his head. Catching on quick, which happens occasionally for me, I run out onto the field and get into the huddle. A cool picture as quarterback Mike Pawlawski is on the left, the offensive linemen on the right, Stewart in the middle and the huge centerfield scoreboard above it all.

And the best part, no rent-a-cop yelled at me to get off the field!

* * *

Now, the XFL is a long way from home, to be sure. The television ratings are awful at best. Advertisers have pulled out. Some cities aren't drawing very well. The press is all over the league, begging it to go away.

Photo by
The product isn't what was promised. The cheerleaders aren't any more sexy or dangerous than NFL squads. The hitting isn't any more violent than the NFL. And actually, going into the locker room isn't that revealing.

But there are a lot of good things about the XFL. In San Francisco, the game is a big hit. The Demon's draw about 30,000 fans and they're loud.

And they're having a blast. The tickets are cheap and even if the quality of play is lacking, it is very competitive. Besides, you don't put a team together in two months and expect precision play immediately.

In the first six weeks, play has improved. And the league is making adjustments. Jesse Ventura is rumored to be on the way out in favor of football announcers and the insipid sideline reporters are being scaled back.

The best part for me, though, is the sidelines and the access. There are about six photographers at any one game, save the first week. It is so amazingly wonderful to shoot a pro football game and be the only photographer in 30 yards.

The other day, there was a touchdown run where the player wound up in the opposite corner of the end zone. I had blazed through the roll of film of my long lens, so I just got up and ran across the back of the end zone to where the guy was celebrating and shot with my short lens. How cool was that?

Photo by Jeff Carlick/XFL Photos

Photo by Jeff Carlick/XFL Photos
Some of the best pictures come from the bench area, where I'm free to roam. Players just coming off the field and talking with coaches about adjustments. Intense moments with players hopped full of adrenaline. Guys laughing, sweating, and, in the Vegas dress rehearsal on a cold night, steam coming off a guys head.

Another bonus is the light. Since the season runs from March to late April, the days get longer and the field is in full sunlight the whole game.

Again, it felt so weird to be shooting at the end of a game and not have to deal with a huge shadow creeping across the field. On the other hand, it is winter and there's just as good a chance for a downpour.

Don Smith and Peter Brouillet were in LA for the league on the night of what will become a legendary storm. The field was nothing but water. Not puddles. Swimming pools. To hear Don and Peter talk about that night is harrowing. The following week, we had a pretty good storm in San Francisco and it rained most of the game, but there was no wind and it was actually fairly easy to work around.

* * *

Maybe I'm looking through rose colored glasses because the gig is a good payday and I'd really like to see the league flourish because I'm on the ground floor.

But more than anything, I'm just having a blast with the XFL. All I have to do is take cool pictures of anything and everything that is XFL and wait and wait and wait for the checks. But they do come and they actually clear and I'm laughing all the way to the bank.

(Jeff Carlick is an XFL Staff Photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jeff can be reached via email @ captaineos@earthlink.net.)


Related Email Addresses: 
Jeff Carlick: captaineos@earthlink.net

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