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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2002-08-31

Da Tale of Two Cities, Ya Hey
By Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/The Sporting News

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/The Sporting News

Jonathan Daniel at the last game at OLD Soldier Field.
First of all, let me say that I enjoy my car. But I don't want to live in it.

Unfortunately, as I enter my 25th season of covering NFL football (hey, I might be old but I'll never be as old as my buddy Chris Covatta), I will be forced by unusual circumstances to "ROAD TRIP" almost every weekend.

This means covering the normal assortment of Big Ten and Notre Dame football games on Saturdays. Covering "home games" of the Beloved Chicago Bears at the University of Illinois in down state Champaign, where they have been relocated as the renovation of Soldier Field continues and the inevitable assignments at the (deep voice) "Frozen Tundra of Curly Lambeau Field" in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

CUTTIN' DA CHEESE The road from Chicago to Green Bay is paved with beer, brats, cheese curds, cigarette butts and the occasional deer carcass, especially during "huntin' season." It's a 3 1/2 to 4 hour drive depending on where in Chicago you're coming from, EACH WAY.

I've been traveling up there since 1983 or '84 and I always do it in one day, mainly because I'm a masochist and because there are NEVER any hotel rooms in Green Bay on Packer weekends.

The first thing you need to know about covering a Packer game in Green Bay is how to talk Wisconsinese, or "Cheese Speak" as we "Flatlanders" from Illinois call it.

Example: "Fer cry eye, ya hey, dey really made Lambeau look nice fer $200 million, don't ya know." (Note: For those of you interested, ex-Cheeseheads Ron Modra and wife MB Roberts have "info tapes" now available in 6 or 7 easy cash installments on how to correctly speak "da Cheese." Get hold of them in their new digs in Nashville or e-mail them at speakin'dacheese@youbetchyayahey.com. I will soon have available info tapes on how to speak "Chicagoese" at datfuckingguy@overbydere.com.)

Indeed, the Cheeseheads have made the most out the Lambeau renovation. Driving up Lombardi Blvd. last Monday night toward "the Tundra" for the Packers-Cleveland Browns game, I couldn't believe what I was seein', ya hey. Gone are the bad green steel-container sides of Lambeau, covered by a beautiful new brick and cement facade.

Gone too, is much of the parking as they still have construction on both end zones continuing until next season. Gone are the crappy "high school" lights that John Biever refereed to "the worst lighting in the entire NFL." Gone as well is the nice North end zone ramp that many a card and stock photographer has used to escape a game in the last three minutes to beat the crowds and the traffic. (I have NEVER done dat, NO WAY, for cryminie sakes.) Gone as well is the credential pick-up on the North side of the stadium next to the "Packer Pro Shop."

What replaced all of this is basically a new stadium, created around the old one, not unlike the renovation completed at Notre Dame a few years ago, minus "Touchdown Jesus." The inside of the stadium, mostly notably the stands and field, look basically the same. The sky boxes have been built up, which will affect the sunlight on the field later in the season. The new stadium lighting will make Lambeau one of the BEST lit fields now in the NFL. And, I gotta say, ya hey, dat the grass of dat field is the best I've ever seen (own a house with a yard during a summer drought and you'll know what I mean). You betchya.

For those of you picking up day-of-game credentials, you'll now do so at the Media Pick-Up window on the West side of the stadium. Field level still and TV types will then have to walk around to the southeast corner of Lambeau to a ramp where a fine doggie member of the Green Bay PD will sniff up your gear.

As you head up the ramp and into the photo work area, you'll find two large photo workrooms as well as two smaller work areas. For those of you who remember the old darkroom near the South end-zone, which was the size of Milwaukee AP photographer Morry Gashs' underwear drawer, you'll find the new digs "sweet."

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The NEW Lambeau Field.
Morry, incidentally, is one of the most affable guys you'll ever hope to meet. Once he asks you if you've ordered a phone line and you say "yes" OR "no" he'll help you out. He's helped me out countless times, especially with computer stuff. More important, he knows EXACTLY when to leave the warmth of the workrooms to go out and cover the game when it's 12 frickin' degrees....got it down to an absolute SCIENCE. He's a prince of a guy, ya hey...even if he IS a Cheesehead.

The new media dining room is also located here where you can belly up a couple of brats (and potential pre-game heart attack, my friend) before the game. You can stow your gear up here and there's a security guard posted in the large hallway who'll watch everything if you bribe him with a bag of Wisconsin String Cheese. You can also still stow gear on the field if you wish. You can then eat the string cheese yourself on the way home. ( I have NEVER done dat, either, NO WAY, fer cryminie sakes, OK?.)

Down two flights of stairs from the photo work area you'll find the Packer locker-room tunnel, also now located in the south-east corner of the field, opposite of where it used to be. Field pass-types now have access without dragging your gear through the crowd of Packer faithful. The "escape ramp" in the north end-zone has been filled with new seating so photographers must enter and exit from the southeast corner location, unless you want to brave the crowds in the main concourse.

Some things at Lambeau haven't changed. They still have the best tailgating of any NFL location, BAR NONE. The blue smoke wafting over the parking lot ain't reefer, my friend, it's the lovely smoke of any and all types of meat being grilled, from Venison to Brats. (Truly a Covatta paradise.) Make no mistake, Packer fans can still out-drink any other NFL fans and that's just in the MORNING. They also continue to play "The Bears Still Suck Polka" on their boom boxes even when the Packers AREN'T playing the Bears and they still wear t-shirts showing Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbs fame) peeing on the the city of Chicago.

Milwaukee photographer Tom Lynn loves the Packers as much as I love the Bears so you'll continue to hear us "white-guy trash talking" each others' teams again this year. Some Wisconsin photographers will call Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher "Girlacher" but they're just jealous he doesn't play for the Pack. "Sweat-pant boy" (you know who you are, but we really don't) will make appearances.

Although I hate to admit it, Brett Farve is still the best quarterback to play the game in the last 30 or 40 years. (You Joe Montana and Dan Marino fans can just Eat Me. Farve is the Michael Jordan of the NFL...able to win games on his sheer will and talent AND able to leap tall buildings, if there were any in Green Bay, in a single bound.)

The best thing that hasn't changed at Lambeau is seeing the Dean of all NFL photographers, Vernon Biever, still on the sidelines shooting the Pack. Vern is the only photographer who doesn't have to kneel during the action but considering he's been the Packer photographer for about 100 years, he's earned the right. Fer da love of Pete, wadda guy, ya betchya.

THE PAIN of CHAMPAIGN

The other city in this tale is Champaign, Illinois home of the University of Illinois "Fightin'Illini" and the Beloved Chicago Bears, at least until late September 2004.

Long story somewhat shortened: the Bears, Mayor Daley and da City of Chicago managed to piss -off housands of people by fostering a "renovation" of Soldier Field on the lakefront in Chicago. So far it ooks to be a big toilet bowl that will sit inside and above of the facade of the old stadium.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The NEW home of the Bears. Memorial Stadium in Champaign, IL.
For $600 million, it has the chance to look way worse than the new Lambeau. But until we're actually in there, I'll give the designers the benefit of da doubt. To that end, the "Beloved" had to find a place to play their home games this season and next pre-season.

And the winner is! Memorial Stadium at the U. of Illinois. Sheesh. Another 2 1/2 to 3 hour drive from the Windy City or O'Hare. In the words of Robert Preston, who played the owner of the football team in "Semi-Tough:" "God, I've sinned and now you're gonna fuck me."

Many media members, fans, and the Bears wanted to play the season at Notre Dame. However, something about big sweaty men beating the holy crap outta each other on a Sunday, in front of old T.D. Jesus, with fans drinking ALCOHOL just didn't set well wit da Cat-licks. Rat bastards. Notre Dame is only an hour and half drive for me. (That's MY confession.)

The road to Champaign from Chicago will just put you to sleep. One drive and you'll understand why the Cheeseheads call us the "Flatlanders". Once you get out of Chicago and the far south 'burbs, it's corn, soybeans, sky and road. Not even a stinkin' deer carcass. And only one "Steak and Shake" between the city and Champaign (OK, it's in Kankakee or Bourbonnais or some such place...exit 315 is all ya need to know).

The stadium is OK for a big College venue. They've made some improvements, like a big screen TV-scoreboard in the north end-zone. Unfortunately the light for night games isn't very good for film or digital cameras, which means the highly anticipated arrival of Cheeseheads for the Monday night Oct. 7 game vs the Packers will disappoint those shooters already spoiled by the new great light at Lambeau.

For photographers who must transmit from games, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that the Bears have put up a tent with phone lines for transmitting underneath the horse-shoe part of the south end zone stands, making it just steps away from the playing field,
The bad news is, the tent has mesh sides and will be DAMN cold in the late fall and early winter. Word is the Bears will make it more photo-dude/computer friendly when it gets cold by placing heaters in the tent (undoubtedly right next to MY computer). It's a small space, with a few tables and phone lines, about the size of Gash's aforementioned underwear drawer.

If you're from outta town, tough luck. The Chicago guys are all coming down for the games and we don't give a rats' ass what your deadline is, we're in to stay for the season and we don't play that "mark your spots" bullshit. Transmit from the goddamn Port 'o Potties next to the tent, my friends. Welcome to Chicago (aaaa...Champaign).

In reality, like mobsters, we take care of the people we like. Da guys from Minneapolis, Detroit and even Wisconsin. You guys coming in from New York for the Jets game Dec.15th and from Tampa for the Dec 29th night game? Fooogeeddaboutit. Transmit from this here, one time.

Media credential pick-up for the first pre-season game was at the Assembly Hall, the giant UFO-looking building across the street from the stadium where the U of I basketball team plays. Media parking, if you're lucky to have it, is in the northwest corner of the Assembly Hall parking lot, on First & Kirby streets, just steps away from the south end-zone photo entrance tunnel. All in all, a much shorter walk than in Green Bay.

Traffic after a game can be worse than the Eisenhower expressway in Chicago on a Friday afternoon so you've got to plan your escape routes well. Getting to the stadium is somewhat easier: MY official secret route is this: From Interstate 57 south, exit at Interstate 74 east (towards Indianapolis); exit I74 at Lincoln Ave, go right (south) onto Lincoln, follow it until it ends. Take another right onto Florida/Kirby Ave, take it until you get as close to the stadium as possible.

If you don't have parking, use one of the lots on the fields across from the stadium. You can get out fairly quickly going the same way back to the interstate. I've been going in and out of Champaign this way for years without too much trouble. Don't tell anybody about this route or you'll sleep with da fishes in the Cal-Sag channel, over by dere.

Although the band at my Alma mater at Tennessee plays frickin' "Rocky Top" 8,000 times a damn game, there are goofy traditions of college football at Illinois as well. Like the perhaps politcally incorrect Chief Illiniwek dancing around the field in his bare feet during half-time or the shouting of "OSKEE WOW WOW" (whatever the hell THAT means) or the fans doing the sing-song "I-L-L" from one side of field, followed by the sing-song of "I-N-I" from the other.

But there's one tradition at Illini games that will become a new tradition at all Bear home games this fall...one that the fans and players will never forget, especially if they've never attended an Illini game in Champaign before.

That smell. OOoouuu THAT SMELL.

Not the smell of death surrounding you. The smell of ... pig manure.
My brother Mark, an extremely proud graduate of the University of Illinois, (so proud, in fact, that if his two teen-age children DON'T attend the U. of I. he will NEVER speak to them in adulthood) has informed me that the smell comes from the "Large Animal" clinic on St. Mary's road, adjacent to Memorial Stadium and the "Flying Saucer." "Pigs," he says, "lot's of sick pigs. Smells worse than cows anyday. Used to blow into the windows at Allen Hall (his old dorm), killing appetites right and left."

I've shot games at Memorial Stadium when the sky is blue, the autumn air crisp, the game outstanding, the stadium full and loud and the breeze has made me wanna hurl. Running back Anthony Thomas and receiver David Terrell of the Bears, both players from the University of Michigan, a Big Ten rival of Illinois, were quoted recently in the papers as saying they hated Memorial Stadium primarily because of the smell. "All them sheeps, cows, goats and whatever" said Terell, to which a writer from the Chicago Sun-Times replied, simply, "Sheeps, David?" This dude actually went to the "University" of Michigan?

Listen, David when the snow flakes are flying and wind off the prairie is cold and damp in December, you're gonna have visions of pig crap dancing through your head before Christmas just like all the little downstate farm children, my friend. You may actually stop eating meat.

Or at least pork and meat from "Sheeps."

I have years of great memories from old Soldier Field. Covering my first NFL game (Seahawks vs. Bears ...Bears won) in the fall of 1978.

Walter Payton breaking Jim Browns' record in 1984 and yelling at me in his little high-pitched voice "Get off the Field! Get off the Field!" Walter running into me full speed on the sidelines when I couldn't get out of the way fast enough, catching me and holding on so we both wouldn't fall over. "Thanks for not knocking me down Walter!" I said. "Don't mention it" he whispered in my ear, pinching me on the ass as he ran back to the field. (Walter was a VERY special big sweaty mans.)

Richard Dent sacking quarterback Archie Manning of the Vikings, then stepping on his face cutting it wide open, knocking Manning out of his very last game as a pro. EVERY SECOND of the 1985 Super Bowl Season.

That time Covatta and me...well, just never mind.

Urlacher knocking the snot outta that wus Terrell Owens from San Fran last year on the first play of overtime (sorry Brandon & Jed. NOT). Even the debacle of the Wannstadt years of the 90's, when the team really stunk up da joint. At least I got back to the house from home games by 4pm.

Hopefully, we Chicagoans get some great memories from Champaign this season that don't involve the stench of pig crap. Or perhaps that DO involve the stench of pig crap, coupled with another 13-3 season. And hopefully, the Bears won't lose twice to Brett Farve and hated Green and Gold yet AGAIN this year.

SShhawww, Garth, and maybe monkeys will fly outta my butt.

If you need to get a hold of me on the weekends this year call my cell. I'll be on the road, with the tunes playing, an empty Steak and Shake bag on the backseat (I did promise my wife I wouldn't eat too much of that stuff). I'll be trying to stay awake as I drive the flatlands of Illinois and attempt to dodge any "leaping stags" wandering onto the Interstates of Wisconsin.

I WILL get home to Jinger, the love of my life, and the two dogs ... eventually... depending on traffic...and the road construction...and how many drunk fans get into wrecks...price of gas notwithstanding.

And sweetie, please don't forget to tape "The Sopranos" for me. I hear a nosy New Jersey photo editor gets whacked the first week.

(Jonathan Daniel is a free-lance sports photographer based in Chicago, celebrating his 14th year as a retainer photographer for Getty Images/Allsport, his 25th year covering NFL football and his first year as team photographer for the MLS/Chicago Fire. Special thanks to Steve Dunn at Getty Images/Los Angeles for his help with the photographs that accompany this story.)



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