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|| News Item: Posted 2003-02-01

Super Dilemma: To run or not to run
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

Photo by Vincent Laforet/The New York Times

Photo illustration by Vincent Laforet.
It's a tradition almost as much as the MVP pointing into TV camera yelling he's "going to Disneyland!"

At the end of every Super Bowl, hundreds of photographers sprint onto the field as time is running out, tripping over network TV cables, dodging boom mikes, dangling 400mm lenses and monopods, pushing and shoving their way into a scrum to shoot the "Hail Mary from Hell".

The drive to capture an image of the Super Bowl MVP or the two coaches shaking hands or for that matter a third-string tightend jumping in the air with fists raised with the scoreboard as a backdrop is almost all-consuming.

But this year as photographers waiting for all of the beer commercials to run during the two-minute warning, hoards of yellow-jacketed security personnel ran along the endzones and sidelines carrying a yellow rope.

The P.A. announcer boomed "field photographers are not allowed on the field at the conclusion of the game."


"Putting a line of security in front of (photographers) during the last 5 minutes of the game was ridiculous," Sean Haffey from the San Diego Union-Tribune said, "I wasn't able to shoot from my knees, they were blocking me, and moving in and out. All this after being told to stay on our knees (the entire game)."

While many photographers in the endzones were penned in, many either slipped past the ropes or ignored security people and made their way to the Tampa Bay bench to await the bedlam when the game officially ended.

"First of all somebody said I went OVER the rope to get to the bench. That is not true, I went UNDER the rope!" said the Los Angeles Times' Wally Skalij putting some humor in the situation.

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Where's Wally? Los Angeles Times staffer Wally Skalij negotiates the on-field mess after Super Bowl XXXVII.
"My intention was to shoot with a long lens but these goons in yellow jackets, ABC and NFL Films were going to screw us all at the end of the game. I proceeded to the bench area where I saw players' kids, wives and a few other blue jacket vests go underneath the rope. Nobody said anything so I marched right in."

Though routine at the NBA Finals and NCAA Basketball Finals, roping off the field of play was something very new at the Super Bowl.

"I was taken by surprise at the end of the game when the security showed up with the rope," Getty Images' Al Bello said a few days after the game, "I actually kind of panicked because I could not get on the field right away and wound up missing much of the immediate post game celebration including Warren Sapp's helicopter dance on the stage."

Confusion reigned as photographers wonder what to do and whether the ropes were meant for them or for crowd control of the spectators. There was no prior notification to photographers that they would not be allowed on the field after the game and that security personnel would rope off the field.

Mark J. Terrill from the Associated Press agreed, "I had no idea until they started making PA announcements, which I thought were a little demeaning. They should also make it uniform. Photographers, video crews, wives, children, EVERYONE but players should stay the hell off the field."

"What ropes?" Vince Laforet said, "You have to make a decision early on: either shoot the last few plays from the sidelines or end zone and have no chance of making it past the ropes or huddle up close to the team and run out onto the field the second the clock runs down.

"I stayed with the team and the QB Brad Johnson who was at the edge of the team bench area," the New York Times staffer added, "I ran out with him at the conclusion of the game and never saw any ropes or barriers, until I tried to get back out."

Mike Blake from Reuters has seen this all before. "The NFL is just doing what the NBA did years ago... it's a bigger playing field, but the same sophisticated technology ... yellow jackets and yellow rope."

Sports Illustrated's Peter Read Miller added, "I think the roping is a good idea, but obviously many people were able to slip through ---I didn't try, but it would have been fairly hard where I was. I think we need a limited number of pool people let out there --- the usual suspects --- then we might be able actually make some pictures out there."

Was the attempt to keep photographers off the field a matter of maintaining order or one of safety?

After Super Bowl XXXII, which also was played at Qualcomm Stadium, many photographers and NFL official complained about the massive crowd of photographers and TV crews that surrounded Denver's John Elway as he made his way off the field after beat the Packers.

"I was part of that Elway cluster f**k and it was pretty scary," Getty's Bello said, "I have been going over in my head how that could have been avoided but I keep coming up with nothing.

"Elway was such a huge story that year and when he had his kid with him it really became crazy. I can remember getting my hand hit which was holding a camera and smacking Mike Segar from Reuters in the head twice. I really felt bad about that. I just left the mob after that. It wasn't worth hurting someone further or having me get hurt."

USA TODAY's Bob Deutsch agreed, "Well, I'm not sure that an attempt to solve the post-game scrum is all that bad. I'm the last one to call for a continuance of the free-for-all having been on the bottom of the pile in front of Elway, unable to move with yellow jackets screaming to get out of the way. That scene has become dangerous and generally unproductive."

But not everyone agrees that the "post-game scrum" is unproductive.

"I can only answer this from my own selfish perspective as a sports photographer: I enjoy the post-game scrum because I think good pictures come out of it. Period." Said Al Tielemans of Sports Illustrated.

But Tielemans did agree that when things get out of hand, it is dangerous. "I joined the Elway-scrum at SB XXXII which was probably the worst I've experienced. That was just a case of some people falling, but it actually got crazier when they brought Elway's family onto the field. It's not my place to say when or where a player's family should be around, but that certainly made the situation worse.

"This Super Bowl a few of the Bucs had their kids in their arms at the end of the game. That just makes for a more precarious situation as the media moves in, but I don't think still photographers being involved made it less safe."

So how do you handle yourself in a situation like this? It seems it comes down to whether you're a "wide angle guy" or a "telephoto guy"…

"Overall I think that standing back shooting with a long lens makes a much better picture than the "Hail Mary pack photo full of microphones and journalists," commented the San Francisco Chronicle's Deanne Fitzmaurice.

"The Gatorade picture looks good from far away but it looks better wide," AFP's veteran shooter Jeff Haynes said, "That is why guys go in tight ... everything no matter what picture it is from the Super Bowl looks better than shot on a long lens."

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Photo by Robert Hanashiro/USA Today

Can you find Jon Gruden in this picture?
"The harder you work, the more you get, Tielemans argue, "This debate returns every year, but the simple fact is that good pictures happen after the game and good photographers will try to make them. I simply cannot understand why the league would not want those pictures made."

Laforet observes, "As long as TV guys don't know how to use a long lens - we have to be there to try to make the occasional pictures. When the pictures work - they are so much more intense and dynamic - and offset the majority of the pictures from the game shot with a long lens.

"Hail Mary's never make a photograph... but if you don't go out there someone
else is going to block you," Haynes concluded.

But Deutsch believes it is a matter of also trying to give all photographers a chance to make their photographs.

"The issue is one of fairness," he said, "Last weekend, all of the white vest wire shooters and dozens of others were able to freely shoot players celebrating, while the rest of us were cordoned off by hundreds of freshly hired security types just looking to "arrest" us troublemakers.

"Those that made their way onto the field quickly --- from near the benches where the ropes came late --- roamed freely, while we shot nothing."

Tielemans questioned why the attempt was even made to keep photographers from the field.

"Super Bowls and other major sports events, are not presented solely for the media, but media coverage is expected and encouraged, he said. "The league obviously spends plenty of time and effort into making our jobs as photographers easier. They seem to want us there. So, why would they take away a short time period that generates such great photographic moments, when it ultimately does not interfere with the post-game trophy presentation?"

Comparing it to the "running of the bulls in Spain" Eric Risberg from the Associated Press believes that the attempt to keep photographers off the field wasn't very successful.

"I shot from a seat in the first row, just above the Raider painted endzone," Risberg said, "At the end of the game, shooting from this fixed position, I had a very difficult time seeing much of anything on the post game celebration. It seemed like a mob of people.

"It was especially hard trying to see anything on (Bucs head coach Jon) Gruden with so many people in white vests surrounding him. If they did limit photographers going onto the field, which I guess they did, it was hard for me to notice from my position."

Is there a solution? Is there a compromise?

With the apparent failure of security personnel with ropes to keep people off the field and out of the bench area --- not to mention that there will always be a group of people that will rush the field no matter what the rules are --- what will work at the Super Bowl that will allow everyone to do their jobs in a safe manner?

"The World Series has a "hold time" before anyone can go on the field after the final out and that event almost always produces great CLEAN jubilation," SI's Tieleman's said, "But as long as TV and NFL Films move in immediately, there would be virtually no chance of making pictures without being in there with them. I am (selfishly) content with the way it is. I like the challenge of trying to make a picture in the chaos."

USA Today's Deutsch pondered whether the NCAA's tactics would work at a football game. "Can we truly clear the field like the NCAA does, and allow all of us to see it? I doubt that...too many bodies, too much TV, too far a good shot. Perhaps give each major organization one white vest to shoot in the ropes? Who gets them?"

One suggestion Miller makes that he believes can help the situation is to cut down the number of people credentialed for the sidelines.

"The biggest problem on the sidelines is the messengers. There are far, far too many. Also many of them are totally ignorant of the when people are shooting," Miller said. "In past games I have constantly had them walk in front of me during plays. This time thanks to the above mentioned security guy is was less of a problem.

"We need a system like the Olympics. NFL runners picking up for everyone and bring things to a central point. If it works at the Olympics it should be far simpler at the Super Bowl."

Bob Deutsch summed up the situation best with this comment: "I do not want to go back to the past scrum, but I also do not want the current "them vs. us" scene with security threatening all of us while some make a mad dash to avoid arrest just to get a photo. Some way must be found to assure fairness and allow all of us to do our jobs.

(Robert Hanashiro is a staff photographer with USA TODAY. He is a veteran of 12 Super Bowls, including all three played in San Diego.)

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