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|| News Item: Posted 2005-09-06

Sports Shooter Conversation: With Rod Mar
By Robert Hanashiro, Sports Shooter

Photo by Fumiko Yarita

Photo by Fumiko Yarita

Rod Mar in action in at Quest Field in Seattle.
(Editor's Note: With the calendar turning to September, Sports Shooter decided to commemorate the occasion with a wide-ranging chat with the Seattle Times' Rod Mar about the start of the upcoming football season. From cluttered sidelines to lens choices to vinyl boots the discussion is insightful, educational and humorous.)

Sports Shooter: Are you ready for some football?

Rod Mar: Ready or not, here it comes!

S.S.: How did football become "America's Sports" (verses baseball being "America's Pastime")?

R.M.: This week I'll have shot two baseball games between the Mariners and Yankees, a WNBA playoff game, a pro football preseason game and an NCAA game --- this is a nice time of year when sports converges --- almost like the spring when you have the NCAA Basketball Tourney, opening of the baseball season, The Masters ... I think football took over when "hype" became a big part of marketing televised sports. I remember way back when the only baseball game was the "Game of the Week with (Tony) Kubek and (Joe) Garagiola (yeah, I'm slightly older than death). There was no hype, it was almost more reverential. Then Monday night football comes along with Cosell and the gang, and there are highlights from around the league at halftime and all of a sudden the casual fan can actually see the stars from other teams and start to identify with them..

R.M.: Add that to the fact that football as a sport is much more reflective of the modern American psyche -- aggressive, competitive, and take-no-prisoners. baseball is closer to golf than to football -- pastoral, timeless (no clock involved), and no physical contact.

S.S.: So where does the "sport" of football end and the "hype" ... or "over-hype" of the game begin? Like with T.O. being in a dumb promo for ABC with that "Desperate Housewife"...

R.M.: Well, now EVERYTHING about all pro sports, and especially pro football is over-hyped.

S.S.: Unlike most people I could stomach (Monday Night Football announcer) Howard Cosell. But it seemed more about "the game" then. Now it seems to be which TV "analyst' can yell the loudest. Or say the most obvious thing...

R.M.: Well ... to a certain percentage of the fan base. two of the best football shows are "NFL Primetime" on ESPN (which will be changed in format next year) and HBO's "This Week In The NFL". Both feature hosts who are knowledgeable while being excited, but make a point of featuring THE GAME. "NFL Primetime" will break down entire DRIVES.

S.S.: I guess I am just being naive ... TV takes a loss on the NFL because they use it to PROMOTE their prime-time programming.

R.M.: Well, you could argue the same about the Olympics I suppose as well.

S.S.: To me the only television NFL show I can watch is the HBO one...

Photo by Rod Mar / The Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar / The Seattle Times

Bobby Engram leaps high but Arizona's Renaldo Hill tips the ball away at the last moment. Hill intercepted the ball as it hit his foot on the way down.
R.M.: Back to your last comment: I don't get that argument. one of my best friends is a "seamhead" --- a baseball writer. And he's always ripping on the hype of the NFL and yet, in the World Series, the holiest of baseball events, they flash ads for "The Family Guy" on green screens behind the batter. To me, that is just obnoxious. the fans at the game aren't seeing that ad...only the TV viewers. talk about whoring out the great American pastime …

S.S.: Unfortunately I don't cover the NFL every weekend ... like I'd want to ... but if I'm home I can't watch it on TV.

R.M.: Yeah, being in LA. sucks for that...but you get games on TV, right? There are ups and downs of covering the NFL every week believe me.

S.S.: Yeah ... Raiders at Denver.
Raiders at KC.
Raiders at Cleveland
49ers at the Seahawks.
All DOG games.

R.M.: Don't forget the Chargers.

S.S.: Love the Bolts! They are my only shot at covering the NFL now if I'm not busy or out of town on a Sunday they're playing at Qualcomm. It's worth the 3-hour drive just to see LaDainian Tomlinson play.

R.M.: It is scary that your local college team (USC) could probably beat all of the aforementioned teams.

S.S.: I'm not sure if the reason why I can't watch games on TV is because I feel like I should be there. Or if the game is just boring on TV. Or if it's because I can't stand all the friggin' commercials!

S.S.: College football? Or Pro football?

R.M.: As a fan or as a shooter?

S.S.: Hmmmmm. Shooter.

R.M.: Pro. Definitely. It's the ultimate challenge. Ask the shooters who shoot both on the same weekend --- the pro game is so much faster. If a college kid throws the ball long, say 40 yards, it will hang up there and give everyone a chance. In the pros, that pass gets there twice as fast.

S.S.: Wow! Not the answer I thought I'd get.

R.M.: Hmmm ... maybe what I'm saying is that it's easier to get peak action at college, but the ultimate challenge is to get it in the pros.

R.M.: Plus, in the pros, you have 20 yards more sideline and bench areas are smaller in the pros.

S.S.: But you know, having dealt for 15 years with a STUPID horse running up and down the sidelines of the LA Coliseum and putting up with those arrogant punks in the USC band,, I have to say that in spite of the inherent hassles, the NFL is better to shoot.

S.S.: Even Peter Read Miller ... a USC alum ... hates that horse!

R.M.: That really depends. I'm betting the shooters in Kansas City would disagree. the Chiefs allow their cheerleaders in the end zones in front of the shooters. And in Dallas there is not very much room between the sideline and those vinyl white boots which are attached to the cowboy cheerleaders

S.S.: Love vinyl boots! I am after all, a child of the 60's ... and the 70's.

R.M.: Which brings us to a good point -- everyone of us bitches about this stuff --- but why is it that time after time the same people get the great shots day in day out? Because they might complain, but meanwhile they are focusing (minds, not cameras) even harder. That's what makes Peter (Miller), Robert Beck, John Biever, Bob Rosato and those guys so damned good. They're on the same sidelines as everyone else getting blocked by dish guys, a horse, alums, whomever and they still deliver.

R.M.: It's friggin' inspiring.

S.S.: More Photo Weenies at college or pro games?

R.M.: More P.W.'s at college games, but I really train myself to block them out.

Photo by Rod Mar / The Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar / The Seattle Times

Anthony Simmons gets a handful of Josh McCown's facemask during a sack in the third quarter. Simmons led all defenders with eight tackles, a sack and a pass defense.
R.M.: All I need is about three feet. Leaves plenty of room for Weenies. For me, I work best when I really think that it's me against everyone else out there -- that all these things (mascots, cheerleaders, dishes, wire-sorter-outers (are there to distract me and that for me to be successful, I have to tune them out. And you know me, Robert --- I'll be laughing, joking, not having a care in the world, but inside I'm trying to think about everything -- down and distance, score, situation, light, lens choice...because although it's a cliché, in sports you never know when it's going to happen

S.S.: See, that's my problem. I don't have the ability to do that.

R.M.: I learned it from one of my mentors, Harley Soltes.

S.S.: My concentration isn't what it used to be. I used to concentrate more on the field now I use reaction and instincts too much. I get burned more often than I used to especially at NFL game. And for those that don't have that ability (believe me, it's nothing special), you just have to remember why you're there -- to get the best picture. if you keep that in mind for three hours, you won't miss anything because you're bailing early to get your hot dog at halftime.

R.M.: You're full of crap. In the Super Bowl, it came down to one play and I remember you nailed it … the guy reaching for the end zone and coming up half a yard short. Don't tell me you don't concentrate.

S.S.: (Maybe (I'm) looking at the vinyl boots too much I suppose...

S.S.: Hope Deanna doesn't read that!

R.M.: Now I know you're kidding, but the cheerleaders aren't an excuse like they used to be. Most shooters I know have more revealing stuff on their laptops than anything they'll see at a game.

R.M.: Did I just say that? Darn -- keep confusing my "out loud" voice' with my "inside my brain" voice,

S.S.: Speaking of laptops ... I remember the first time I met Jack Gruber: Lions - Redskins game at RFK. H. Darr Beiser and I are talking strategy ... breaking down the field ... I'm getting some insight on the 'Skins players. And there's Gruber in the corner of the photographers' workroom with another Detroit News shooter … playing a VIDEO GOLF GAME on his laptop 5 minutes before kick off!

R.M.: Okay... that brings up another good point … it's still football and no matter where you are you can always get blocked by a player, ref, or the play can happen on the other side of the field...but the reason the same guys get the good photos MOST OF THE TIME is that they are improving their odds. Plus Gruber is just a stud at everything he shoots. That's no example!

S.S.: I need every little edge I can get. I do study the game and players ... I don't watch "game film" like (John) Biever does the week before. But I read. Watch highlights. Know who's who.

R.M.: Seriously -- it's a good point -- that there are guys who have a certain amount of natural talent (NOT saying they don't work hard) but there are also guys like me -- "grinders" to use a term from the PGA Tour -- guys that might not hit it as far as tiger but don't quit trying to get better. You should know who's who. Especially if you're working for a paper and you need a body of five or six photos. From every game. Knowing the players, the stories, will help you make informed photographs, not just pretty ones. You wouldn't go cover an election without knowing who the key players are

R.M.: Earlier this week I watched the Seahawks on TiVo. Saw Trent Green throw at left cornerback Andre Dyson five times in a row. Now was that because his hot receiver was over there? Dunno. but this week I'll know that teams might want to throw to that side, verses the other side, which is manned by Marcus Trufant. I'm just increasing my odds of getting a nice pass photo by looking there.

S.S.: Which bring up a side point: Some photo editors like to "mix things up" and send shooters to cover games that ordinarily do not cover the team or even sports ... for the sake of "getting something different". Is this a good thing? Or asking for trouble when they come back with a feature photo of a trainer wrapping a linemen's hands in tape and miss the game-winning TD?

R.M.: Doesn't mean it will work. Just increases the odds. Asking a photographer to guess what a photo editor is thinking is like asking a coach what an official is thinking. I think that was in a fortune cookie I got one night at Sam Wo's Noodle House.

R.M.: Seriously -- it doesn't matter who gets sent if they get the storytelling pictures.

S.S.: So me, you, Peter, Seale, Deutsch, Biever, Beck and Rosto at a high school game. We each have 4 rolls of Tri-X. A Nikon F3 with no motor drive and a manual focus 300 2.8. Who gets the photo of the game?

R.M.: Two words: Not me.

R.M.: First of all, I have shot canon all my life, and I used to be pretty good at manual focus --- I'd be dead with a Nikon. Second, I'd burn through four rolls in the first quarter.

S.S.: OK. You get to use an AE1!

R.M.: Third, I'd be laughing my ass off at Beck and Kojo and not able to shoot the game.

R.M.: F1.

S.S.: OK,

R.M.: If I have to have an AE1 then you get a 8008.

S.S.: Beck would be using a Graflex with a 300mm barrel lens anyway ...

S.S.: Hey! The 8008 was a piece of shit! How about an FM2?

Photo by Rod Mar / The Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar / The Seattle Times

Seattle's Ken Lucas comes over the top of Arizona's Bryant Johnson to break up a pass in the second quarter. Arizona challenged the play, but the ruling on the field stood as an incomplete pass despite Lucas' pleas that he intercepted the ball.
R.M.: Beck would kick my ass at a game with an empty paper towel roll with a Coke bottle for a lens and Kojo's gum wrapper as a mirror.

R.M.: The FM2 was pretty solid...

S.S.: Our buddy Barry Wong used to tell me about a professor he had at Syracuse that used to do that ... go to a game with an old Nikkormat and challenge the students. He'd have one roll of film, they'd have their new, motorized cameras. And he'd kick their collective asses every time. But I think the sport was basketball.

R.M.: I believe it.

S.S.: OK. Two Minute Warning: Quick questions. Quick answers.

R.M.: Okay.

S.S.: Best around the neck lens?

R.M.: 24-70 2.8.

S.S.: Front lit? Or back lit?

R.M.: Back. Always,

S.S.: 400 2.8 with an extender? Or a 600?

R.M.: 400 2.8 with extenders.

S.S.: Ball is on the 12-yard line ... sit in the end zone or the 10-yard line?

R.M.: Two yards deep in the end zone.

S.S.: Standing or kneeling?

R.M.: Kneeling -- it's why I go the gym.

S.S.: Jeans or shorts?

R.M.: Shorts. Anything except kneepads!

S.S.: Roller or backpack?

R.M.: A roller.

S.S.: Best quarterback you ever saw in person?

R.M.: (John) Elway.

S.S.: Best coach in the NFL ... now?

R.M.: (Bill) Belichick.

S.S.: Dumbest player you ever photographed?

R.M.: I won't name him ... went to college with him. Cheated off my test on a true/false, didn't realize that every other test was reversed … got 8 out of 100. He now works for the University of Washington. We laughed about that forever.

S.S.: Best stadium?

R.M.: Best stadium for what? Shooting? Lambeau Field, I think. Lambeau is cool ... and the fans offer you brats in the parking lot!

S.S.: Worst stadium?

R.M.: Tie. Any dome. With special recognition to the Kingdome. May it rest in peace.

S.S.: Best post-game meal (not in the stadium)?

R.M.: On the airplane. Translated: It means I've gotten out of town on a Sunday night and will see my kids on Monday morning.

S.S.: What can teams do to make life better for photographers?

R.M.: Just one thing --- keep the dish guys in their little dish box, and enforce the network zone for just their cameras, not their cable pullers, other mikes, etc. Everything else I can deal with.

S.S.: Best player ever to play for the Seahawks?

R.M.: Kenny Easley. Not even close.

R.M.: Oh, and Kenny Easley gave me my first photo job

S.S.: Really? Doing what?

R.M.: He owned "Inside the Seahawks" a weekly fanzine and he hired me as a photographer. We still laugh about it.

S.S.: Who's playing in the Super Bowl?

R.M.: If I could answer that, would I be a hack photographer?

S.S.: And lastly ... any advice for the young photographer that wants to shoot NFL football?

R.M.: Don't do it "for the credential". Don't aspire to go to games so you can tell people you do so. Work on your photography in every way so that you can contribute to the great body of work that has already been started by the Bievers, Michael Zagaris, Peter Read Miller, Walter Iooss and the like. photography is not life --- it is part of life.

(Rod Mar will be leading two breakout sessions at the upcoming Sports Shooter Commuter Short Course titled "Sports: Beyond The Action".)

Related Links:
Mar's member page

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