Can’t do a burger at Mike’s anymore...sigh. Cheesecake at Backstreets is a thing of the past. Even dancing in the stands at the 3rd quarter Hokie Poky has been banished for no good reason. I didn’t see adding covering the Hokies from the field and publishing your pictures in the much circulated list. I am sure everyone has a variation of their own, but I scratched this one in at the end of mine. It has three check marks. I’m really not tired of it, either.
Boredom and the never ending search for something to write about during the slack periods got me to shuffling through old pictures. I have them all neatly filed by season and game with the raw pictures and then a ready directory. It makes the job of editing a little be easier, but it also provides a real opportunity to look back and see how you’ve changed.
The first game that I covered I was pretty nervous. I had been in the Press Box for the 2016 Spring Game as a trial run for Gobbler Country. That was exciting enough but Game Day was an entirely different event. There was just so much to take in, and enjoy that I almost completely forgot that I needed to be taking that stuff in and enjoying it through my camera lens. That is really the biggest challenge in sports photography; staying focused on the mechanics and process of photographing the football game and leaving aside the Hokie Nation Fandom part of the gig.
The first thing that seemed confusing is that it’s a sink or swim sort of environment. No one really tells you what to do, where to go, or how to behave. You get down to the field through portal 14, or the Southwest tunnel but nobody really hands you an instruction sheet on how that all works. You put your big numbered credential around your neck, on a lanyard and grab your gear. Improvising becomes a regular feature of the gig.
Well I have to tell you one thing that makes it very interesting for coverage at Lane. It’s tight. The crowd is right up on the field and there is very little room to maneuver on the sidelines. Many of the photographers have these huge $5,000 lenses and multi-thousand dollar cameras (usually owned by their publishers) and they camp in one corner of the end zone or another. I found that there are only a few of us who dance the sidelines back and forth with shorter range more portable gear. It can be a real challenge when the big national broadcasts come with the camera trucks and other fancy gear.
The field sets up with a red, white, and yellow line. Standing photographers can go to the white line, the 1 foot space between the white and yellow lines is reserved for those nimble folks who can get on their knees or sit. The red line is reserved for the network people and sideline coverage folks.
Folks with sideline passes are restricted to the areas behind the end zone and up to the 25 yard line on each side. You can get behind the bench to get to the other side of the field, but you can’t dally or stop, you have to keep moving and sometimes that means dodging footballs, tripping over power cables and other gear, and weaving through various pieces of training equipment. It’s cozy, and it’s certainly LOUD.
If the stadium is full, the entrance is like a constant repeated concussion. By the time the crowd starts jumping, your teeth actually hurt. I suspect that some OSHA goon will eventually insist that everyone in the bowl be issued ear muffs and plugs.
I have to admit though that my first experience with the entrance resulted in the pictures of quite a few backsides and backs, the ground.. and odd shots of the stands. Maybe one day I’ll get the courage to publish those tragic shots, but not much can substitute for the exhilaration of the first time that I was on the field for an entrance.
I can tell you that covering a game is a physical effort for this old man. You are on your feet for almost the entire 90 minute pre-game warm up, the game which can last three hours, and then the walk to your parking after the press conference. I never managed a sprint up and down the field, but the usual quick walking pace through the traffic amounts to quite a few 120 yard wind sprints... okay... wind waddles... but somehow you really don’t notice. If it’s hot (and the field can get brutally oppressive, there is plenty of water -warm but wet- put out by the AD. It still can’t make up for the total lack of shade. The Liberty game was my first exposure to getting braised like a chuck roast. There would be more over the next two seasons, but there was no instruction manual so it’s a learned experience.
So, in the spirit of remembering here are mostly unpublished shots of the Liberty Game from 2016. Names like Jerod Evans, Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges, Cam Phillips, Greg Stroman, Sam Rogers... They’ll forever be part of the memory bank for my rookie season.
That was the end of my first game covering the Hokies at Lane Stadium, with a camera. I was exhausted, drenched with sweat, and could barely struggle up Beamer to get to the car on Otey Street. I was also elated and excited about what was going to be an amazing experience. It still is. Next year I will be even better, and our coverage more complete. I’m not a rookie anymore, and a really cool thing.