My View From Super Bowl 50

If you had a Super Bowl bet that I would fit into my photographer’s vest, you might have lost some money tonight.

I came to Super Bowl 50 with two tickets: one for my regular seat … and a press pass with my name on it. When I was invited by The Players’ Tribune and the NFL to be a credentialed photographer on the sidelines during the Super Bowl, I said “I’ll do it” before they even finished their question. Seriously, that’s a dream offer. Like most people, I’ve watched the Super Bowl on TV every year of my life. The way the NBA schedule is, it’s almost impossible to get to go to the Super Bowl in person. This year I got lucky that 1) We were in the Bay already and 2) We had an off day Super Bowl Sunday. I don’t know if that timing will ever work out again while I’m in the league.

And yeah, before you say it, I can see the irony of “Kevin Durant is a member of the media for a day.” But I had the time of my life taking sideline photos for the night. I’ve got a lot of interests outside of basketball, and one of them is doing things I haven’t done before, like stepping into the shoes of a photographer and learning about what it’s all about. I may be just starting out, but I also like to think that at my height, I might have some different angles than other photographers. After all, you’ve gotta play up your strengths.

I’ve been in some big games in my career, in big arenas that were loud and packed. I’ve played on national TV. That all felt small compared to this night. Once I got to Levi’s Stadium, it was just different. This was a global event. I’ve never seen anything like it — there’s just nothing that compares to the Super Bowl. Who wouldn’t want to be on the Super Bowl sidelines with a “job” to take action shots of the game — the biggest game in the world?

I gotta back up for a second, though.

Taking pictures at the Super Bowl almost didn’t work out. And it was going to be my bad. Last Thursday, I was rushing to get to the team plane. Two miles away from my house, I had that feeling. I forgot something. I knew it.

We had just beat Orlando at home the night before and our next stop was the Bay. The plane was taking off soon and I was cutting it a little close getting to the airport. What did I forget? I tried to scan my house in my imagination, searching for something I could’ve left on a table or by the door. But I had packed my luggage like normal: shoes, gear, headphones, computer. I kept driving but it was still bothering me. Then it hit me: the black bag on the dresser. My Canon 7D. My camera was in there. The one I got for my birthday this year.

I was able to turn around and swoop it up and still make it to the airport with a couple minutes to spare. Coach Donovan … thanks for not leaving without me. Moral of the story: show up with the right tools for the job. This weekend, I guess I had two jobs.

Then came the Super Bowl.

I got there at noon, more than three hours before kickoff. Regular ticket holders went through one line, but I got to pass through a different gate — as long as I showed my press credential and official photographer’s vest. Then straight down to the field. I found a spot behind the Broncos end zone and posted up there. It was wild to be down on the field level. I’m telling you, the energy is crazy in there.

I said what’s up to Von Miller and a few other guys I know, but there was no time to be a fan — I had to get to work. I learned a few things while I was scrambling to take photos. The first thing is: you have to keep your wits about you. It’s a safety thing, man. As you’re looking for good pictures, and scoping things out through your lens, you have to be aware of the action on the field. You can’t have Cam Newton take you out into the Gatorade cooler because you were busy taking a picture of the Broncos mascot. (Dude’s name is “Thunder” by the way.)

Another thing is: I’m learning how tough these action shots are to get … they happen so fast. It’s hectic following the action, then checking your settings in between plays. It’s a lot of guessing and adjusting as you go.

One trick I was using to make it easier on myself: I’d predict if it was going to be a run or a pass and then focus in on just one player for an entire play.

The biggest thing I learned is something I knew on a certain level … but didn’t know until tonight: that sports photography is hard work and it takes a lot of skill and focus in a crazy atmosphere with a lot of distractions. I have a ton of respect for the people who do this as a profession. I’ve got many more hours to put in, and I’m thankful to The Players’ Tribune and for giving an amateur a foot in the door.

Time flies when you’re shooting. At first I was just going to cover only the first quarter, then go back up to my seat. But then I was like, why would I stop? I started to see how you build a story with your photos throughout the game. I stayed on the field the whole first half. Right when I was about to call it a night … Beyonce came on stage.

All in all, I only spent a little bit of the third quarter in my actual seat. I wasn’t going to miss the fourth quarter and the postgame celebration. I might never be that close to that kind of moment again.

After the game, I sent my pictures to my editor and started to unpack my gear: Camera, flash drive, telephoto lens.

I pulled the official photo vest out of my bag.

And look, let me say to the NFL — I know it was a requirement to wear the vest on the field as a credentialed photographer … but I don’t know what to say. It was too small.

Next time, can I get a double XL?