What am I supposed to do, when there's no one downfield to pass it to?
Note: a cropped version of this photo was published in an undated (mid-Nov 2011) blog titled "NFL Week 11 - Five Games To Watch." It was also published in an Aug 8, 2012 blog titled "New York Jets 2012 Preview."
In mid-October, I attended my second professional football game, with a photographer's press pass that let me get down on the field to photograph players, referees, cheerleaders, other photographers, fans in the stand, and anyone else who looked interesting. (My first such game was a pre-season contest between the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles, which you can see by clicking here.)
I learned some lessons from photographing the Jets-Eagles game, and I showed up this time better prepared, and with some new equipment. It was great having the Nikon D700 with the capability of shooting at ISO 6400; but the 2X extender that turned my 70-300mm FX lens into a 140-600 lens seemed incapable of focusing automatically; I finally gave up and removed it. Overall, probably the best improvement came from the monopod that I dragged along on the trip; it greatly improved the stability of long shots with a telephoto. Ironically, it may also have created the illusion that I was a professional photographer, for the "real" professional photographers (who had studiously ignored me during the previous game) actually chatted with me a couple of times. I didn't have any of the bazooka-sized monster-telephoto lenses they had, but maybe they thought I wasn't a completely unprepared hobbyist...
Anyway, I shot the first half of the game with the D700 and the 70-300mm zoom lens by itself; and I shot the second half of the game with my older D300, whose half-frame body turned the 70-300mm zoom into a 105-450mm zoom. The stadium was sufficiently well lit that I could shoot at a reasonably high speed (typically 1/640 second) without having to go above ISO 3200 most of the time.
But technical details aside, this game was very much like the last one: I was down on the field, surrounded by 76,000 roaring fans who made conversation virtually impossible. I'm accustomed to watching most sports on television these days, with magical close-up shots provided by TV cameras like the very ones I saw strategically placed around tonight's football game; and when I'm befuddled by something complex or unexpected in whatever I'm watching, I know I can always depend on multiple instant replays (from various angles) and the incisive commentary from a TV sports anchor who knows far more about the players, the rules, and the details than I ever will.
Down on the field, all I could do was try my best to follow the action, and shoot anything that looked interesting. It usually (though not always) started with a snap to the quarterback -- but it was sometimes on the other side of the field, or down at the other end of the field. Like the other photographers, I scurried back and forth from one end of the field to the other to be as close to the action as possible ... but in many cases, all I ended up with was a picture of a tangle of bodies, and no clear idea of what had just happened.
After watching the Flickr statistics associated with my previous Jets-Eagles set, I was amused to see that the most popular photos were those of the cheerleaders ... so I included about 5 photos of the cheerleaders in this set. (And for whatever it's worth, I certainly did not envy them in their skimpy uniforms, while they did their best to cope with the 45-degree weather, and the chilly wind that whipped across the field.) I also found the fans interesting and occasionally picturesque, so you'll find about 10 fan-related pictures in this set.
Since I was on the field through the generosity and permission of the New York Jets, I naturally rooted for them to win. But they played pretty sloppily, and their rookie quarterback (Mark Sanchez, whose #6 jersey appears prominently in some of the photos) was intercepted five times. The regulation game finished in a 13-13 tie, so the game went into overtime ... and I'm such a dummy about football that I didn't even realize that it was a sudden death overtime. But when the Buffalo Bills kicked a three point field goal with 2:44 remaining in the overtime period, and all of the players immediately walked off the field, I quickly figured out what was happening...
Anyway, I took a little over 1,200 images and whittled it down to 60 "keepers" that I think you'll enjoy looking at. Another 200 had to be deleted immediately because they were out of focus, or because a referee decided to run in front of my camera just as I was pushing the shutter button ... but I've still got roughly 940 images of jumbled piles of football players that will probably continue to sit on my computer until I run out of space on my hard disk. C'est la vie...