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A Tale of Two Covers

“Sports,” as my former boss Steve Fine has often said, “is messy.” To this I will add, “Shooting for Sports Illustrated can be messy, too.” The following stories describe two games I covered for SI in recent years. Neither one came out as expected—on the field or in the magazine.

Thinking Cover All the Way: The Oregon/Auburn 2010 BCS Championship Game

In January 2010, the University of Oregon Ducks brought their “Quack Attack” to Arizona to face the Auburn Tigers in the BCS Championship Game. Auburn led for most of the game, but with less than three minutes left in the game Oregon’s LaMichael James came right at me, scoring and then jumping in the air in jubilation. Oregon scored the two-point conversion to tie the game, and I was thinking “cover” all the way. However, the Ducks forgot their basic tackling skills and allowed Auburn to run the ball almost to Oregon’s goal line. After a slam-dunk field goal, the game was Auburn’s and my LaMichael James shot never made it beyond my photo editor’s light-box.

  • A photo like this only means something to SI if the team pictured wins.

Not Thinking Cover at All: Tim Tebow in the 2011 Bears/Broncos Game

One weekend in the fall of 2011, I had requested to shoot the Giants at Cowboys game. I’d just watched the Giants’ last-second loss to the Green Bay Packers, and I thought that their traditional rivalry with Dallas would make for an especially good game. Plus, I really liked shooting in Cowboy Stadium, and I’d have a chance to see some of my Texas friends. However, the word from our office in New York was, “Go to Denver for the Bears at Broncos,” for a “possible” cover-shoot of Tim Tebow and his amazing run of last-second wins.

The other game being covered by SI that week was Oakland at Green Bay for a story on The Pack’s unbeaten season. Either way, the cover was to be a gatefold, meaning the inside flap folded out to accommodate a double-page advertisement on the inside of the cover. Because of that, all the photographers shooting these games had strict instructions to shoot only horizontals, with the main action on the left side of the frame facing left to right to draw the reader’s eye into the magazine. Oh, and we also needed to cover the entire football game.

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“One that got away.” A photo like this only means something to SI if the team pictured wins.

Canon EOS-1D Mk IV, Canon EF 70–200mm f2.8L lens at 70mm, f2.8 @ 1/2500, ISO 3200.

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An ingenious solution for a gatefold cover of a left-handed QB—thanks to Director of Photography Steve Fine.

Canon EOS-1D Mk IV, Canon EF 70–200mm f2.8L II lens at 200mm (left), 70mm (right), f2.8 @ 1/1250, ISO 2000.

Anyone who watched the Bears/Broncos game will surely agree with me that for 59 minutes and about 30 seconds it was one of the most boring NFL contests ever played, and the Broncos were losing to boot. Meanwhile, I was watching the score of the Green Bay game skyrocket; the Packers were killing the Raiders. At that point, all thoughts of a cover left my head.

Then, of course, the Bears’ running back ran out of bounds, giving the Broncos just enough time for Tebow to drive them into field goal range. Denver tied up the game at the end of regulation and went on to win in overtime, aided by a miraculous fumble by the same Bears player who had given the Broncos time to tie the game in regulation. Was this divine intervention? Who knows, but it sure was exciting.

Nevertheless, when I left the game to head for the airport, I had no thought that the game was worthy of the cover. In a “can’t see the forest for the trees” moment, I totally underestimated how Tim Tebow and the Broncos had captured the country’s imagination. Fortunately, the folks at SI did see it.

Unfortunately, because Tebow is left-handed, he usually rolls out right to left; this was not what we needed for the gatefold. But I was in the right spot in the back of the end zone to shoot him for throwing for the one and only touchdown scored in the game, and I was able to zoom wide enough with my 70–200mm f2.8 to nail the receiver making the catch in the next frame.

So the front cover shows Tebow throwing the touchdown pass and the receiver catching the same pass on the fold-out flap. It wasn’t exactly what we set out to get, but all in all it worked and, in the end, it looked pretty darn good.

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