For those of you who don’t know, I’m an avid football fan. I may not know all the technical bits, specific wide receiver routes, or the difference between an over vs under nose tackle, but I love the game. Collegiate or professional, it doesn’t really matter; I can, sadly, waste away my weekends watching game after game after game. And when my alma mater, Georgia Tech, goes 10-2 during the regular season and ends up representing the Coastal division for the ACC Championship game, you can bet your butt I was excited and found a way to get tickets to that game in Charlotte, NC. I was all set to hang out with my old roommates and watch the game from the South Endzone with great seats; however, my plans would go pleasantly awry.
About 30 minutes before I was supposed to begin my 4 hour trek for the game, I got a call from a buddy, John, who I worked with while shooting for the Georgia Tech newspaper, The Technique, asking if I wanted to shoot the game. He may have gone deaf with my jubilant exclamation of, "*Expletive* Yes!" Once we established how and where to meet up, I quickly packed up my gear and did my best not to forget anything. As I was collecting my gear, I told my buddies about the turn of events and apologized profusely. They were unbelievably cool about it and started working on ways to resell my ticket. I could tell it was going to be a great day.
Can I say how much I would love to be an ESPN photographer? They get some awesome perks. For one, they get meals provided, and it’s decent food to boot. Best bit? John and I got to indulge ourselves as well. We also got to set up in the photographer’s work room, which was the equivalent of a war room. Between halves, professional photographers have to upload, edit, and send several of their top pictures to their editors. To accommodate this, every wall has a counter and there is a long table down the center of the room. The walls and the table have ethernet ports so that the photographers can upload their images as efficiently as possible. To say that room was packed may be the understatement of the year. It was wall to wall with bags, cameras, lenses, laptops; the works. Even with all of that clutter, everyone was super chill and cool. I was honestly blown away by this; I half expected the pros to look down on guys like me and say, “Get out of my way Newb; I get priority here.” Once we dropped our bags, John and I made sure to check in, grab our media badges, get second helpings of food, and prep our gear for the game.
Something that I was kind of amazed by was that I didn’t have any pregame jitters. I recall being pretty amped before previous games that I’d shot, but that wasn’t the case here. Whether it was my confidence in the Jacket’s ability to beat the Seminoles, or just the growth of confidence in my own skills since the last time I shot a game, I didn’t really care. I just soaked up the incredible environment, double checked that my gear was weather-proofed for the 50% chance of rain that night, and said Thank you for this incredible opportunity.
The forecast for the game was chilly with a good chance for rain. I was prepared for that. What we walked out to instead was mist and fog across the field and stadium. It made for some awesome warm-up shots, but all I could think was, “As soon as these guys get more than 100 feet away, these shots are gonna look hazy and like crap.” I think I jinxed myself and spoke too soon though, because what happened next just pissed off every photographer and fan. For their intros, the players came rushing out of the tunnels to pillars of flame after a series of fireworks. Well, because of the ambient conditions, the smoke from the fireworks didn’t leave the stadium. As we were staring down the tunnels waiting for the players, I looked behind me and saw a giant wall of grey. It looked a like a scene from The Mist. I got a look of horror from one of my fellow GT photographers when I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Look behind us.” Great. That smoke stayed in the stadium through most of the 1st quarter, and luckily that was all. To our benefit, both offenses were driving the field pretty easily, so there were plenty of opportunities for decent shots from 30 yards to goalline.
Shooting the game was a lot of fun. I really wish I had more notice from John, so I could have potentially rented a 300mm f/2.8 lens; however, I managed pretty well with my 70-200mm f/2.8 IS with a 1.4x teleconverter and 24-105mm f/4 lens. The extra reach would have been very helpful, though. And thank goodness I shot with two 5D3s, as the full frame ISO capabilities allowed me to get some pretty clean shots at 3200 ISO. My old 7D, who just found a new home, would have been miserable shooting anything above 1600 ISO. As the game progressed, I started shooting more from the sidelines than from the end zones. I think this made a huge difference in the shots I was able to get. Sure I missed some opportunities, but since a lot of the Jackets plays were off to the sidelines, it allowed me to nail a lot of great shots. The biggest change for me was that I started nailing the catches. Previously, I had trouble tracking and capturing receivers as they caught the ball, but for some reason I had a lot more success this time around. I think I did a better job of anticipating the throws, and the improved autofocus of the 5D3s over the 7D ensured that I could lock onto my subjects much faster and more accurately.
The game itself was an absolute thriller. There were plenty of big plays, close calls, and just damn good football. Well, good offensive football. Neither defense really did much, as both offenses had their way throughout most of the game. The big difference was in the 2nd half when Florida State held Georgia Tech to a couple of scoreless drives, but the Jackets held the Noles to field goals on their drives. That kept the game within reach for the Jackets and they nearly pulled off the upset win, falling by 2 points to the reigning National Champs. I don’t think any GT fan walked out of that stadium feeling that bad. We certainly could have won that game, but I was still satisfied with the resiliency and effort the team put forth.
I was incredibly amazed at the sportsmanship after the game ended. FSU’s defensive coordinator, Charles Kelly, was a GT defensive coach for several years and the interim defensive coordinator for half a season before leaving for FSU. It was wild that he made sure to shake his old boss’s hand, Coach Paul Johnson, before the Noles’ coach, Jimbo Fisher, could. Not only that, it seemed like Kelly went to every single Tech player possible and congratulated them. Kelly was a coach at GT for a lot of the current players, and I know it was an emotional game for both sides. Especially since the offense kicked his ass nearly all night long. The other big thing I noticed was how much everyone respected the Jacket’s QB, Justin Thomas. He extended so many plays that game and has been the motor that made the offense work so efficiently all season. Every defensive coordinator in the ACC will have nightmares for a few more years because Thomas is just a sophomore, and he will only get better.
I want to say thanks to John and The Technique for giving me this opportunity. It’s not every day you get to bring your favorite sport, team, and hobby together in such a huge setting. I don’t know what I did to get this lucky, but I’m gonna keep on doing what I’m doing, because it seems to be working!
Congratulations to the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on an incredible 2014 season. Time to finish strong and beat Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl!
And just because it's Jameis Winston