If you are a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers, you might have been tempted to cut out the front page of the New York Times sports section last Monday, February 2, the day after the Super Bowl, and tack it up on your bulletin board.
The Times ran a photograph of the touchdown catch made with 35 seconds left in the game. It was the game’s “magic moment:” Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger floated the ball into the far corner of the end zone, just over the hands of three Arizona defenders but just into the outstretched hands of the receiver, Santonio Holmes, who managed to keep both feet in bounds even as he stretched his hands as high as he could to catch the ball. Six inches or a sixth of a second off in any way and the ball never would have been caught and Arizona would have been one down closer to winning the game.
But the throw and catch were perfect and Dirk Shadd, a photographer for the St. Petersburg Times, was in perfect position to capture the magic moment. Shadd’s picture — transmitted from the stadium to his newspaper to the AP to the New York Times — was the one that ended up in newspaper I bought at Cox’s Store on Nassau Street less than eight hours later.
What caught my eye about Shadd’s photo was its finality. While the referee on the field called the catch a touchdown, the officials in charge of instant replay reviews pored over the television video. As I watched that video I saw angles that proved the receiver had the ball under control as he went out of bounds. I saw other replays that confirmed both feet were in bounds. And by mentally joining those two views I came to the conclusion everyone did — that it was a winning catch.
But Shadd’s photo showed it all in one frame. The hands firmly gripped the ball at the top of the photo. And if you looked closely at the bottom, just visible through the legs of an Arizona player, you saw the toes of two Steeler-yellow shoes touching the turf.
To me — not particularly a Steeler fan — the photo was worth tacking up on the bulletin board for another reason. It was a testament to the power of print — how some images, frozen in time, can be every bit as moving as a video image of the same event.
And I wondered how that image was sifted out of the thousands of images generated by hundreds of photographers at the game and got into the hands of the sports editors at the New York Times.
One guy in town who knows the scene is Dick Druckman, a retired Bristol-Myers Squibb executive who now spends his time hopping around the globe photographing sports events. Druckman has photographed 10 Olympics since 1984, and seven Super Bowls (but not this year’s, since no New York or Philadelphia team was involved). As a freelance photographer he submits his work on spec to Sports Illustrated and the Associated Press and also sells framed prints from his spacious gallery at 43 Princeton-Hightstown Road in West Windsor. Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas, and graduations are big days for Dick Druckman’s stunning sports images.
As a freelancer, Druckman has to buy all his own equipment (think $5,000 for some lenses), cover his travel expenses, pay his way into many events, and he often has to pay inflated prices to ticket brokers to get seats that will afford him an unobstructed view of the field. But it’s all worth it to the former vice president for strategic planning at B-MS. “Barack Obama has the worst and most difficult job in the world,” Druckman says. “I’ve got the best job. I meet great athletes and attend major events. I do what I always wanted to do in life.”
Capturing the magic moment in sports is a daunting task, and Druckman lists location and luck as two of the five critical success factors (after love of sports, love of photography, and latest technology). On any given play a photographer with a motor drive may create 8 to 10 images.
The speed at which photographic images have to move from camera to editing room to the newspaper production desk may prevent the photographers on the field from knowing exactly how good their photos are. At a Super Bowl, Druckman says, runners sweep by the photographers every few minutes to collect their memory cards and transport them to an editing center.
But the fleeting split second can turn into an eternal image. At his Gold Medal Impressions studio www.goldmedalimpressions.com), Druckman shows me his image of the “catch of the century,” David Tyree’s ball-to-the-helmet catch that paved the way for the New York Giants’ victory over the New England Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl. Druckman’s is virtually identical to the image that ran on the cover of Sports Illustrated. A near miss for the freelancer.
The printed images stick with us in a way that Internet pages or even real life experiences may never stick: In 1968 I rode the Robert F. Kennedy funeral train from Penn Station to Washington, D.C.. But the chilling image I recall from those days is the picture I call “Bobby and the Busboy” — an image of the mortally wounded senator on the floor of the kitchen at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Kneeling beside him is Juan Romero, a busboy who had been shaking the candidate’s hand just before Sirhan Sirhan opened fire.
That photo was taken by Life photographer Bill Eppridge, who last year published a memoir of his time photographing the RFK campaign, “A Time It Was: Bobby Kennedy in the Sixties.”
Eppridge, it turns out, meets monthly with Dick Druckman to tutor him on the art of photography. “I’m still learning,” says Druckman, clearly anticipating more magic moments to be captured — either for eternity or at least for an office bulletin board.