Super Bowl 50 for Sports Illustrated
Posted on February 18, 2016
This two page spread of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning smiling after his team defeated the Carolina Panthers 24-10 to win Super Bowl 50 was published as a Leading Off in the February 15, 2016 issue of Sports Illustrated. (Photo by Brad Mangin)
Way back on August 26, 2015 I got an email from Sports Illustrated’s former director of photography Brad Smith. The contents of the email were brief and to the point. “Hi there, hope all is well. Want to talk Super Bowl?” Smith asked.
“Sure. That would be pretty awesome. I could carry Walter’s stuff!” I replied, thus earning me a spot in the most prestigious starting lineup I have ever been a part of. Of course I was talking about the legendary Walter Iooss, who would be photographing his 50th Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California on Sunday, February 7, 2016. That’s every single Super Bowl that’s ever been played folks. Being in the lineup with Walter and his fellow Super Bowl streak-holder John Biever was a dream come true and something I could not pass up. This was like getting the chance to play with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on the famous “Murderer’s Row” 1927 New York Yankees. I didn’t care if I hit 8th. I could drop a bunt down, move the guy over, do anything to help the ball club win. Getting to play with these guys, and the other incredible Sports Illustrated shooters at a Super Bowl is something I have always dreamed of.
I shot my first Super Bowl for the Contra Costa Times back in 1990 when the San Francisco 49ers beat the Denver Broncos 55-10 in Super Bowl XLVII. I shot a few more since then, but none since Super Bowl XXX. Shooting the Super Bowl for Sports Illustrated for many years wasn’t something a local freelancer for the magazine like me really had a chance to do. Every year the magazine would bring their staff and contract photographers to the game, no matter where it was played, and they always delivered. These guys were the best in the world at what they did, first-ballot Hall of Famers, and they always delivered. In recent years due to financial cutbacks and staffing changes the magazine has relied on a few local shooters to round out their All-Star squad that tackles every championship game. Since the game was in the Bay Area this year I was going to get my chance to play with the big boys, along with other locals Jed Jacobsohn and Deanne Fitzmaurice.
It didn’t really hit me until I saw the diagram of Levi’s Stadium with our assigned shooting positions from our NFL picture editor Jeff Weig. This was like seeing my name on the lineup card that I had always dreamed about. There was my name “Mangin” up in a sweet overhead position in section 327, surrounded by names like “Walter” (Iooss), “Biever” (John), “McD” (John McDonough), “Tielemans” (Al), “Beck” (Robert), “Jacobsohn” (Jed), and “Miralle” (Donald). Both Deanne and legendary fan-favorite Johnny Iacono were also on our squad shooting from different roaming spots. This simple schematic meant so much to me. For one day I would get to say I shot the Super Bowl for SI.
Knowing I would be shooting from an up position I contacted my friend from Canon, the awesome Elizabeth Pratt, to reserve an 800mm lens that I could borrow for the game, along with an extra Canon 1DX body. Elizabeth is the Director of Canon Professional Services who loves art, cats, and baseball. This makes her ultra cool. She also loves helping photographers in need and she and her staff really bailed me out at the game. I love shooting overhead and was super happy with my spot. I couldn’t wait to get up there on game day and see what it looked like from up in section 327. Knowing we had six incredible photographers shooting from the field I was hoping that I might be able to help supplement our coverage by making a frame or two that would be worthy of getting published in the magazine.
One of the big issues at an event like this is workflow. How do we get our images from our cameras to the editors in the office in New York on deadline so they can close the magazine the next day? Luckily for us we had an amazing crew on the ground in Santa Clara, led by the always cool deputy picture editor Erick Rasco. The entire building could be in flames with no way out, and Erick would be calm as ever. Nothing rattles this guy and he is such a joy to work with. The guy that really delivered for me was longtime photography and network technician Jordan Murph. Jordan started working at the stadium on the Monday before the game getting everything set up for us. He made my job so easy. I asked him to explain the setup that allowed me to send my pictures from a card reader in the cup holder of seat 1, row 1, in section 327 on Super Bowl Sunday.
“I had a headless processor (a computer without a monitor, keyboard, and a mouse) under your seat that I was controlling over the network from back in the office. I had it set up to process cards automatically as they were inserted in the readers. A copy was sent straight down to a server downstairs and a local copy was kept on the headless machineʻs hard drive for backup in case the network had issues,” said Murph.
“The images were then processed on a machine downstairs, adding metadata and unique filenames. Low-res JPGs were created and sent to New York for editing. Editors then made selects. The system is setup to fulfill those requests by sending the corresponding RAW image for the select low-res JPG,”said Murph.
“We had fiber optic connections to the elevated shooting positions. Standard copper gigabit CAT5e ethernet runs are only good for about 300feet before a repeater has to be put in line (like a switch) to boost the signal. Fibers optic runs can be significantly greater lengths, as in thousands of feet+,” said Murph.
Did you get all that? It was confusing to me but all I can say is it worked amazing! There was not one problem for me sending my images and there wasn’t the stress of trying to tag and send images over a slow network from my camera. Thanks to Murph I was able to concentrate on the game and do my best to try and get some good pictures.
By the time kickoff came I was ready and excited. Shooting from a spot up high gives you such a clean background. It is like having a beautiful blank canvas in front of you. All you need is something cool to happen- then you better not screw up. I was a little rusty at the start of the game getting the hand-eye coordination down in relationship between the movement of the lens versus the long throw down to the field. Once I got more comfortable dialing that in the action looked pretty nice through the 800mm Canon lens I had. Man was I glad I borrowed that thing.
By the time the first half ended the game was close, but not much had happened. I was really hoping for some big plays in the second half. I also knew that the nice available light/shade we were enjoying in the late afternoon would soon give way to darkness, so the quality of the pictures would be going downhill fast as I had to crank up the ISO.
The game ended so fast and there was such a flurry of activity on the field as confetti flew everywhere. Photographers on the field were battling each other for the perfect picture of Peyton Manning walking off into the sunset as a winner. I was just trying to see something, anything, from my spot before it all disappeared.
After the game ended and I packed up my gear in the SI trailer outside the stadium I felt much sadness. There was such a letdown that the game was over. There was also dread over the much talked about Time Inc. contract that all of us have refused to sign. We had shot the game under a one-time legacy contract. Was this the last time any of us would ever work for the magazine? Christ.
A few days after the game I was pretty excited to hear that my above picture of Peyton Manning made it into the magazine as a two page-spread in the Leading Off section (see top). It was really important for me to get published in that issue. I needed to prove that I was there, working with that incredible crew of photographers.
When all the hype of games like this is over, all I really remember and care about is the people. I love all the great friends I have made in the business. Having the game here meant I was able to spend time with so many wonderful people. Thanks to Brad Smith I had the assignment to shoot the game, and thanks to current director of photography Marguerite Schropp I was able to remain a part of the team. I have worked for the magazine as a freelancer since 1992. The SI photo department has been like a family to me for so long. There have been so many changes there under very difficult times, but there are still some fabulous people left in the photo department that I would love to continue working with. The Super Bowl reminded me of all of that. I hope I can work with these people again some day.