Notre Dame @ Stanford for Sports Illustrated
Posted on December 3, 2015
This two page spread of Stanford kicker Conrad Ukropina kicking the game-winning field goal to beat Notre Dame 38-36 was published as a Leading Off in the December 7, 2015 issue of Sports Illustrated. (Photos by Brad Mangin)
Last Saturday afternoon I found myself driving to an unfamiliar building in familiar surroundings to photograph an unfamiliar game that I had not shot in 51 weeks. In simpler terms, Sports Illustrated assigned me to shoot the college football game between Notre Dame and Stanford at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, California. When picture editor Chris Chambers called me with the assignment last week I was a nervous wreck. I can shoot a baseball game half-asleep wearing pajamas. Although I have shot hundreds of football games in my career I rarely shoot them anymore, and don’t have the confidence I once had on the gridiron.
As game day approached I grew more and more excited. I have vivid childhood memories of hearing Lindsey Nelson’s voice on television Sunday mornings narrating Notre Dame Highlights in the 1970’s. Whenever I think about these memories I immediately hear the legend’s voice in my head, “We move ahead to further action.” Because of this show I was always a big Notre Dame fan as a kid. I loved their colors, the mystique of Touchdown Jesus and everything the Fighting Irish stood for.
I became a big Stanford fan when my dad took me to see my first football game on The Farm in 1976 when I was 11-years-old (see ticket stub below). My dad loved the Stanford campus, so we got there early, parked amongst the trees, and wandered around the gorgeous University grounds. The only two players I knew on the team were quarterback Guy Benjamin and wide receiver Tony Hill. I remember being in awe of the huge stadium the first time we went inside. The original Stanford Stadium held 90,000 and was one of those classic old-school bowls built in 1921. Until then I had only been to games at Candlestick Park and the Oakland Coliseum, relatively new ballparks at the time. Stanford Stadium was definitely the coolest, oldest place I had ever been to watch a game. The hot dogs were great and so was the ice cold Pepsi in a can (they did not serve Coca-Cola).
This first game in 1976 began a new tradition for my father and I. Each year after that we would go to at least one Stanford home game. Over the years we saw them play UCLA a few times, USC, Ohio State, Washington, and other schools. We saw John Elway as a freshman. So many great memories on those tiny, rock-hard, wooden benches with my dad.
I mentioned that I was going to an unfamiliar building in familiar surroundings- that’s because they tore down the old Stanford Stadium 10 years ago and built a brand new stadium on the exact same spot in just one off-season. This incredible new facility is much smaller than the old place, seating 50,000. Since there is no running track around the football field the fans are much closer to the action, making for a more intimate viewing experience from the much more comfortable red plastic chairs inside the NEW Stanford Stadium. I had never been to the new place, so it was very strange to walk around the stadium with my gear before the game looking for the media entrance at Gate 4. The area surrounding the stadium looked the same with all the trees, but once I got close and inside the fence I could see the changes. Wow was it different!
There are way too many people on the field before AND during footballs games these days. Unfortunately I let this take me out of my comfort zone as I was pretty overwhelmed when the game started. I am so used to the serenity of baseball. These days everyone has a field pass. Sponsors, donors, alumni, hangers on, frauds, bobos, you name’em- they are there on the field having a good ol’ time watching the action. It took me awhile to get into the flow of the game. By halftime I was feeling better about myself. I thought I might have a few decent pictures, but man was it getting cold! Growing up in the Bay Area I am a Class A wimp when it comes to weather. It is never cold here, but it sure as Hell got cold down on The Farm Saturday night when the temperature dropped into the 40’s. I was rooting for a running clock in the second half just so I could get into my car and turn on the heater for the drive home.
The game was just crazy. The lead changed hands a million times before Stanford won 38-36 on a last-second 45-yard field goal by Conrad Ukropina as the gun went off sending the Stanford fans into a frenzy as they stormed the field in wild celebration. One thing I remember from my dad about going to Stanford games was how bad the post-game traffic was. There was no way I could get out of there after the game, so I hung out on the field for an hour or so chatting with my good friend Marcio Sanchez from the Associated Press and watching him file his pictures on deadline from his little stool on the grass. Since I am always the worst-prepared guy my feet were now frozen thanks to the thin canvas Pumas I was wearing.
After what seemed like hours I finally made it home that night and couldn’t wait to look at my pictures. I was hoping I would have a few frames that would help tell the story of the great game I had witnessed. I found a few that I liked, and thankfully the editors at the magazine agreed and published two of them in a two-page spread in Leading Off this week.
As the days went by I realized I had been able to photograph one of the greatest home games in Stanford history. It has been 39 years since my dad took me to my first game. We loved talking about the games each week that we listened to play-by-play man Don Klein call on radio station KSFO 560 back in the day. I would have loved to have told my dad about this game. About the new stadium. About the cold. About the kick. About my pictures. I think he would have been happy.