It make take some time for the disappointment to fade for Army fans and players following Saturday’s loss — I know it was hard for me to not feel a little frustrated on the field during the game — but a little time will help people realize what a cool and memorable night this was for college football, New York City and both schools.
My impressions during the game — and I have not seen the replay on TV yet — was that Army was simply out-sized and over-matched; no one from West Point would use that as an excuse, but physically, Notre Dame just looked bigger and stronger. I’m not sure they were faster (Army cruised about 79 yards in that first drive without issue), but you saw the Irish adapt and adjust and change its defense to stop the rushing attack, and you saw Army just run themselves into the ground.
It was frustrating to watch, and from my perspective, very frustrating to photograph. The sidelines were cluttered, to put it politely, with a lot of non-media members who were just standing around, which made it a huge challenge for us folks working and trying to get unique images.
Shooting football is a lot of fun, but it’s also pretty difficult, moreso with Army’s option offense which is literally designed to fool the defense and keep them guessing. Guess what? It tends to keep the photographers guessing too — who has the ball? It’s even harder to follow while looking through a tight super telephoto lens.
Being in the right spot at the right time is half the battle when you’re shooting a field sport like football, when the players are all over the place, it’s hard to follow the ball. So wedging your way between random VIPs on the sidelines just made it harder. Notre Dame’s sideline was just as messy, especially down in the right field corner where the band and cheerleaders and such were entrenched. The worst was finding a spot in the back of the home plate endzone for the end of Army’s first (and only) scoring drive, only to have an NBC sound guy step right in front of about three of us just waiting for the goaline shot. I was not pleased.
The field was also wet, and I hate to criticize the Yankees, but they did a poor job of having that playing surface be in top shape for kickoff; it hadn’t rained here in New York, so there was no reason for the field to be muddy and slippery — both Michael Floyd, Notre Dame’s stud receiver, and Army slotback Brian Austin ended up going down just from wet grass on a cool, dry night. It’s no fun kneeling in muddy turf, either.
Otherwise, it was a great atmosphere and event. The players were definitely soaking in the moment and the surroundings. There was Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman of the Yankees before the game. There was George Steinbrenner’s monument looming over the center field endzone. A pair of former Heisman Trophy winners helped with the coin toss. And that big TV. And the biggest marching band I’ve ever seen (before the game, they literally wrapped around the outside of the stadium.) In fact, you should listen to this while skimming through the photos for the full experience.
There’s one nice photo I got of Floyd making a Heisman pose, stiff-arming Richard King along the Notre Dame sideline, and if you look closely, you’ll notice some of the Irish players behind him — a few feet away — are watching the play on the gigantic Yankee Stadium scoreboard instead of what’s happening right in front of them:
I’ll take you through my day as opposed to re-hashing this game. I drove down with a friend who works for West Point, we were literally the first ones to get to the ballpark — we were both really, really excited about this game all week, so when we arrived at 2:30 pm, we had our choice of any parking spot in the 161st St garage. The press gate opened at 3 pm and we were issued credentials and red photographer vests, similar to what the NFL now makes mandatory for all photographers (I was No. 20).
We dropped off our gear in the photo work room behind third base and went out to the field to inspect… walking up the steps from the third base dugout tunnel is basically what you’d imagine it being, like stepping up into a new world of blue seats and grass and the buzz of pre-game workouts. The dugouts were covered with some temporary flooring and, if you didn’t know, you’d think it was just regular grass. The goal post was basically right at home plate, and a lot of people were posing for photos behind it.
The high-powered air conditioning in the Yankees press box was replaced by heat, and the “starting lineups” chalk board had no names. We grabbed a buffet lunch (hot dogs, this was a baseball stadium, after all) at Sheppard’s Place, the press dining room named in honor of former PA announcer Bob Sheppard, and went back down to the field for workout shots. Kingsley Ehie is my man so I made sure I got a good shot of him getting focused:
I went up to the upper deck around 645 pm to get in position for the scheduled Army Special Operations Command “Black Daggers” parachute jump at 7:04 pm. I had Section 420B in mind — directly behind home plate — and brought my big lens along as well to get some workout stuff:
I missed out on getting a fisheye shot of the stadium in this coming week’s Sports Illustrated since the staffer SI sent to shoot the game followed me up and sat beside me to take the same image… his will run, mine won’t, although it made it onto MLB.com and Yankees.com. I’ll have to try again next time.
We scampered back down to the field level (via one of the Yankees fan elevators, and then the press elevator) for the team entrances; Army was scheduled to take the field at 7:22 p.m. from the visitor’s dugout. This was chaotic, photographers and TV cameramen and cables and all kinds of people inching their way closer … what a mess. The team mostly walked up the dugout steps to the field, paused, and then ran out. A fellow photographer (I’ll leave him unnamed) got run over and I got a hilarious photo of his face in the guy’s crotch. You can see the NBC camera man doing his best to ruin this shot:
Notre Dame was scheduled to take the field at 7:24 p.m., so the mob moved over to the first base dugout and prepared for their entrance. I prefer to lay down for this shot if possible. I don’t know how I didn’t get stepped on — you cannot at all tell, but while these player appear several feet away, it was more like 2-3 inches away from my fisheye lens:
From there, it went downhill. The sidelines were so clogged for kickoff that I literally could not even find a spot on the Army side to squeeze in and shoot the kick from Matt Campbell.
Notre Dame had the ball first and just ripped through the West Point defense with ease, driving down to the red zone before Stephen Anderson tipped a Tommy Rees pass at the goaline that fell into Donovan Travis’ hands in the back of the endzone, helping Army avoid a quick hole.
Again, I was blocked and couldn’t get in position for the Travis pick. In fact, Army’s equipment guys (who produce hilarious youtube videos) wouldn’t even let me squeeze in at the 20 yard line when Army took over.
I dropped back behind the line and got Trent Steelman rolling over for a pass. The center field side of the field lacked bright lighting, so it created some shadows at times, as you can see here:
Army cruised down the field with option pitches and Steelman getting clutch third-down conversions. Pat Mealy and Brian Cobbs both had success with outside runs. I got a nice sequence of Mealy before getting slammed here, you can see his breath on the face visor:
Carlton capped the stalled drive with a field goal, and, much like last year’s defeat to Navy, that would be it for the Army offense.
Had to get my usual intense Jason Johnson portrait. One of my favorite players to shoot:
Getting faces and expressions arguably the most important aspect of sports photography. How about a dozen faces in one shot?
Shooting from the home plate endzone up helped avoid some of the crowds on the sidelines. It also kept Monument Park’s plaque in the background.
Stephen Anderson had his usual solid game, diving and hitting people on almost every play. “Fity” has a nose for the ball and led the cadets with 10 tackles.
I said earlier that Notre Dame just looked bigger and stronger. Army fans know that Mike Gann is among the team’s biggest bruisers. But…
I felt this image was stronger as a black-and-white:
The traditional “BEAT NAVY” chant is always muted and half-hearted after a rough loss. In reality, the Mids are now all Army will focus on for a few weeks.
I know some Army fans have been bent the wrong way when an opponent doesn’t stand with Army for the West Point alma mater. Well, Notre Dame was oblivious — they raced to the right field corner, Nick Swisher-ville so to speak, and went nuts with their fans. Things settled, briefly, when the Irish sang “Notre Dame Our Mother” before the South Bend crew erupted in celebration at the final moment of the song. Notre Dame is going bowling.
The aforementioned dark outfield lighting crept up and created some really neat lighting.
I saw this shot from across the field and ran over beneath this guy to snap it: the band leader, leading Notre Dame’s band in a victory march, the stadium facade and a full moon above:
Now, I have to admit, I’ve always liked Notre Dame, probably like a lot of American kids who grew up without a college football team, the Irish were sort of the default team to like (I have not since discovering West Point last fall). I was by no means a big Notre Dame fan — my dad was, and they were on TV every week, and that song… I can’t lie, I couldn’t wait to hear that fight song in person. My dad had/has that classic blue ND cap that Lou Holtz used to wear. I remember watching Ron Powlus growing up. I’m sure I had a ND hoodie as a kid. I was in the band in high school and college, and we actually played the Notre Dame victory song at high school football games. I shot the game from all angles, but it was really cool to stroll over to the ND sideline and hear that mammoth band pumping out that legendary tune in person, in that stadium, with the team surrounding me.
OK, enough gushing. I would love to some day go shoot or just take in a game at South Bend, but until then, this was a worthy experience, one I hope both programs will try to continue in the coming years. Army has several games scheduled at Yankee Stadium over the next few years, but none against the Irish. Army fans may not be eager to a) face Notre Dame too often or b) continue having home games relocated from Michie Stadium, but after being apart of the game Saturday, I think it’s a worthy tradition to keep alive.