Saturday, September 03, 2011

No Flag on the Play

Back in 1987, I got to try my hand at sports photography for the first time. My newspaper, the El Reno Daily Tribune, had a sideline photo pass for Oklahoma State games, and that year I got to go. I think maybe I won a drawing.

I'd been shooting pictures on a regular basis as reporter/photographer, but that was mostly around town. Football, I quickly learned, was a whole different ballgame (pun intended).

1987 was a good year to cover Oklahoma State football. They finished 10-2 and won the Sun Bowl over West Virginia. The only blemishes on the record (and this will sound all too familiar to Cowboys fans) were losses to Oklahoma and Nebraska. That's how it was in the old Big 8 Conference. 

That OSU squad featured senior tailback Thurman Thomas, a future Hall of Famer, and a sophomore quarterback named Mike Gundy. Oh, and the backup tailback was a guy named Barry Sanders (more about him in a future post).

As I took my place on the OSU sideline, the first thing I realized was that these guys were huge. And fast. I'm 6-1, but I felt like a shrimp.

Did I have an auto-winder on my camera? No. Did I have a mono-pod to rest the camera on? No. It was just me, my Minolta, and a couple rolls of high-speed black and white film. My camera, an old Minolta SLR, was made entirely of metal, and it was heavy. And durable - I dropped it on the ground more than once, and all it did was make dimple in the ground.

Through trial and error, I learned to focus on a specific area and snap the picture when the play got there. If it did. It was an interesting challenge.

In the photo above, Thurman Thomas is slowed down by a Colorado player pulling on his facemask. The next player made the tackle. No flag on the play; evidently, the referees were the only people in the stadium who didn't see the facemask. In the background, you can see Mike Gundy (#12), then the Cowboys quarterback, and now their head coach. Oklahoma State fans will recognize the contours of the east end zone of what was then known as Lewis Field (now Boone Pickens Stadium). 

The no-call didn't factor into the outcome, as the Cowboys cruised over the Colorado Buffaloes 42-17 to run their record to 5-0.

Postscript: This photo ran in the Tribune; you can see the crop marks. I believe I was the only photographer at the game who caught this particular moment. The others took better photos, but I think I captured a rare moment.

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