The Classic Football Photo: A ‘Life Moment’

Burt Reynolds captured in a perfectly awful college football photo. Mine are worse.

These two photos, taken my junior and senior years in high school, illustrate my point. One’s flat out of focus.

There was a time in my life when the annual posing for the football photo was all consuming. I–and many like me–would pose for hours in front of a mirror, or not in front of a mirror, trying to get that action pose down to perfection.

No matter how we put the edge on that pose, however, it was all up to the photographer how it came out. The photographer was all-too-often a local amateur whose family had given him a Nikon A1 for Christmas the previous year and he was still learning how to use it.

I played halfback (runningback now) and quarterback (tailback in a single wing) when I was a kid, which meant I could pose doing the Heisman Trophy lean or the Johnny Unitas passer. I did both. Each came out awfully, one not even in focus. But we got one shot at it and no matter how perfectly we executed the pose, we were dependent on the photographer to get it right.

This photo, safely without action, worked (even though the uniform was filthy).

I was reminded of all this when I saw that god-awful Burt Reynolds/Florida State pose this morning in a eulogy of him. Here’s a guy in a big-time program, doing his halfback cut and the photographer standing (or stooping) so far away that Reynolds’ image is less than 20 percent of the photo. The picture is taken at a time of day when a dark, steep shadow falls to the photographer’s right. It all looks ridiculous and amateurish for both Reynolds and the photographer.

But compare it to the photos of moi. They just look stupid and my mind’s legacy as football player (which has always been overblown) took and continues to take a shot in the gonads. The photos are embarrassing, so I feel the need to hide them.

The one exception for me is the photo the local newspaper in Avery County, N.C., took the morning after a game, when I’d done OK. Problem was, my uniform hadn’t been washed and I looked like a crew-cut 10-year-old fresh off a game of marbles.

For these reasons, although I am a pretty good photographer, I have always refused any offer (financial or otherwise)  to take team and individual sports photos that didn’t involve my family. Ain’t doin’ it. Ain’t traumatizing those kids.

I did take photos of my daughter and son playing soccer and lacrosse. I even made Evan look like an all-American lacrosse player because still photography allows that. But it doesn’t always happen, especially when the photographer has little idea what he’s doing.

You wonder what happened to Burt Reynolds? This damn photo happened to him.

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