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Sports commentary: Life on the sidelines

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Some tips for surviving on the fringes of the gridiron

By Mike Forster

 It’s football season, and that means I’m on the sidelines.

I’m not sure it’s the best place from which to cover a game.  It is, however, certainly the best place to get your action photos.

I’ve tried getting such shots from the warm cocoon that is the press box.  It just doesn’t cut the mustard.

I’ve tried getting them from the concession stand.  There, you have a different problem, also involving mustard.

So, every Friday night, I’m positioned on the side of the gridiron.  Or in the end zone.

I figure now is as good a time as any to share some perspectives from that vantage.

First,  safety is of the utmost.  Safety is translated as:  Avoiding getting overrun or upended during a play.

The last thing you want to do is be featured on some Friday night highlights show as the dude who got nailed on a jet sweep.

The same dude that they run backwards and in slow-motion sailing through the air.

What they don’t show is you being carted off the field by the Moneta Rescue Squad.

The potential for injury is high because:  a) the players are 1/3 your age, b) they are in 10 times better shape, c)  you lack the protective gear in which the players are encased and d) you haven’t taken a hit like that in decades.

The risk is hard to avoid, though.

Since the idea is to get interesting photos, you have to capture the action.  Ideally, that action is coming toward you.

Unfortunately, since you are looking at the flurry of activity through a zoom lens, it is very easy to lose perspective.  

You know that statement that is printed on your car’s side view mirror?  “Objects are closer than they appear.”

That should also be stamped on my camera.

Second, danger does not come strictly from the field of play.  

There are guys on the sideline hitting each other, passing to one another and loosening up.  You have to avoid getting nailed by one of them, as well.

Though not as serious a threat (nor as potentially video-funny should it happen) a sideline encounter can still do damage to your corpus as well as to your ego.

Third, you must prepare yourself to deal with the referees.  For the most part, they are a decent lot.  You do, however, encounter the occasional martinet who feels he is, literally,  the field marshal.

Typically, though, they’re there to do a job and understand you have one to do as well.  If they say you need to get behind a certain line, you do so and march on. 

The key here is, you don’t want to cause a scene.  Rule number one:  Don’t become part of the story.

Fourth, you need to be in the right spot.  This involves predicting the future, so that you are there to have a chance at getting a good photo.

So I ask you, who do you think has a better feel for where a play might go?  An offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator or me?

The fact that we run a lot of photos of kids in the stands and “artful” still-life shots of footballs and helmets might give you the answer to that one.

Fifth, you have to deal with your brethren in the media.

As with the referees, the vast majority of media folk are decent types, at least to me, anyway.

There is, nonetheless, the occasional turd in the punch bowl: The guy who thinks he’s going to finally nab that Pulitzer for his coverage of the Byrd-Staunton River game.

I recall one such session.  It happened a couple of years ago.  

After a Liberty game, I went out to interview Minutemen Head Coach Chris Watts.  Win or lose, Watts is always gracious about hanging around at midfield to meet the reporters.

I started asking him a couple of questions when another reporter, from one of the daily papers, approached and physically got between the coach and me.

I know it’s childish, but I didn’t care if this guy was from The New York Times.  He wasn’t getting away with that.

So, I reinserted myself, gently elbowing this fellow.

For rest of the interview, two middle-aged guys jostled one another while Watts answered questions, one eyebrow cocked at this inanity.

But, hey.  That’s life on the sidelines for you.