Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NFL Picks Week Twelve: My Night As A Sideline Photographer...'s Assistant

So there was an amusing bit of irony last week in that I said I was not, in fact, following Eli Manning wherever he goes around the country. This was because my plans for the Giants game, for the very first time this season, involved sitting on my couch with a beer, wearing quite possibly just my underwear, and relaxing in front of my HDTV.

Then on Saturday night, something unexpected happened. My friend and fellow Israel travel buddy Brian Garfinkel, who accompanied me and some friends to see the Knicks and 76ers last year back when they actually played basketball, offered a particularly exciting proposition. See, Brian has a pretty exciting Sunday occupation in that he's a sideline photographer for the Philadelphia Eagles. Every week he gets to be one of those guys on the sidelines with a tan vest on taking one picture after another through an absolutely enormous telephoto lens, and sometimes when he travels he can scrounge up an extra press pass for an assistant. Approximately 22 hours before kickoff, knowing that I am bigger Giants fan than is healthy, he sent me a text message and asked if I wanted to be his assistant for the night. I found a way to make it work despite having to be in the office Sunday, and when I arrived at (ugh) "MetLife Stadium" there was Brian waiting for my with my press pass.

I have one previous experience working at an NFL game, a Bears-Seahawks game in Chicago five years ago where I was exclusively in charge of setting the play clock after each down (side note: don't ever trust that play clock when watching on TV), and spent the entire game in a truck where the production was happening. Never before had I spent a night working on the sidelines. I figured it would be a pretty wild to see the players that up close and indeed we were close. As you can see from this shot I took on the first offensive play of the game, we were only a few yards from the action at any given time.

The interesting thing is that watching from such a low angle makes football, well, very difficult to watch. As people who generally watch from the stands or on television, most of us are used to seeing the players spread out rather than bunched together. As a result, what we can see from the naked eye at that angle can look sort of like a total visual cacophony. Brian's a little better than I am, however, what with him being good enough to get paid for it and all. As a result, while my pictures, at their best, looked like this, his pictures look like this. He's really good, you see. And if I learned anything Sunday night it's that the job is not easy. Not even a little.

Most of my help involved carrying around cameras for Brian, and periodically running memory cards to the photo room for him, though, amazingly, most cameras were equipped with the ability to transmit those photos directly to another photographer in the photo room for uploading and editing, so if the stadium you're in happens to have a properly function wi-fi network or G4 or something else technological that I really didn't understand, transmitting photos is a snap. Amazingly, when I asked Brian after the game ended if it would take him a while to get the photos up on the site, his answer was, "They're already up there."

In addition, these guys are in pretty good shape. My entire lower half has been sore for the three days I've had to walk around since being on the sidelines. In addition, my knees were absolutely killing me 30 minutes after we started kneeling on the sideline. Brian always does his job while wearing a set of knee pads he bought at Home Depot for, he says, $10 or so. It looks kind of goofy, but it doesn't take long for you to realize why the extra padding is necessary.

Friday, November 18, 2011

NFL Picks Week Eleven: I'm Actually Staying In New York This Weekend

I know that the past two weeks might have given you the indication that I'm just a traveling road show intent on trailing Eli Manning to whatever he chooses to go. I suppose, considering that the Giants are home this weekend, it doesn't really break that trend, but I assure you I'm done traveling. At least for the forseeable future. I'll prove it next week when the Giants go to New Orleans. In any event, I am back from San Francisco and while the Giants couldn't pull out a victory for me, I still had a good time, managed to knock two more teams off the list, saw several old friends and met some very interesting characters in the airport while waiting for my redeye.

They were, in order, the 45-year-old Giants super fan who traveled around the country to see them each weekend even though she lives in Florida. She was easily the most sane and easy-going of the bunch. Next was the 26-year-old from Florida, who was already drunk when she sat down, told us about her pseudo-ex-boyfriend and geriatric next door neighbor who brought her cookies at the most inconvenient times and who offered to give me xanax and aderall for the ride home. I declined. Finally, there was the girl who told us about how her ex-boyfriend once sent her a lifesize ice sculpture of Buddy Christ because he once accidentally called her "Jerry" during sex and then tried to cover it up by calling her "Jesus".

So yeah. Those are the fun people you meet when you're waiting for your redeye.

Also, there was a football game and a hockey game, which were a pretty good time, and at some point I'll have a more succinct and fully thought out writeup of those two events, but if I can give you any advice on attending either a San Jose Sharks or a San Francisco 49ers game in the future, it will be these items.

A) Go see the Sharks. San Jose was shut out 3-0 by Phoenix the night I was there which was a bit of a drag, but it was still a great atmosphere and the building is really tremendous for one that is almost 20 years old. Also, even the zambonis have fins.

B) If you ever plan on going to a 49ers game while they are still at the Stick, I suggest, urge, caution, warn, scream from the tree tops, etc, that you do not drive a car to the game. If there is a mass transit option available to you, and there are some, do not under any circumstances not use them. The reason for this is two-fold. The first is that you won't have to pay the $30 it takes to put your car in a vacant dirt-and-gravel lot. The second is that getting out of the Candlestick parking lot, given the stadium's location, takes about two hours, to say nothing of the pain in the ass that is parking their in the first place.

It's almost as if the city of San Francisco said in the late 1950s, "Let's find the most remote, worst possible location in our city for 80,000 people to shuttle in and out with ease, and let's put a football stadium there." And true to form, they did just that, putting the stadium on a relatively small parcel of land that juts out into the bay and basically has only one exit point. Getting out is just plain super.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NFL Picks Week Ten: So I'm Just Following The Giants Around the Country Now

Alright, I must be honest and admit that I may have dropped the ball on you kids. When I say I dropped a ball, I of course don't mean literally. I'm as sure handed as Rey Ordonez circa 1999. Instead I didn't plan my time out too well and as a result I have very little time to appropriately write a blog entry in anticipation of my trip to San Francisco this weekend.

Yep, that's right. I'm on the move again. A week after jetting up to Boston for the unbelievably exciting adventure that was the Giants at the Patriots, I am now taking a slightly longer route to see Big Blue as I head to the Bay Area to watch them visit the 49ers Sunday morning. Of course, one of the keys to doing all of this relatively quickly is to do multiple teams in one trip if at all possible -- and this weekend it's possible. Not only will I be checking the 49ers off the list Sunday morning but I will also be in the stands for Saturday night's game in San Jose between the Sharks and the Coyotes, my first ever visit to HP Pavilion, also known as the Shark Tank.

The Niners play in Candlestick Park, which apparently is also known as "awful", but I'm still pretty excited for it, the Sharks, and the surprisingly large number of friends I'll be able to meet up with over a trip that amounts to about 55 hours.

It's all about planning.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

So, Uh, That Might Have Been The Best 30 Hours Of My Life

Suffice it to say that I did not make it any secret that I was pretty excited about going to New England this weekend to see the Giants face the Pats. It's a game I had been looking forward to for about four years and not only did it cross a team off my list of 122, but it wound up being of pivotal importance for both New York and New England. It would have been high demands to expect this game to deliver on absolutely every way that you would want it to, and it certainly couldn't live up to the last time these two played a serious game of football, but I had high expectations.

Unfortunately, the scheduling of this weekend's game came with one unfortunate catch. Saturday was the first time ever that Northwestern would be visiting it's recently anointed Big Ten brethren in Nebraska, and I was oh so interested in watching -- and possibly attending -- the game. But these two games being on the same weekend presented some challenges. For one, attending a football game in Nebraska and then immediately flying from Lincoln to Boston before heading back to New York would be exhausting. For another, it would be crazy expensive. As a result, I resolved that a reasonable solution could be worked where I simply stayed in New York to watch NU vs. NU with my friends before taking a bus to Boston either Saturday evening or Sunday morning.

But then the New York marathon just had to happen on the exact same weekend. And NU-NU had to be put in the afternoon time slot. Grumbles all around. In the end I accepted that the best answer was to take an early bus on Saturday with my friend Frankie, who would be attending the game with me, and simply watch Northwestern at a sports bar or Frankie's friend's apartment upon arriving in Boston. This was scuttled when Frankie and his friends wanted Chinese food and his friend didn't have cable.

After a flurry of text messaging and ESPN iPhone app reloading, I made it abundantly clear that not only was Northwestern somehow leading No. 10 Nebraska on the road but that I needed to find some way to watch somehow. Eventually, an online stream filled the void, and while I was wistful that I wasn't there in person or watching at a bar with any NU alums, I was bouncing off the walls most of Saturday night after the Wildcats stunned the Huskers 28-25 in their first ever conference visit to Lincoln. It was a hell of a start to the trip, and all I could think to myself was, "I don't know that this could really get better."

Silly me.

Friday, November 4, 2011

NFL Picks Week Nine: I'm Reliving The Greatest Night Of My Life Sunday

My friends, the date was February 3, 2008. Justin Bieber was not yet legal, Michael Jackson was not yet dead and the United States was still under the "leadership" of President George W. Bush. We were young. Naive. We didn't know just how good life could be.

And then it happened.

I sat in my basement on that incredible night with 10 close friends and watched as the New York Giants, the first team I ever cared for, the first love I ever had, the team that had broken my heart with one painful loss after another over the previous 15 years, pulled off the greatest upset in NFL history, against the greatest team in NFL history in the most dramatic fashion humanly possible. Super Bowl XLII was everything I thought it could be and more, and if you read this blog with any frequency you know just how amazing a moment it was for me. Congratulations came in from old friends -- and exes -- ranging as far away as California and Australia.

Any bad memory I ever had related to the Giants was forgotten. Gone was the 1997 postseason collapse against Minnesota. Gone was Emmitt Smith's brilliant division-clinching win in overtime with a separated shoulder. Gone was the brutal postseason drubbing to San Francisco in 1994. Gone was the blown 24-point lead against those same 49ers in the playoffs eight years later. Gone was Jay Feely's three missed field goals against Seattle. Gone was Mathias Kiwanuka's missed sack of Vince Young and a 21-point lead that evaporated in less than 10 minutes. Gone was Super Bowl XXXV.

All of it had been superceded, overwhelmed and replaced by the greatest win in the history of the franchise. The pain was worth it. The joy was that good. There was nothing that could replace the moment that was Eli's thrilling last-minute drive, David Tyree's helmet catch, Plaxico Burress' end zone touchdown. Nothing could replace 18-1.

I bring this all up now because, some of you might have noticed, that there have been a lot of Super Bowl rematches this season. In fact, a shockingly large amount. Of the 45 Super Bowls that have been played 20 of them will be rehashed this year. Given the amount of Super Bowls that have been played, some rematches are inevitable, but 20 is an awful lot. And none of them will be bigger than this Sunday's showdown at Gillette Stadium between the Giants and Patriots.