Dream assignment

Published 9:02 am Friday, October 21, 2011

Franklin’s Frank Davis made it to FedEx Field early Sunday for his photography debut at an NFL game. He captured the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles on film. -- SUBMITTED

Washington quarterback Rex Grossman (8) feels the heat of Philadelphia’s pass rush. Grossman was benched after throwing four interceptions. -- Frank A. Davis | Tidewater News

LANDOVER, Md.—As a little boy growing up in the Alleghany Mountains of western Virginia, one of the great treats from my father was an annual trip to the nation’s capital for a Washington Redskins game.

His best friend had a son about my age, and the four of us would catch a train early Sunday morning for the trip. Since both men were employees of the then-C&O Railroad, they were able to get us free passes to ride on the train.

During those years, the Redskins played in Griffith Stadium. At that time, one could walk up to the ticket booth on game day and buy a ticket for a fairly good seat.

No sports contest is complete without a hot dog. During the game, dad would buy a hot dog or two. It was called a “red hot.” The hawkers would go through the stands selling them — and throwing wrapped hot dogs to hungry fans.

This exposure at an early age to football somehow led me down a road to sports photography, which is a great love in my life.

For many fans like me, the weekend is spelled “FOOTBALL.” On Friday it’s off to a high school game, followed on Saturday with a college game. On Sunday, I become a couch potato who spends many hours flipping channels on the television to keep up with the action in many games across the United States.

Having been a photographer for The Tidewater News for many years, I have found that the best seat in the house for football is on the sidelines. That’s where you are up close and personal with the game and the action. And if you are not careful, you could be a part of the action, as a play leaves the field and enters into the media area of the sidelines.

Looking at NFL games on TV I would always wonder, What would it be like to shoot a pro game?

Hampton Roads native Michael Vick looks for a receiver. -- Frank A. Davis | Tidewater News

That opportunity came on Sunday, Oct. 16, for the big rivalry game between the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.

By 9:30 a.m., thousands of Redskin fans were assembling at FedEx Field for the 1 p.m. game. Tailgaters already had their grills fired up, and many enjoyed the warm, early-morning sun as they ate and drank their favorite beverages to get prepared to enter the stadium at the proper time.

Some fans were already assembling at various gates to be ready to enter the stadium at the first opportunity.

Upon entering the stadium, I observed members of the Redskin band assembling, and the cheerleaders were also present.

But my first priority is to go on the field and find out what photographers can and can’t do at an NFL game.

Another photographer on the field gave me the rundown of the rules and, to my surprise, you could go anywhere on the field but the players’ area, where I routinely go during high school and college games.

My next task was to find the press room and, of course, the hospitality room, where there should be some food.

The Washington Redskins cheerleaders shake pink pom-poms in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. -- Frank A. Davis | Tidewater News

After walking great distances through the inner layers of the stadium, I found both rooms. Upon entering the hospitality room, I wondered what they would feed the media. Knowing that many colleges and universities go to great lengths to lay out a full meal for journalists, I was expecting a big-time spread for a pro game.

To my surprise, upon removing the cover of the food warmer, I found … hot dogs.

Being a hot-dog lover, this was fine by me, even at 11 a.m. on a Sunday.

After eating, it was almost game time, and it was back to the field for the pregame activities. On the field’s perimeter, there were hundreds of fans who had pregame field passes. Players for both teams were on the field warming up, and the spectators had cameras, shooting everything.

As the clock ticked down, the fans were removed from the field, and it was almost kickoff time.

The Redskin band came on the field, performed a show and quickly exited as the teams returned to the field for kickoff.

Being more of an Eagles fan, my main target for the day was Mike Vick.

The Eagles won 20-13 in a game that didn’t seem nearly as close as the score indicated.

Vick had a good day as he completed 18-of-31 passes for 237 yards and rushed for 54 yards. On one of his runs, after being chased to the sidelines, Vick almost hit me.

Michael Vick apologizes for kicking a practice ball from the sidelines toward the Redskin's cheerleaders. -- Frank A. Davis | Tidewater News

As he tried to slow down, there was a Redskin practice football in his path. Vick kicked the football, and it almost hit a Redskin cheerleader. Upon hearing boos from the fans, Vick placed his hand on his heart to offer an apology for his actions — a golden moment for me as I snapped away.

For the Redskins, it was a bad day. Quarterback Rex Grossman was pulled from the game after throwing four interceptions.

In retrospect, shooting a pro game wasn’t much different than shooting a high school or college game. There are just more media to battle with for choice locations on the sidelines. And the TV cameramen take the best locations, even if it is right in front of you.