Superbowl XLIV Was A Brees

The email simply said, “Welcome to the club.”

The attached PDF showed that my photo of New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and his son Baylen had made the cover of Sports Illustrated.

This game was something special. The Saints lifted the spirits of a region by defeating the favored Indianapolis Colts and future hall of fame quarterback Peyton Manning.

It was my eighth SI cover (second of Brees!), but first from a Superbowl. Sports Illustrated assigned 12 photographers to cover the game so it was an honor to get anything published – especially working with a crew of SI legends. We collectively shot over 27,000 images that night.

(Sports Illustrated director of photography Steve Fine, top left, poses with some of the photographers before the game. Back row: Simon Bruty, Walter Iooss, Jr., David Bergman, Heinz Kluetmeier, John W.  McDonough, Damian Strohmeyer, John Biever, Bob Rosato. Front row: Gary Bogdon, Al Tielemans. Not pictured: John Iacono, Peter Read Miller. Photo by Michael Zagaris.)

John Biever and Walter Iooss, Jr. are two of the four photographers who have covered all 44 Superbowls. The others are Tony Tomsic and Mickey Palmer, who were both at the game again this year.

Because we had so many shooters, we were all assigned photo positions ahead of time. Six shooters were on the field, four were in front row seats in the corners of the end zones, and two were higher up in the stadium.

I was given an end zone seat and shot 3,093 images with two Nikon D3 bodies.I put a 600 f/4 on a monopod and switched to the 200-400 f/4 (my favorite Nikon lens!) when the action got close. There wasn’t enough room for a second monopod, so I hand-held the other lens when I needed it.

I had easy access to my 24-70 because I put it in the cup holder.

(iPhone photo)

I was locked into that corner and no big plays came my way until the third quarter when Saints running back Pierre Thomas dove for a touchdown.

(Nikon D3, 200-400, ISO 4000, 1/1250 sec, f/4)

I was feeling good as Peyton Manning drove down the field late in the fourth quarter for what would have been a game-tying touchdown. He had to get into my end zone and was executing perfectly until he threw this pass:

(Nikon D3, 200-400, ISO 4000, 1/1250 sec, f/4)

I never thought that he would throw an interception to Tracy Porter, who ran 75 yards the other direction – straight away from me. I was able to get a shot of Manning vainly trying to make a tackle. He was simply pushed out of the way by Saints defensive end Will Smith.

(Nikon D3, 200-400, ISO 4000, 1/1250 sec, f/4)

I shot what I could, but I knew the best photos would be from the other side of the field.

(Nikon D3, 200-400, ISO 4000, 1/1250 sec, f/4)

Other than the third quarter touchdown, I didn’t think I’d have any chance of getting photos in the magazine. I assumed that Porter running down the field with his finger in the air would be the cover.

I was not in a great position for the post-game trophy ceremony either because the television angle had the players’ backs to me. When I saw Drew Brees bring his young son on stage, I shot whenever I could get a clear angle. As a father myself, I know how special it must have been for him to share this moment with his wife and baby.

Near the back of the podium after the ceremony was over, the Superbowl MVP lifted up his boy just like any father would do.

(Nikon D3, 600, ISO 2500, 1/800 sec, f/4)

The next night, David Letterman had Brees on his show and unveiled the SI cover. What Letterman said as they zoomed in on little Baylen summed it all up:

“That’s it. That’s why we play the game. That’s why we get out of bed every day.”