Fallen Football Hero: Behind a Shoot

by Steed Dropout
Feb. 21, 2014


A U.C. Berkeley football team trainer caught me at the steps to the team’s meeting room, where I was lurking, unauthorized, to get a shot of the team emerge for a memorial to a dead comrade. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Don’t target the team,” he cried.

“What a shot he would make,” I thought.

When I resumed my place scrunched between several photographers, I was told by a Cal athletic official, that unless I was press, I couldn’t shoot. I carried no press I.D. I was shooting with a peanut camera. I talked my way out of the official’s constraints. I had, almost accidentally, signed up with the event media co-ordinator.

Respectful distance. Photo by Ted Friedman.

A photographer from the SF Chronicle was arrayed with $20,000 worth of cameras and a big press I.D. A university photographer was using a tripod.

Still, I kept hearing the trainer’s tearful plea. “Don’t target….”

I dropped to the cold cement where I squirmed for a discreet shot of the grieving Cal Berkeley football team. Wasn’t that the money shot–young men crying?

The Chron photographer emerged from her place, stepped out in front of the players, held her camera near the players’ moist faces and shot. I remember a flash. Seeing her great shot the next day in the Chron., I had mixed feelings.

Not on the money. Photo by Ted Friedman.

No one had interfered with the Chronicle (they didn’t have a chance) and I had been spooked out of the money-shot. The money-shot is the most telling detail. And this explains why all cameras were on the dead man’s teammates.

Perhaps my squeamishness was rebuke for shooting a felled runner during Berkeley’s first-ever half-marathon. Weeks later, the runner died. The runner’s friends tried, understandably, to block my shot and I had been rude and insensitive. Taste issues prevent me from printing my response.

Falled hero, Ted Agu, #35. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Spooked or not, I managed a from-the-ground shot of a row of grieving players, but I avoided sticking a camera in their faces. Any self-righteous feelings I had mingled with remorse over not being photographer enough to step-up for the money-shot.

According to photographer friends, missing shots is a recurring nightmare for photographers. The more you shoot, the more regrets. Every photographer has a missed shot story.

Ghosts and shadows. Photo by Ted Friedman.

I was 19, on a summer stint on my home town paper in 1959, racing to the scene of a car that had left the highway and lodged in a tree-top. I whipped out my larger-than-a-bread-box Speed Graphlex raised the beast and snapped the shutter. No go, though. A free-lancer on the scene tried to help me but the dumb camera was frozen. He got the shot.

My memory of the car in a tree-top is as vivid as a restored film noir.

When I recall the grieving-players-shot, I see the Chronicle shot–an amazing feat of chutzpah. Another shot I didn’t get

Flowery goodbye. Photo by Ted Friedman.

I had shots of memorial stadium, shadows of the choir, and even shots down the stairwell of players huddled outside their team meeting, but a strangely muted shot of the grief-stricken players.

While congratulating myself for heeding the teary plea, “don’t target the players,” I can still see that car in the tree-top and I ask myself– after all these years–why all the remorse?

These views do not reflect the views of publications in which my work appears.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.