Sometime in December, Sam Maller, the photo editor at the Daily Orange, asked me if I would be willing to shoot a story on the Syracuse Marching Band’s trip to the Super Bowl.
"Does that mean that I will be going to the Super Bowl?" I asked.
He did in fact already have press credentials ready to go, and the only reason he wasn’t taking the story himself was because he would be photographing the Syracuse/Duke game the night before. Fair enough.
Fast forward to the morning of Monday, February 3, and my story is being printed as I sleep for the first time in 28 hours. The story focused on the Marching Band’s road to the Super Bowl, and it can be seen here.
My experience, however, is as follows:
After watching the Duke game with my father and celebrating Syracuse’s victory with him afterwards, I got into bed around midnight. I woke up two and a half hours later to go to the Carrier Dome where the Marching Band was loading their instruments onto a truck. I had been to a few practices before the weekend, but they weren’t quite comfortable with me shoving a camera in their faces - especially at 3 o’clock in the morning.
On the bus, I got some pretty lousy sleep - if you can even call it sleep. But I did get a couple of nice early-morning photos of the band sleeping in pre-dawn light. It occurred to me how used to these bus rides the band members are. I was sitting next to the baton-twirler, and she told me that she had been twirling since she was four years old. Most of these kids had been taking bus rides like this at least since they were in high school. That’s also when I realized how important this game was for them. It would be the last performance for many of the senior’s band careers. Although a bit clichéd, “Once in a lifetime” became the theme of the entire story. Come editing time, I would stand behind it as a headline for the story.
After practice at Rutgers, another theme became incredibly clear throughout the day: “Hurry up and wait.” It was almost comical how they had planned to shuttle 400 kids to multiple stops along the way to the Super Bowl to feed the band, get them credentialed and prepared for their police escort. The band kids will be the first to admit that they are a pretty goofy bunch, but I had never realized how downright funny they are. I was with the drumline and the color guard for most of the trip, and they were constantly cracking loud, usually raunchy jokes among the likes of policeman, Super Bowl officials and conductors. They fed off of each other’s enthusiasm and I don’t think that it was caused by game day hype.
Once at the Super Bowl, excitement was at an all time high. These kids don’t just have a pride in the colors they wear on their uniforms. They are really good at what they do – there is a reason they were chosen to play at the Super Bowl. After finishing their warm ups and tuning, they continued playing songs in the parking lot with incredible enthusiasm. I even started feeling proud for being an Orangeman, and anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I am not the biggest sports fan – I haven’t been in the Otto’s Army student section since Freshman year.
The next “hurry up and wait” moment came when we were ushered into the tunnels of MetLife Stadium. The band had quieted down as we were surrounded by security and Super Bowl support staff. Somebody said “excuse me” after I stepped in front of them to take a photograph. I stepped aside and ignored their presence, still shooting. A passerby informed me that I had just cut off Kevin Bacon on his way through the tunnels.
At the mouth of the field we were able to catch glimpses of the refs on their way to the locker rooms as the Seattle kickers were finishing their warm-ups on the field. You could feel the crowd from where we were standing, not just from their cheers, but from the enormous presence of 80,000 people buzzing around a field that I happened to be standing on. Before I knew it, we were sprinting onto the field. I was surrounded by professional photographers with enormous 400 mm lenses and tan vests. They were surrounding some dude in a ridiculous fur jacket – later I found out that he was an old Jets quarter back who did the coin toss. Again, I’m not the biggest sports fan. Sorry, not sorry.
The sound that exploded from the band was nothing short of amazing. My description in the Daily Orange about their notes overtaking the crowd was an understatement. I have never photographed in a more pressured situation. I quickly realized that I would not have the luxury of time to shoot like I did during their practices, I could only nail a couple of shots. All of the sudden they were sprinting off the field, I found myself smiling in awe of what I had just been able to photograph. While this was a once in a lifetime experience for the band, I hope to find myself at the Super Bowl again, except next time with the luxury of being able to photograph the actual game.
On the bus ride home, I had one of those great reaffirming moments where I knew that this is what I want to be doing. The members of the band had allowed me into one of the most important part of their lives. Phrases along the lines of, “I get to tell my kids that I performed at the Super Bowl,” were muttered all the way home. I got to challenge myself to photograph their journey and witness an emotional roller coaster of a day. Most importantly, I have been thanked by many of the band members personally, even though most of them didn’t get their faces in my final take. It was well worth the late night edit.