Friday, December 23, 2011

Travel Blog: NFL Week 15 - NFC West Double Dip

Travel Blog: NFL Week 15 - NFC West Double Dip
December 17-19, 2011
By Andy Lopusnak/

In a rarity, I worked Sunday in St. Louis for CBS as a statistician and then Monday covered the Steelers-49ers game in San Francisco as a photographer. This is just the second time I’ve done the Sunday-Monday double dip with both times ending with a 49ers game on Monday Night Football. The last time was in almost two years ago to the day when I covered the Bengals-Vikings then the Cardinals-49ers.

In an oddity, both games featured teams from the NFC West and the AFC North. The winning team has scored 20 points in both contests.

This was just my third trip to the Gateway City to cover an NFL game and fourth overall. The first was the weekend of the 1999 NFC Championship game when the Rams beat my hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-6 to advance to Super Bowl XXXIV. I still claim that Rickey Proehl bobbled the game-winning touchdown and didn’t have control until he stepped out of bounds.

My other NFL visit was Week 17 of the 2004 season when the Rams beat the New York Jets 32-29 in overtime. That game, St. Louis QB Marc Bulger tossed for 450 yards with three scores.

I’ve been to St. Louis one other time and that was for the 2009 men’s basketball Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship that Northern Iowa (Kurt Warner’s alma mater) won 60-57 to advance to the NCAAA tournament. That trip was my first to the St. Louis in my digital photography era. It was the first time I traveled to the top of the Arch and took photos of the city – I did that again this time.

The clouds were great for this trip and I was able to get images from Illinois looking across the mighty Mississippi at St. Louis. Last time, there was construction at that side of the river and no one was allowed where you get the great shot of the arch with the old courthouse in the middle.
After crossing back into Missouri and checking in at the trucks, I paid the $10 to go to the top of the arch and get aerial photos of the baseball and football stadiums as well as downtown. It’s worth it if you get a chance. However, if you claustrophobic, you might not want to go because the inside tram is tiny and they force five people into the crammed space. It’s also very noisy, rickety and hot. Other than that, it’s fantastic with an amazing view.

The CBS hotel was the Marriott inside Union Station. They gutted the old train station and made it into a mall and it’s very cool. It looks great outside and in. Sadly, the outside fountains were off because of the winter. There’s just something about Missouri and fountains. Kansas City is the fountain capital of the Americas with more spewing water displays than any city in either North or South America. The last two times I was in KC it was also winter, so no go for fountain shots there. It’s disappointing because the displays in both Show Me State cities are quite amazing.
After a great, but chilly day of shooting, I found out that there would be no CBS meeting and I drove the five-hour round trip from St. Louis to Jefferson City to add my 32nd state capital to my collection. Luckily, the Avis rental car had XM radio so the drive really wasn’t that bad. Jefferson City is truly in the middle of nowhere like many state capitals. It’s a domed rotunda like most capitals. Nothing spectacular, but it’s one less on my list.
I downloaded a US map and colored in the 32 and it reaches coast-to-coast but there’s some huge gaps, especially in the upper part of the country. I don’t see Idaho, Maine, Vermont, West Virginia and the Dakotas being a possibility anytime soon since there’s no teams nearby that CBS covers (WVU is nowhere close to Charleston, WV). The NCAA Tournament returns to Omaha and if I get it, I’m going to try and add Iowa and Nebraska to the list. It looks likely I will be doing a college hoops game in Austin in January, so that will take the largest state in the continental U.S. off the board. Here’s a gander of the colored US map of state capitals I’ve photographed.
THE GAME: Cincinnati 20, St. Louis 13
I was bummed when I heard Sam Bradford wasn’t going to play as I wanted to add him to my Heisman Trophy winner and #1 draft pick gallery in uniform. I did get some snaps of him on the sideline in Rams gear. What was great was that the Rams wore their 1999 Super Bowl champion throwback uniforms and I got shots of Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk.
As for the game, it was quite boring with the teams trading field goals until the second half. Cincinnati rookie QB Andy Dalton reached the 3,000-yard plateu on the season to become just the fifth rookie to do so in league history. He joined Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Sam Bradford and Cam Newton in the exclusive club. The Bengals’ other rookie sensation, WR A.J. Green, extended his league lead in all receiving categories after grabbing six passes for 115 yards.
For this time lapse, I again set up my camera next to CBS’ beauty shot. Because this venue was rushed in its conversion from a convention center to a football stadium, there isn’t many spots for any camera positions. I was set up on the terrace level near section 419. My camera was of course locked down, but it was essentially out in the open. Luckily, CBS had another camera operator and NFL Films was nearby, so it was pretty safe.

In less than two seasons doing NFL time lapses, I’ve now done 11 NFC home venue sites, nine AFC and one neutral site (London). This year alone, I’ve added eight NFC sites (Arizona, Detroit, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, San Francisco and Washington) and just two AFC sites (NY Jets and Oakland). I’ve created different ones in Houston, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

THE GAME: San Francisco 20, Pittsburgh 3
This marked my second 49ers game this year shooting for Bay Area Sports Drive Magazine. The first was in the preseason before San Francisco surprised everyone en route to winning the NFC West. Both teams entered this game at 10-4. Traffic was horrible, so I parked at my mother-in-law’s house and took public transportation. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but after the game it was a nightmare as the buses were picking up the thousands of fans sporadically and I didn’t get home until nearly three hours after the final horn.

To make matters worse, the power went out in the stadium twice delaying the game by more than 40 total minutes. The game was a defensive slugfest for the first half before the 49ers pulled away thanks to three interceptions thrown by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger.
Overall, I’ve done seven 49ers games for BASD and San Francisco has won all seven. Maybe I should be on the sidelines in the postseason.
I’ve been slowly going through my over a million digital photos creating an online storage as well as a favorites gallery by year. Thursday morning, I was re-looking at my 11/15/2008 gallery of the Florida Gators’ game against South Carolina and stumbled upon a few of future Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. At the time, I had no idea who Newton was as he was a backup QB to reigning Heisman winner Tim Tebow. I went to the game because I was in nearby Jacksonville covering the Jaguars for CBS and got in because CBS was broadcasting the UF game. I briefly had sideline access and got maybe 10-15 total shots and this was one of them. I focused on Tebow, but for some reason got this of Newton.

Here’s a selection of my favorite shots from St. Louis and both games. Enjoy!

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