Behind the Super Bowl: Cameraman Captures the Action on the Field
The Super Bowl is the year's most popular televised sporting event. Millions across the country will be watching today's game on TV sets in homes, as well as at Super Bowl parties and sports bars. Among the people responsible for bringing every riveting moment of the big game into the nation's living rooms will be dozens of national and local sports camera crews capturing every bone-crushing moment.
Among those cameramen (videographers), is Dan Pratt from ABC affiliate WTAE-TV 4 in Pittsburgh, Pa. Pratt has been a sports videographer for WTAE since 1984 and has covered some of the city's biggest sporting events and championship games. "I love sports and I always wanted to do sports on TV," he said. Pratt had dreams of becoming an on-camera sportscaster, but instead after losing his right eye when he was a child, decided to adjust his goals and hone his abilities as one of Pittsburgh's most experienced sports videographers.
This year, Dan will again be covering familiar territory, chronicling on videotape the Pittsburgh Steelers' quest for a record seven Super Bowl rings for the franchise.
Q. How many Super Bowls have you covered over the course of your career?
A. Four. The first one I did was in 1983 (XVII), the Dolphins and the Redskins; Super Bowl XXX in Phoenix when Dallas beat the Steelers; then Super Bowl XL in Detroit when the Steelers won, and finally Super Bowl XLIII.
Q. What was it like to cover your first Super Bowl ?
A. I learned to dress appropriately, because I had never been out to California and I was at the Rose Bowl and I had short sleeves on in the afternoon. But later, once the sun goes down and the wind blows off that mountain in Pasadena, it's awful cold. Also, I remember seeing thousands and thousands of people at the Rose Bowl ... and seeing one of the players, Fulton Walker make a phenomenal kickoff return. The game for me was phenomenal and overwhelming, and back then it was so crowded and we had video equipment that I had to carry that weighed about 40 pounds.
Q. Have you ever been hit by any of the players while videotaping from the sidelines?
A. The worst time was when I was in Miami for a scrimmage against the New Orleans Saints and someone ran our of bounds, I think a player from the Dolphins and I got tangled up and a huge defensive tackle from the New Orleans landed on me. It was not only embarrassing, but also I was sore as heck.
Q. What is it like on the field as the game is under way amid all the craziness and excitement?
A. Oh, it's unbelievable. Your heart's pumping like crazy during the opening kickoff and all the lights are flashing from the fans' cameras in the stands. Everyone is taking pictures during the opening kickoff. As a cameraman, you can never take a play off. You have no idea if it's going to be a high- or low-scoring game. You have to be ready and hopefully be in the right position, so that if there's a play that comes that changes the game, or wins the game, you want to have it. You don't want to be that guy that has to go to your reporter after the game, and you're the only field-level camera guy out there and he asks, "Did you get that play that changed the game?" and you have to say, "No, I missed it."
Q. How dangerous can it be for a cameraman covering the Super Bowl from the sidelines?
A. I think the NFL has now changed the way they credential the Super Bowl to make it safer and less crowded on the field sidelines. However, one of the first Super Bowls I did, I think it was Super Bowl XXX, there were too many media people on the field. A lot of times back then, you would have to stand there in one place for the whole game if you wanted to keep that spot. You couldn't go from one sideline to the other because there were so many media people.
However, the last two Super Bowls I've been to have been much easier to cover because there was a lot less congestion. Still, the adrenaline is flowing for all the media. There's more still photographers than videographers like me, and they're trying to get the best shot just like I am. Sometimes, it's tough, but I've learned how to do things where I'm able to get a great shot by being in just the right spot.
Q. What exactly do you, as a cameraman, have to do on Super Bowl game day?
A. We have so much news coverage. We were up on game day in Tampa in the morning from 5:30 to 10AM. Then, we started a pre-game show at 2PM before kickoff for two to three hours, where I'm running camera for our live shots outside the stadium. Perhaps, after someone relives me from that, then I'm responsible for getting some video shots of fans from Pittsburgh and then, of course, I have to do the game itself.
Once it's time for kickoff, it's almost like every other game in terms of doing the job right, as usual. You just don't want to miss a play. I always try to videotape every play, if it's possible. It's often a bit harder during the Super Bowl because there's more people on the sidelines, so you have to time it out and plan your moves during the plays to get the right angle, while hopefully not getting run over by a cart running up and down the crowded sideline.
Q. What's the best part for you covering the Super Bowl?
A. I'd have to say it's the game itself, because the days leading up to the game is a ton of work. The media day before the game is just a circus now. It's so huge and weird and there's just so many people around certain guys. You know that (Steelers quarterback) Ben Roethlisberger is gonna' have 150 people asking him stupid questions. I think the media day is now more for places like TMZ or MTV, but for the hard-core football people and the stations covering it, they're getting their stuff from the serious news conferences between the players and sports reporters on Wednesday and Thursday of game week.
The game itself is not "work." Anyone that does this job as a videographer, especially one that wants to shoot sports, is doing it for the love of being at the game. I've been lucky enough to do four Super Bowls, two Stanley Cups with Mario Lemieux, and a couple of national championships with baseball, so I've been lucky to cover some really big sporting events.
Q. What's it like to have the vantage point you have?
A. It's incredible. The average fan has no idea how violent the game can be. From where I am on the sidelines, you can see the players getting hit and the collisions that happen with the speed with which they happen... and the fans in the stands have no idea just how rough the game really is. That's the thing I appreciate about the players in the NFL.
A lot of fans may complain about professional athletes being paid too much. Maybe athletes in general may be paid too much, but not NFL players. When you see these guys get years taken off their lives because of the beatings they take on the field playing the game, that's something I appreciate and amazes me everyday. These guys are incredible athletes.
Q. You're originally from New England, so how difficult is it for you to cover this year's Super Bowl without the Patriots?
A. I've always been a New England fan and I'm a die-hard Red Sox fan. But, this Super Bowl I wanted the Steelers to go. There's nine guys on this Steelers defense this year who are going for their third Super Bowl ring, so that's pretty phenomenal. I've become friends with all of them and when you work with the players and the team, it changes your perspective a little bit.
I'm really happy for those guys. I really am.