You know all those sideline photographers you see at every sporting event, the ones packed in along the end zones or covertly crouched behind the baskets, eyes locked on the action while desperately hoping to not get trampled? That’s how Craig Melvin (Photography, '78) spends most of his calendar year.
Over the past 25 years, Melvin has traveled across 25 countries on assignments for ESPN, The Sporting News, USPRESSWIRE, Playoff trading cards and more. In summer of 2005, one of those assignments paid off in a big way when Melvin learned that one of his photos had been selected as the winner of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 37 th Annual Photo Contest.
The news came during a typically hectic day. Says Melvin, “[I was flying] home from L.A. on Saturday night (following a shoot for WWE star John Cena’s “Bad, Bad Man” video) because I had to pack for a ten-day road trip beginning Monday at Madison Square Garden, then nine more days in seven cities from Berlin to Dublin and the U.K, ending in Newark.”
Groggy and unprepared when the phone rang, Melvin found it hard to believe that Saleem Chaudry from the Pro Football Hall of Fame was on the other line – especially since Melvin had never entered a photo contest in the first place. But the call turned out to be legitimate, and once Melvin’s head cleared, he was even more surprised to discover which of his images had earned him the kudos.
“The actual image was shot on November 6, 2004,” says Melvin. “ St. Louis Rams at Buffalo Bills. The Bills were up by 17 points and, early in the second half, I knew St. Louis quarterback Mark Bugler would be throwing the ball. I sat back in the end zone and the light was fading, already 1000 asa, I was shooting at 1/1000 at f 2.8 with the Canon EOS 1D Mark II and the Canon 400 2.8.
“It was third down and 1. St. Louis was driving and I thought I would sit in the end zone [for] one more down to see if they made the first down or not, [and] then I would move. Bulger floats this high pass under pressure (I was behind him, hoping he would be sacked), and it was almost as [if] Nate Clements and Isaac Bruce were in slow motion as I was right on them and fired three frames. I knew it was a nice image and transmitted it post-game. I never saw it used anywhere.”
But The Pro Football Hall of Fame saw the photo – along with nearly 600 other images in competition -- which resulted in Melvin’s own trip to the Hall’s enshrinement ceremonies this past August to receive the David Boss Award of Excellence for Picture of the Year.
“I know that is [a] once-in-a-lifetime award,” says Melvin. “I'm very honored that they selected it. When I found out who the judges were, one of them [Tony Tomsic from Cleveland] had a major influence on me. I told him years ago that my older brother wallpapered four of his posters (from NFL Properties) to my bedroom wall when I was a kid. He is a great photojournalist, and an even better person.” (Tomsic is recovering from triple bypass surgery at the time of this writing.
However, lest the sporting world think a national award has gone to Melvin’s head, he’s quick to defuse that logic. “Contests are very subjective,” Melvin insists. “I can think back to six killer NFL action images I've shot for trading cards during the past decade that blow that picture away.”
Not that he’s complaining.