That Night in 1985

I found this image of a Canon 600mm online, and it looks exactly like the one I used that night. It focused using knobs, like a telescope.
I found this image of a Canon 600mm online, and it looks exactly like the one I used that night. It focused using knobs, like a telescope.

Here are some of my reminiscences about a very significant moment in sports history, the infamous Ice Bowl football game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in 1985

Remembering it filled me with an odd sense of loss and regret, and here’s why: it seemed to us at the time that our goal was to photograph the game in spite of the weather, when, in fact, the weather itself was much more significant, particularly now when we look back on the moment. That moment wasn’t about a football game. We covered football games every week. That moment was about the coldest, meanest, messiest night out that 44,000 fans ever experienced.

It was so cold that cameras and lenses we carried via straps on our shoulders would get covered in freezing rain. At the breaks for quarters and halftimes, we walked up to the media area where we used blow dryers in the darkrooms to thaw our cameras and lenses.

Photographically, I was as green as I could get, having started my first full-time job as a news photographer for The Shawnee News-Star just a week earlier.

Working the game that night was unproductive, because of the ice, because of my inexperience, and because I was using a 1970s-era Canon 600mm f/4.5 with a Nikon adapter on it, lent to me by an Associated Press photographer. It was essentially junk, and at f/4.5, not nearly enough lens for the night game at Lewis Field. I have no memorable images from that memorable game.

When I get my time machine working (it’s really only missing a couple of hard-to-find vacuum tubes) and go back to that night, the game on the field would become very secondary. I think I would bring just a 28mm and a 180mm, leave the motor drives off the cameras (since the cold slowed them to a crawl), and concentrate on the icy experience of fans, coaches, and even us photographers.

That’s the rub, really: to see and understand what is meaningful and memorable when we photograph the moments of our lives. The game is what brought us to Stillwater, Oklahoma that night in November 1985, but the freezing rain, the cold, the wind — that was the memory.

4 Comments

  1. I think most of us had that same brain freeze that night. However, I do think the game was important as it was crucial to Oklahoma’s season. It was both the worst conditions to shoot in and the funnest at the same time.

  2. There was a tornado watch in western Oklahoma; a winter storm warning in central Oklahoma and a blizzard, wind, ice and snow advisory in eastern Oklahoma. All at the same time. Weirdest weather night I can remember.

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