Monday, November 19, 2007

Warm Memories of a Cold Day

Seeing the Carolina Panthers return to Lambeau Field to face Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers Sunday brought back some cold, yet fond memories of my former life as a newspaper photographer.
It was January of 1997 and the Panthers were an upstart expansion team that had fought their way to the NFC Championship game. I made the trip to Green Bay with fellow Charlotte Observer staffers Jeff Siner and Bob Leverone.
The conditions in Green Bay were brutal as a strong breeze combined with freezing temperatures put the wind chill at 22 degrees below zero. (That's cold!)
I remember we were still shooting film in those days and I had to change the batteries in my Nikon F5 at halftime as the conditions caused them to drain very quickly. Loading and unloading film in three camera bodies was no picnic either as we fought with many layers of clothes, gloves and the hand-warmers in our pockets.
Leverone, now a staff photographer with The Sporting News, did his usual stellar job on the action and Siner edited the photos in a trailer behind Lambeau.
The Panthers gave a good fight but were outclassed in a 30-13 loss. Green Bay went on to defeat New England in the Super Bowl.
The Panthers had nothing to be ashamed of as they had gone farther than most anyone had expected.
Linebacker Sam Mills perhaps best signified the overachieving team. Mills was an undersized middle linebacker who gave his all on every play.
I ran onto the field after the game and Packer receiver Andre Rison gave Mills a quick pat on the helmet to recognize his effort. I was right on top of Mills with a wide-angle lens and caught the moment.
Siner and the editors back at the Observer selected the photo for the front page because it summed up the feeling of loss felt by the Panthers and their fans.
Mills was a class guy who was later diagnosed with intestinal cancer. He inspired the team on its run to the 2004 Super Bowl as he continued coaching during his cancer treatments.
Mills died in 2005 and there is a statue of him outside of the Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
The Panthers trip to Green Bay this year didn't go much better as they lost Sunday and this season looks pretty much shot as they fell to 4-6 on the year.
It also made me glad that I didn't spend the day watching the game. My buddy John called and we got in 18 holes of golf on a beautiful, warm fall afternoon.

Andre Rison, left, and Sam Mills

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