Sunday, December 11, 2005
I’d been meaning to photograph a game at Stanford for years when passing through the small community on my way to towns like Centerville, Geraldine, and games further north and west. I’d even stayed overnight at a local motel on a couple of occasions and ate my breakfast at the Wolves Den restaurant. The Stanford gridiron was no stranger to me either as I had stopped by a few times to look at the angles that might present themselves during any future home game. So finally in 2005, I decided to travel to Stanford when they hosted one of the two semi-final games in Montana Class C eight-man football. I was looking forward to the event.
Earlier in the season, I had overheard several Drummond fans praising Stanford’s hospitality at last year’s title game despite Drummond thumping the Wolves on their home field. Upon my arrival with family in tow for the 2005 semifinal game, the generous hospitality I had heard about appeared to be intact. We were told while paying admission that there was a tent set up by the school and they were serving free chili and brownies inside. The only thing that was unpleasant at that point was the steady cold wind blowing out of the north and west, but things would turn ugly for me by the second quarter.
As expected, the Drummond Trojans came to town and wasted no time in informing the Stanford Wolves football team and fans that the visitors’ undefeated record would remain intact on that day. By the end of the first quarter, it seemed pretty hopeless for Stanford and when Drummond scored two more times in the second quarter, the festive feeling of the day started to wane with the Stanford fans—albeit to different degrees.
During this second quarter, one of the Wolves starters came off the field and collapsed on the sidelines where I happened to be shooting—it didn’t seem serious as no one was attending him, but undoubtedly he was experiencing some pain.
Knowing pain and injuries are part of the game, I directed the camera at the injured player and tripped the shutter a couple of times. As I remember it now, I felt good about the images because the background was decent and from my angle his face couldn’t be seen nor his jersey number detected. Yet, a handful of soured Stanford fans behind me didn’t see it that way nor did one of their assistant coaches.
The first words I heard were something like, “Hey, you don’t need to take his picture.” I’m not sure if it came first from the fans behind me or the coach on the sidelines. Regardless, I addressed the coach first and told him that what I was shooting was part of the game. Simple as that.
“It’s part of the game, coach.”
I certainly wasn’t attempting to get the players full-blown anguish and pain by sticking the camera in his face. Nevertheless, that didn’t matter to the hecklers behind me who ratcheted up their banter another notch.
One yahoo in particular said, “How’d you like that camera shoved down your throat,” along with something like, “Keep it up and we’ll run your ass out of town,” from another.
I was slightly amused and surprised—definitely rattled at this point.
“Wow, a modern day lynch mob right here in Stanford, Montana,” I thought to myself.
I stood up, walked over to the goon who had threatened me and simply said, “Is that right?”
I made sure I was far enough from the fence line that he wouldn’t reach over in an attempt to smack me or take a swipe at the camera. Despite my perseverance to convince him that it was all part of the game—not just the action on the gridiron, he must have only seen me as an obnoxious paparazzi shooter. Insults continued to fly from him and his cronies. Finally, I was fed up with them and stepped back from the crowd and said, “As a matter of fact, you’re part of the game as well," and began to peel off a couple frames of Stanford’s peanut gallery.
The remainder of the game, I was very cognizant of those around me, especially when I left the sidelines, but no one bothered me after the second quarter encounter nor did anyone attempt to “run me out of town.”
Undoubtedly, this adventure in hostility illustrates that all it takes is a couple of bad apples to ruin one’s experience. Yet, I know this should not be grounds to generalize an entire community like Stanford.
In my home town of Powell, Wyoming, everyone around here talks about how friendly everyone is in town—as if there is no other town like it when it comes to such friendliness. And they say it with so much conviction and in such a way that you would rain on their parade if you were to challenge their claim. So, you let it go. Yet, this happens everywhere, doesn’t it? Every town—especially the small ones—believe they are slightly above the rest when it comes to warmth and friendliness.
But the truth is—for the most part—all of these small towns are warm and friendly; and in each of them probably lurks a few individuals that are capable of disproving such claims single-handedly. Like Powell, Wyoming, surely the good folks in Stanford, Montana think of their small community as warm and friendly, including the tough-talking peanut gallery at the football game.