WORSHAM: On the Ball
View from sidelines of LSU-Florida was a frightening one
For my first game as Tiger Rag editor, I pulled a Steve Kragthorpe and made the move from the booth to the field.
Of course, in Kragthorpe’s case, he wanted to be on the sideline to provide support to junior quarterback Zach Mettenberger. He came down to the field with a clipboard, but I brought something else: a camera.
That’s right, faithful readers, your new editor is something of a sports photographer, too. With my humble equipment, I forfeited my formal attire and customary seat in the press box for a pair of shorts, a green (and certainly not sweat proof) arm band, and 30 pounds of photography gear.
The results included a few very good photographs, many more awful ones, and a scheduled trip to the dermatologist for a gear bag-induced rash on my chest (no photos of that, be assured, but, to be honest, it looks like I just started a cycle of steroids). But the biggest takeways I brought back to Baton Rouge from a game on the sidelines were particular to this 2012 LSU football team.
On the sidelines, you see both more and less than you do from the press box. Up there, you get an eagle’s eye view of the game. The whole thing is crystal clear, ready to be transferred from brain cells to computer files and into the mass media for circulation. You see big picture, which is good for a journalist, because we deal in big picture ideas more often than not.
On the field, however, it’s an entirely different ball game. Sure, you miss a lot - I couldn’t tell you how often Florida stacked the box or when Zach Mettenberger missed an open receiver. I’ll have to review film for that. Instead, you get a much closer look at the game - and I’m not speaking in terms of aesthetics. As a photographer, you see the game as intimately as you can see it without playing in it - perhaps even more so, since your mind is free to simply observe.
You can listen, for example, to what the players are saying, or when their thoughts are elsewhere, like Russell Shepard yelling to his teammates before the game to “Forget Towson! Now it’s time to play real football.”
Down there, you can see what the players are seeing, like the incredible hunger in Kevin Minter’s eyes. For all the ground he covers, the guy never makes a sound on the football field. His communication , like his game, is all physical. While other players talk trash to the opposing team or argue with their teammates, Minter remains a silent assassin, letting his 20 tackles and leadership do all the talking for him.
You can also see how Les Miles communicates with his young players: like a teacher, always correcting. When Vadal Alexander missed an assignment on the Tigers’ third drive of the game, it was Miles who pulled him aside to indicate his responsibility was the five technique, not the inside man.
Even through the camera lens, you can see how physical SEC football is, where even a behemoth of Bennie Logan’s stature takes a beating not even Bane could handle, or where a standout recruit like Ronnie Fiest simply isn’t physically ready to hold the fort down at middle linebacker for LSU.
From the field, you can also hear what the players hear: 90,000 screaming Florida fans whose sole objective is to get inside their heads. Most of us do our jobs in front of no one, or at the least a handful of coworkers who aren’t yelling obscenities at us or telling us what they did with our mothers last night.
LSU’s football players aren’t most of us, and they hear all of those things - and worse.
With a telephoto lens, you can get closer to the players than anyone who is not in uniform. You can see the pain in Josh Williford’s eyes: not the pain of an injury, but the pain that of knowing he won’t return to the playing field today to do battle beside his teammates.
You can also see how Zach Mettenberger’s eyes aren’t the same joking, casual eyes of a Monday media session, but instead are trying their best to hide the fear of failing in front of the entire world.
But, to be fair, Mettenberger’s eyes don’t hold an exclusive right to that look. It was everywhere, with a few exceptions like Minter and Eric Reid, among others.
For the first time, I saw from the field just how terrified LSU was against Florida.
Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t a fear you or I are like to know. It was nothing like a fear of physical dominance; LSU’s athletes are as intimidating as Florida’s, if not more. Nor was the look of fear one relating to the size or sounds of Florida’s crowd, which seemed more of a distraction (a deafening one, of course) than a cause for trembling.
No, this was a more existential sort of fear, a fear you can only know if you’ve been exposed in front of tens of thousands in front of you and millions on television.
It was the fear of being found out; of having your true identity revealed to not just millions of strangers, but - worst of all - to yourself.
It was a look that spread throughout the LSU squad, but it started - and ended - with Les Miles. The same guy who stared down Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow so fearlessly five years ago in Tiger Stadium looked a shell of himself Saturday - a timid, confused spectator.
Maybe it was 2008 that got Les, the year that his risk-taking cost him a quarterback in Jarrett Lee, who never really recovered from the burden Miles placed on him that season. Or maybe it was Nick Saban on January 9.
Whatever it was, Miles isn’t the same old Miles. He’s not fearless, not anymore.
And for LSU fans, that’s a scary thought.