John F. Russell: Photographer at home on the sidelines


— I can’t think of a better place to spend a Friday night.

It might not seem so inviting when the weather turns cold along the sidelines of a football game in late October, but as a photographer, there is no place I would rather be — just a few feet from where the action unfolds.

John Russell

John Russell's sports column appears Tuesdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email

Find more columns by John here.

The other night, as I stood along the sidelines of the Sailors game, our new sports reporter asked me what sport I enjoyed photographing the most. Truth is that the game doesn’t matter as long as I can get close to the action.

Sure, some nights are better than others. Over time, relationships, family responsibilities and life sometimes makes getting to the sidelines difficult. Each sport also comes with its own challenges. Basketball and volleyball typically are played in the low light of a high school gym, football games usually are played long after the sun has set in the Yampa Valley, and there have been times when it seemed nearly impossible to keep my camera — and for that matter, my clothes — dry while shooting a ski race on the slopes of Mount Werner.

But even with the challenges of shooting different sports, I can’t think of any other place I would rather be on most nights.

In college, I spent most weekend nights at the Coors Events Center photographing the University of Colorado men’s and women’s basketball teams. In the four years I was at CU the men’s team went 35 and 79, and if I remember, the girls were not much better. I didn’t really care. I was just happy to create some images.

I even got the chance to photograph the Final Four. That year, the tournament was played at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, and I was lucky enough to be seated on the baseline as University of Nevada, Las Vegas topped Duke, 103-73. It wasn’t the greatest basketball game ever, but I’ll never forget what it felt like to be seated that close to the action.

I’ve been lucky enough to get close to the action several other times, too. Four years ago, I watched Lindsey Vonn race to gold in the downhill, I watched Johnny Spillane mine silver and Bill Demong strike gold at the Olympic games. I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

The sidelines are not for everyone. There are times when it’s a lot easier to watch the action unfold on television while you sit back in a recliner. It might be easier to grab a blanket and watch the game from the safety of the stands or the preferred seat of most reporters in the press box.

But for me, there is no better place to experience the true meaning of the game than on the sidelines. I love the sounds, I love the emotion, and I love the images that can only be found on the sideline.

There is no place I would rather be as the game unfolds.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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rhys jones 3 years, 7 months ago

And how!! For several years prior to moving here, I shot and edited video for TV stations around the West; it was a TV gig with Ski Corp that brought me here; plus I shot football for the Arizona Western (Yuma) coaching staff, on 16mm film with a way-cool Canon camera... (they loved me, said "shooting like this'll get you in the NFL"... Broncos? Hello?) and while all the sports present their challenges to shoot, especially video, there is no thrill like the sidelines at a football game. One of the highlights of my life was the Chargers/Broncos at Jack Murphy, 1984, John Elway's early years. Shot that for KYEL-Yuma. Anybody can do it; just call the athletic director, say you're shooting for somebody, the pass will be at Will Call. I'm extremely jealous, John!!


rhys jones 3 years, 7 months ago

We traded quarters, me and my co-photog -- and since I set it up, the Broncos were my team, and I drove (the station didn't pay us, or provide their truck, just the camera, this was my lark) I got the second and fourth quarters with the camera. It was a close game, Chargers no slouches... and I announced to my friend, excitedly late in the fourth quarter, "THIS will be the winning drive!!" which I captured from the sidelines; Elway put a nice drive together... then when they got inside the 5, I moved to the end zone, and got a GREAT shot of Sammy Winder almost running into my lens (saw an almost identical shot later on HBO, even better I must admit, which was funny, because I recall no other TV cameras nearby then) then later we got interviews with Elway, Tom Jackson, and Rolf Benerschke, almost crying because he missed a field goal which would have tied it... What fun!! Better than Disneyland. Thanks for dragging up the memory, John!!


john bailey 3 years, 7 months ago

sadly, Rhys , those days are gone, some thing about the greedy NFL and their rights to the pic. too bad , too ,got to be on the field pre-game for the Raiders few years back wish it was for the game.


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