The prestigious contest is open to professional photographers on assignment to cover NFL games. Photos taken during the 2010 NFL season, that included Super Bowl XLV and the 2011 Pro Bowl, were eligible. Take a look inside and see what was going through the minds of the winning photographers as they captured the great moments of the 2010 season.
Dave Boss Award of Excellence, 2010 Photo of the Year, first place (action) - "Thrill and Agony"
In a lot of ways, I was out of position when I captured my entry "Thrill and Agony." I was angling for a spot on the sideline in the end zone, but there wasn't any room. So as the Patriots broke their huddle, I curled around the back of the end zone and took the first open spot I could. When I saw Aaron Hernandez line up in what might be a pass formation, I picked up my 70-200mm lens and hoped the play came my way. Thankfully, it did, and I was alone with the angle for Hernandez's high-stepping reaction, the dejected Sam Shields, the Patriots' sideline and the crowd. I knew I had a good photo, but with seven minutes remaining in the game, it was crucial that the Patriots' defense held off the Packers' offense to secure the win and preserve the picture's game relevance. Photo contest winners announced
Second place (action) - "Leaping Panther"
One of my favorite positions lately is near the back pylon of the end zone. It gives me great perspective of the field and has a nice, clean background. Also, lots of action can happen at the front pylon. On this particular shot, I positioned myself at the back of the end zone leaving a little room for the back judge so as not to get blocked by him. When Steve Smith caught the ball, I saw him running to his left and I was able to track him as he got closer to me. What happened next was what most photographers dream about: Smith trying to leap over a defender. When I saw Smith jump, I knew I had to zoom out quickly, pray that I didn't cut anything off and that the frame was sharp. After the play, I crossed my fingers while looking at the photo on the back of the camera. These plays don't happen so often, and when they do it really stings when you miss them. Luckily, I didn't miss this one.
Third place (action) - "Knock Your Block Off"
The decisive moment in sports photography often boils down to a combination of careful design and good luck. The design part of a photo happens when you have the right equipment and proper camera settings. This photo was taken at a preseason night game, so the light was low. Once the equipment is carefully set in place, you simply follow the ball. Gang tackles like this one often show interesting emotions, usually by the person getting hit. The Raiders defenders and 49ers running back Anthony Dixon cooperated. The helmet coming off ... that's the lucky part! Photo contest winners announced
Honorable mention (action) - "Pink Hands"
I remember the quarterback releasing the ball, and looking up from the camera to see where it was going. I saw DeSean Jackson open and brought the lens to him and fired off a few shots. Once I looked at the images, I had a few good frames from the sequence, but I knew this was the shot. The eyes of the defensive back and the facial expressions of both player immediately stand out. The pink gloves and the ball on the tips of the fingers, plus the pink in the background, also add to the image. For me, the eyes make it special. Photo contest winners announced
Honorable mention (action) - "Haymaker"
There is nothing greater than Kickoff Weekend in the NFL. With that day comes the pressure to produce images that have great visual impact and tell the story of the game. I was very fortunate to capture this image of Jerome Harrison during the first half of the first game of the season. The instant you photograph a great play the anticipation to review it is great. Thoughts of, "Wow, I hope that's in focus" run through your mind (or at least they do mine). Viewing that image on the monitor and enlarging it to check focus is somewhat unnerving, but when you know you have "it," that is a great relief. The back lighting really helps show the grass flying up and gives the feeling that he really is tearing it up. I like to shoot as low as I can and that helped on this shot, so that you can really see his facial expression.
Honorable mention action - "In Your Face"
I took this image on Halloween at Gillette Stadium during the Vikings vs.Patriots game. Almost always covering the punter, I was rewarded when Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) ran face-first into New England Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko (14) after the punt. Shooting 9 frames per second, I hoped I got something usable from the collision. Photo contest winners announced
Honorable mention (action) - "Ripped Off"
When Brett Favre decided to play for the Vikings, he broke the heart of many Packers fans. Although it would be Favre's last game at Lambeau Field, many fans were hoping for some revenge after he and the Vikings beat the Packers there the year before. The Packers gave Favre a beating, forcing him to throw three interceptions in the second half as they held on to win 28-24. This shot of Clay Matthews ripping Favre?s jersey off shows the kind of pressure he was under throughout the game. It was a sad ending for a great quarterback as Minnesota failed to make the playoffs and Green Bay went on to win the Super Bowl. Photo contest winners announced
First place (feature) - "Shadows"
At my Qualcomm Stadium, where I cover the Chargers for the San Diego Union-Tribune, the teams walk down a long, narrow, dingy cement tunnel to the field. In recent years, I have been playing around with strobes in the tunnel to light players, mounting small flashes on the wall or ceiling in the tunnel. Sometimes I just light the players, other times I try to project their shadows on the wall. During a Chargers-Texans game in Houston last season, I photographed players as they walked down the tunnel for warmups. I asked my assistant to point the flash so it lit the players and projected their shadow on the wall. The Chargers' Antonio Gates, Randy McMichael and Seyi Ajirotutu walked through the tunnel and suddenly stopped right in front of me. They put their hands together and said a few words. The flash was set on the zoom mode so it only lit a select area and a blue gel was used. Ajirotutu and McMichael each scored two touchdowns that day against the Texans.
Second place (feature) - "Smokey Entrance"
I took this shot during the pregame opening ceremonies while the Chargers' offensive starting lineup was being announced. The players all line up in a large inflatable Chargers helmet they come out of one at a time as they are announced. I was lucky enough to get right behind Patrick Crayton as he came out, and the timing of the lights, smoke, and fireworks couldn't have been better. Photo contest winners announced
Honorable mention feature - "Pregame Prep"
You hear stories all the time about players hoping to get that special "Call from the Hall," and trust me it's just as exciting for us photographers when it happens. Having your photograph singled out for recognition among the galleries of great NFL pictures really is something else. Truth be told, it is an honor just to be able to toss a few shots in with the other folks who cover the NFL. I really do feel I am swimming with the big fish, each and every week. I was happy to see that my photo of James Ihedigbo preparing to go out on the field was one that caught people's fancy. "Dig," as he is known, is both serene and intense and I feel like this image captures that. He's shown getting himself in the right frame of mind to play, and his quiet determination is something I try to call up every week in covering my beloved Jets.
Honorable mention (feature) - "Neener Neener"
There is so much more to an NFL game than just football. The atmosphere is what I enjoy the most, and staying constantly aware of everything going on inside the stadium is my biggest goal when covering a game. The most exciting action doesn't always get captured simply by following the ball up and down the field. Every photographer strives to capture that one monumental shot, but achieving that goal can many times require pointing your lens against the grain. As the Chiefs prepared to kick off against in the Ravens in their AFC Wild-Card matchup, Andy Studebaker was busy getting his team and the Arrowhead Stadium crowd pumped up. For a brief moment, he raised his hands and stuck out his tongue in this fashion, as if to taunt the Ravens shouting, "Neener, neener, you can't beat us!" Photo contest winners announced
Honorable mention (feature)
The Seattle Seahawks were having a miserable season. They were the first team in the history of the NFL to have a losing record, win their division and make it to the playoffs at 7-9. No one gave them a chance in the NFC Wild-Card Game against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. I was one of them. From the opening kickoff, I was looking for photos that would match well with a losing effort from the Seahawks. My photos have to tell the story of the game, which I thought would be an emphatic loss. I thought I had struck gold when head coach Pete Carroll came wandering down the sidelines and, for a second, was isolated with what appeared to be a grimace on his face. I thought: "Awesome, I've got my losing photo!" I fired off eight frames before Carroll turned and walked away. Then the unthinkable happened, as the Seahawks defeated the Saints 41-36. My photo meant nothing for that game. It never ran in print.
Honorable mention feature - "Tears of Joy"
When the final seconds tick off the clock of a Super Bowl, it's a mad dash onto the field for photographers trying to find the key players of the game and get into position for the trophy presentation. But it?s after the formal presentation that many subtle moments can be captured by photographers. While running about after the trophy presentation, I found Howard Green of the Packers resting his head on his mother's shoulder while hugging her as tears were rolling down his face. Most of his face was covered as his emotions poured out. I took a step back and looked at the background to see what was being displayed behind them and waited for their embrace to end. I captured this moment when he looked, just before wiping his tears away. Photo contest winners announced
Honorable mention (feature) - "Game Face"
The shot of the Chargers? Mike Tolbert was taken in the locker room after a game against the Chiefs. He was still clearly pumped up during the head coaches' postgame speech. Usually, most players come into the locker room after a game and are exhausted. If it?s a win, they show upbeat body language. But what caught my attention with Tolbert was that he looked like he still had his "game face" on. Photo contest winners announced