4th & Long: How I Beat Bad Field Position to Score Winning Shots of the Broncos’ Victory Parade


Prior to the parade’s start, I spotted a fan climbing the Pioneer Monument in front of The Denver Post building. When he reached the top and raised his Bronco-colored American flag, I got the shot with the 70-200mm zoom at 175mm.
All Photos © Blaine Harrington

In less than 12 hours, I went from all access to no access.

On Monday evening, February 8th, I got an e-mail okaying my request for press credentials to cover the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl victory parade. It was triple good news: I’m a Broncos fan, I’d get images for stock, and I wouldn’t have to travel far (I live about 10 miles from Denver).

But when I woke up, there was an e-mail saying, in effect, “Sorry, our mistake, no credentials for you.”

I didn’t spend a lot of time wondering why I had gone from up (on the platform with the press photographers) to down (in the crowd with everyone else). I was going to the parade, and I was determined to get pictures.

Peyton Manning was on the first fire engine, and I got this photo with the 70-200mm at its widest. We suspected he’d be retiring and on this day would be leading his last victory parade.

With the 70-200mm at 175mm, I got Broncos’ orange-shirted receivers Emmanuel Sanders, left, and Demaryius Thomas just as they raised their arms.

Position Is Everything
We left early for the noon start—“we” being myself, my wife, Maureen, and my daughter, Lauren. I’d figure out what to do once I got there.

The event’s plans called for the line of fire engines carrying the Bronco players to make its way through the skyscraper landscape of downtown Denver to Civic Center Park, where the players, plus team and city officials, would address the crowd. A million people were expected to be along the route and at the park.

We got to the State Capitol Building, which the parade would pass, at about nine o’clock. My idea was that the Capitol would be a better location than the park—the parade would come to us, and there’d definitely be fewer people than at the park.

I walked around a bit, went up a little hill, and scoped out the area. I talked to a police officer and found out a nearby street would be closed off in an area that was getting a lot of sun. We chose a spot near where the street barrier would be. It was a warm day, and the sky was a beautiful, intense blue. Great—there’d be an orange-clothed crowd against a deep blue sky. Lots of sunlight, and, as it turned out, no street barrier placed in front of me, so I’d have a little room to maneuver. This was as good as it was going to get.

With the 16mm fisheye on my primary camera, I edged forward out of the crowd and into the street to get this overall shot. That’s running back C.J. Anderson up front, leading the cheers.

The parade over, the band bringing up the rear got its moment in front of my 16mm lens. At this point I’d moved fully into the street.

What Would Peyton Do?
We waited as noon approached and the crowd grew thicker. I had my usual gear: two cameras around my neck and two additional lenses in my photo vest. The lenses were three zooms (14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm) and a 16mm fisheye. I wore Bronco colors—orange and blue—but with the two cameras and the photo vest I didn’t look like an average fan. I didn’t know it at the time, but that would help out a little later on.

As I waited for the parade to start, I started thinking about Peyton Manning. There wasn’t much mobility to his game anymore, so he had to stay in the pocket and rely on reading the defense. I didn’t have much mobility, so I’d have to rely on reading the crowd and reacting with maximum versatility. Manning had experience and cunning. So did I. Okay, I wouldn’t be able to roll out or scramble; I was stuck in the pocket, but I’d shot a lot of events, parades, and festivals and I knew how to keep an offense moving.

I’d zoom those zoom lenses. I’d quickly switch to the 16mm at the right time. I’d get people waving. I’d frame shots of the right-hand side of the crowd and exclude the left. Then I’d switch, and then I’d go wide to get both sides. I knew how to play this slices-of-the-street, inclusion-exclusion game. I knew which receiver was covered and which one would be open.

I snapped out of my Manning reverie just in time. There he was, on the first fire engine, waving to the crowd. Not excited, not exuberant, just…well, totally professional, with a job-well-done expression on his face.

I’d photographed the Bronco superfan known as the Mile High Monster on a fire engine (selected superfans got to ride in the parade), then I took this shot when he got off and started walking with a similarly-costumed Bronco fanatic. I’d seen him at games and thought, I’d love to get a close-up of him someday. With the 70-200mm at 150mm, I finally got my wish.

On the way home we stopped at a store, and still being in the spirit of the celebration, I asked Lauren to wave her Bronco flag for the only posed photo I took that day. I’d shot the Broncos’ first Super Bowl-winning parade back in 1998 when it was John Elway’s team. Elway and Manning are the only quarterbacks to retire after a Super Bowl win. How’s that for storybook endings?

Also on the first engine were running back C.J. Anderson and Annabel Bowlen, wife of Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen, holding the Lombardi trophy. Soon came Super Bowl MVP, outside linebacker Von Miller.

I shot as one fire engine followed another until the 20 or so that comprised the parade had passed. And then my pro-shooter look helped me out as a cooperative police officer let me leave the sideline and walk into the street to get crowd shots of the Bronco fans and superfans, walking in the direction the parade went.

The parade had taken an hour to pass, but the time seemed to fly by, feeling more like 10 minutes. Basic gear, no flash, no filters, just frame and focus, follow the action, vary the shots. With so much going on, you go with your instincts and experience. You’ve been here before, you know this game, and everything kicks in.

Kind of like Peyton Manning, right?

A selection of Blaine Harrington’s images, including additional Bronco parade photographs, can be viewed at his website, blaineharrington.com.