“As we bobbed up and down in the wind, I tried to keep the action framed in the lens…”
The Getty Images coverage plan for Super Bowl XLVIII was so complete, and with such fantastic photographers, that it didn’t seem there were any angles left uncovered. As a news staffer here in New York City, I was looking for a way to make a contribution to our report, so I thought to focus on federal law enforcement securing the event. Turns out that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) supplied the air support, including helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft that patrolled the area around MetLife Stadium for the game.
I had flown with CBP pilots numerous times in the last few years along the U.S.-Mexico border, in Texas, Arizona and California, while working on a photo essay on border security and immigration. So, with that relationship in place, I requested access to fly with them, both in the week ahead of the game and then on Super Bowl Sunday itself.
On game day, I arrived to their Islip Long Island base in the morning. The Blackhawks were tasked with helping to control the airspace miles away from the venue, while the smaller AStar helicopters would be flying in 2-hour shifts over MetLife Stadium itself, responding to any potential suspicious activity near the stadium, both before and during the game. I worked with the dispatcher to get me on the 6-8 p.m. AStar rotation, which would have me flying over the stadium during pre-game activities and the first half of play.
There were three of us inside the helicopter, including the pilot and a surveillance cameraman in the front seats and me in the back. Once over the stadium, I slid open the left side door of the helicopter and we circled slowly around the venue from a bird’s eye view of about 4,500 feet. Just minutes before the game, synchronized with the last note of the national anthem, a flyover of U.S. Army helicopters soared over the stadium, and I shot the scene from above.
With Newark Liberty airport nearby, there was a constant flow of commercial aircraft taking off and landing, as well as other law enforcement helicopters flying at different altitudes and some fixed wing planes up above. I was wearing a gunner’s harness so that I could lean out the door. With a foot on the skid, I could shoot straight down towards the field. With aircraft zooming around us from all angles, it was all a little disconcerting.
As the game action started I photographed as Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning missed the first snap of the game and a safety was scored against him. As we bobbed up and down in the wind, I tried to keep the action framed in the lens, and only realized later that I had the shot. During the course of the first half, our helicopter was called away several times to investigate suspicious vehicles parked or moving through unauthorized areas around the stadium.
Although I had dressed warmly, the crew had not previously known they would be flying with a photographer who needed the door open – so when through my headset I heard the pilot mention that his hands (and other extremities), had become numb, I closed the door and we all thawed out while flying to a local municipal airport to refuel. The crew was asked to return to the stadium for an additional patrol, and I got an unexpected bonus shoot – arriving overhead near the end of the halftime show.
As we made our first flyby, fireworks blasted into the air for the finale – we had made it back just in time for my strongest photos of the night. We continued to hover and circle the stadium and as they scanned the area, and I tried to shoot as many angles of the game as possible. Late in the third quarter we were relieved by another helicopter, and we headed back to the Long Island base. I edited during the 25-minute flight back and transmitted the photos when we landed. We watched the last 15 minutes of the game in the pilots’ break room. As a photojournalist, I had one of the most spectacular vantage points for Super Bowl XLVIII – and as a Broncos fan, I was blessedly and blissfully unaware of the score for most of the night.See more of John Moore’s Super Bowl images at Getty Images