Team photographer Eric Lars Bakke has been working with the Broncos for 26 years. His photography blog will serve as a unique look from the perspective of an NFL photographer, periodically updating the site with tales from the sidelines, some of his favorite photos and the stories behind them.
Gosh, it was like old times.
His voice filled the air. His enthusiasm was phenomenal. Every eye was glued to the podium as No. 7 spoke his every word. January 5, 2011, was virtually John Elway Day.
It filled a void not heard, not witnessed nor experienced in a long time.
The man that bought glory to Denver and the Rocky Mountain region, Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, is back.
In his address to the media, Elway spoke of so many things the loyalists have been yearning to hear. Competing for the AFC Western Division Championship, being competitive and being present in the playoffs and even perhaps winning another Super Bowl.
This really brought back memories. I was fortunate enough to photograph and witness John signing his original contract at the Quarterback Club, relatively small, obscure dark quarters tucked away on the north side of old Mile High Stadium.
As an impressionable young photographer who had followed the Broncos since my youth and had attended many training camps when the young team practiced at Brooks Field at the Colorado School of Mines several miles from my home in Golden, that afternoon was not only a great assignment but certainly a cherished memory.
After following his career as a Denver Bronco, I also had the opportunity to cover his Arena League team the Colorado Crush. We became friends — as close as professional relationships will allow.
I always respected his role and his privacy and never once intruded during his career with the Broncos but we ALWAYS had a terrific working relationship. He always understood the need to document a game or capture a moment in the locker room — win or lose. And as a personal testimonial, he never once refused a requested autograph by a kid either — honest!
I recall one time in the early 80’s I had an assignment to photograph John with a particular new line of NFL apparel. It was a lousy day with huge winds pummeling the metro area as a storm front was passing.
Our goal was to photograph him wearing one of the throwback-type long sideline jackets that Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas used to wear.
At the time I was using a medium format camera — long before the digital age. The camera held twelve film frames. Once those were exposed you had to change film cartridges.
I told John since the weather was bad I would have him stand, tilt his helmet back and act as though he was watching action from a game as he gazed off into the distance. In my mind this was no time for a bunch a cutesy stuff most art directors demand.
I cranked off two cartridges of film and said, “ I think I have it”. He looked down at me as I was kneeling on the ground and inquired, “That’s it?” And I said, “ Yep, I have to work with you again don’t I?”. He chuckled and there after always gave me the time for any team assignment.
On Wednesday after all the media had filled their cameras and completed their interviews, I had John for a few portraits.
As he spun around to my designated spot for his portrait I said, “Welcome back. As always, it’ll be quick”. He just grinned.
-Eric Lars Bakke, Denver Broncos Team Photographer