Super Bowl from the sidelines: Steamboat photographer Rod Hanna captured the action during the Chiefs’ last trip to the ‘big game’
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers will battle in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, Feb. 2.
The last time the Chiefs attended the big game, it was the 1969 season, and they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl IV. Kansas City was coached by Hank Stram and led by MVP quarterback Len Dawson, and Steamboat Springs resident Rod Hanna captured the victory and the remarkable season that preceded it as the team’s official photographer.
This past week, Hanna spent an hour at Off the Beaten Path bookstore speaking about his photographs that fill the pages of Michael MacCambridge’s 2019 book, “69 Chiefs: A Team, a Season, and the Birth of Modern Kansas City.”
Nine members of that team are now immortalized in the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, and Hanna had an all-access pass to them as they plowed their way through a drama-filled season that he recalls in great detail.
An NFL photographer in 2020 is assigned one quadrant of the sidelines, is not permitted in the team area and suffers an obstructed view of the field, blocked by on-field camera operators.
In 1969, Hanna said photographers could “do what you were man enough to do.” As long as he didn’t step on the field, Hanna could stand among the players by the bench or right on the sideline. Of course, that came with a risk of getting hit by the mighty athletes whose images he was trying to capture on film.
Hanna was prepared for the size of the players but was always in awe of their speed and athleticism, especially the wide receivers and cornerbacks.
“They’re like water bugs down there,” he said. “They’re just so quick.”
Holding the weight of his massive lens up to his face, Hanna would track the ball out of the quarterback’s hands. When the pass was coming for him, he knew it was time to get out of the way. While retreating, he would reach for the Leica camera around his neck and click without even bringing the viewfinder to his eye, hoping to capture the close-up action.
His camera settings were dependent on a light meter that told him what his exposure should be. Depending on clouds, or where he stood in the stadium, the light changed, so his settings had to be constantly adjusted. He also had to track the action and manually adjust the focus, since autofocus was still a decade away from debuting.
Hanna snapped away, filling a roll of film after just 36 clicks and going through 10 to 12 rolls of film each game.
In 1969, cameras weren’t as capable as they are now. Hanna said the ASA, now known as ISO, or how sensitive to light a camera is, only went as high as 400. So, in order to let in enough light to capture a photo, his shutter speed was about 1/250th of a second. That seems fast, but it’s not fast enough to completely freeze action, so the ball or fast-moving limbs would be blurry. His timing had to be perfect because his camera couldn’t capture 10 photos in a burst, like modern cameras can.
The stories behind the images
Even with all that, Hanna came away from every game with incredible images, which not only showed the action of the game but the emotion that came with it.
“You got to get action shots that tell the story of the game,” he said.
In order to do that, you have to know the team’s tendencies and guess what play or what types of plays will be pivotal in the victory or loss.
One of his favorite photos came as Dawson left the field near the end of the Super Bowl on Jan. 11, 1970, and was greeted with a handshake from Stram.
“The story of the Super Bowl was how Dawson overcame this terrible week of stuff he had to deal with while trying to prepare for the game,” Hanna said, referring to a federal mob gambling scandal that Dawson was linked to.
Dawson went on to be named Super Bowl MVP, and the photo shows that through it all, he got the job done.
A photo of Buck Buchanan leaping into the air to defend a pass on a muddy field at Municipal Stadium is Hanna’s all-time favorite action shot from the 1969 season.
Hanna also loves the photos that show the camaraderie between players of different skin colors. In a period still wrought with racism, the Chiefs had no separation between white and black players. Hanna captured their closeness through encounters on the sidelines, like in a photo of defensive backs Johnny Robinson and Jim Marsalis embracing each other during the 1969 AFL divisional championship victory over the defending champions, the New York Jets.
Kansas City was expected to make back-to-back appearances in the Super Bowl, but in the divisional playoff in 1970, the Chiefs lost in double overtime on the road in Miami in the longest uninterrupted game ever played in the NFL.
“That was such a brutal disappointment because by far the Chiefs had the better team,” Hanna said. “These were all the guys that had just won the Super Bowl — the defending champions were going to go to the Super Bowl, again. We all knew that. Then at the last minute, Garo Yepremian kicks a field goal to win it. I’ve got pictures of that.”
Going into the 2020 Super Bowl, the Chiefs have the third-longest Super Bowl appearance drought behind the Jets and Detroit Lions. Hanna doesn’t expect them to just make an appearance, though. He thinks they can win.
Between a decade of photographing the Denver Broncos and living in Steamboat since 1975, Hanna is a Broncos fan first, but he still has an allegiance to Kansas City once the Broncos are out of the running.
“They’ve got a great coach, and of course, they’ve got the star,” Hanna said. “(Quarterback Patrick) Mahomes is unreal.”
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