Once you've photographed a decade's worth of football, you start to wonder how many new experiences are left. I've never photographed a Super Bowl, so that's the obvious omission on the resume.
Forget a decade, though. There were photographers on the field Sunday who have photographed football for four decades, and nobody could fathom the experience of being on the field after the Steelers closed out the Bengals and watched, hoped and prayed for the Browns to finish the Ravens in the same way.
Joking around during a long injury time out in the first quarter, I mentioned to another photographer or two that it was a shame the game would finish after the Browns game. I thought if the Steelers finished first, we'd have a really unique chance at shooting the players on the field as they watched the playoffs appear or disappear from Baker Mayfield's hat.
Without much scoring and plenty of running clock, the Steelers did finish first. I sprinted to the middle of the field per usual, photographed Mike Tomlin shaking hands with Marvin Lewis, then Ben Roethlisberger with Andy Dalton. After that, I started looking around, hoping the game would end up on the big screen.
Roethlisberger ended up finding Jeff Driskel, they too shook hands, and then it finally happened.
On the big screen and across the speakers was the Browns attempt to defeat the Ravens and send the Steelers to the playoffs. Nobody in the stadium ... nobody ... moved after that.
Chants of "Here we go, Brownies, here we go!" echoed through the stadium. Players on the field commented on how wild it was to hear the home fans chant and cheer and sing for the rival Browns.
I started shooting by finding Bud Dupree squat down on his helmet and grab a seat to watch the rest of the game. Then L.J. Fort was looking on and pumping his fist in support of the team in orange on the screen.
Players broke off into groups on the field, watching along, and fans continued singing. Rookie Steelers and former Oklahoma State teammates James Washington and Mason Rudolph watched alongside each other. Dupree found a partner to watch with as he and Tyler Matakevich critiqued what was or wasn't a catch on the screen above them.
I gravitated to the group with Mike Hilton, Marcus Allen, Bud (when he got the pads off), Matakevich and a number of non-player personnel. These guys were fun. They were cheering every play along the screen. They went wild when the broadcast showed the Steelers and their fans on the broadcast, watching from the field.
And, when it came down to the make-or-break fourth down play, Allen screamed "safety blitz" as if Mayfield could hear him.
Dupree swore at the screen, throwing his fist around, angry at what the season had become. And, one-by-one the fun group disappeared until Hilton was the only one left.
I laid down on my stomach and shot No. 28 with his head in his hands, knowing the year was likely at an end.
Those scenes from the end of the game, on the field with the players, are what can be seen at the top of this Sunday's Best. Starting with Hilton's head down, alone, jumping to the handshakes and working through fans mourning the Browns' loss.
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
[caption id="attachment_750630" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Steelers vs. Bengals, Heinz Field, Dec. 30, 2018 - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]