The Eyes of an Artist,
The Nerves of a Surgeon,
The Compassion of a Priest
by Bob Casterline
(as it appeared in the Buccaneer Magazine, July, 1991)
If you're driving through Tampa's
toney Palma Ceia section some
day soon, and a man sitting on his porch
with a camera and long lens appears to
take some photos of your car, don't be
alarmed. You're not under surveillance,
that's just Mike Minardi, going through
That's right. Even though Minardi is one of the world's most-honored photographers, he still feels the need each summer to do some warm-up preparations for his work as a National Football League photographer.
"I'll sit on my front porch," he explains, "with my camera and lens in my lap, unfocused. Then, as a car comes along and reaches the edges of my property, I'll grab my camera and focus on the bumper before the car draws even with me."
That kind of practice helps Minardi stay a quarter-second ahead of the action he's shooting from the sidelines at Tampa Stadium. "I don't want to see the picture I'm taking at the time I'm shooting," he says. "I want to see the action just before and after. If you see the action you want, you've missed the shot."
It's that attention to detail that has made Minardi a premier NFL photographer since 1976. His photos appear in Game Day Magazine, as well as in NFL ads and commercials, on NFL posters, T-shirts, calendars, and even bubble gum cards. And, now, in The Buccaneer Magazine. The centerfold posters and covers of our June issue and this issue are Minardi pictures, as is the black-and-white action photo of Rob Taylor in this issue's cover story.
The 45-year-old Tampa native will shoot between 15-20 rolls of 36-exposure film at a Buccaneers game, looking, he says, for "the essence of the game." He's not only interested in the on-field action, but the emotions that ebb and flow through four quarters of hard-fought professional football.
WORKING TWO cameras at a time, one with a long lens, the other with a short one, "I'll tune my subconscious into the game. It becomes almost instinctual because if I stop to think about it, it's too late. I rely on my intuition as to where a play is going, and 70- to 80-percent of the time, it seems to be right. I have my 'secret places' on the sideline I like to go to when I get a hunch, and a lot of times I find I'm the only guy there. It gives me a lot of good pictures that are missed by people who've stayed too close to the line of scrimmage," he says. "I want to be right there in the game; I want to smell it, to get it all over me."
That instinctual relocating has hurt him only once. "Last year I was run down by Testaverde and three Forty-niners. Vinny was scrambling, and I had him in my long lens when suddenly he wasn't there. I grabbed my short-distance camera and there he was again, right on top of me. I snapped a picture just before he bowled me over, and three Forty-niners fell on top of him. I heard cracking noises, and I thought it was my bones, but it wasn't. I've had tripods and cameras broken before, but that's the only time I've ever been hit. I still had to go recuperate in the press room for 15 minutes -- it really knocked the wind out of me."
That may be an extreme case of getting the game all over him, but he wouldn't have it any other way, because it makes up for not being able to watch and enjoy the flow of the game. l'm so busy with technical problems, like reloading, seeing how much film I have left, checking my batteries, unbolting stuff, seeing if I have the right lens, that I don't often have a chance to really enjoy what's happening on the field."
THOSE TECHNICAL problems make him one of the few people in the stadium who appreciate --even look forward to--television commercial timeouts. "They at least give you a breather. And when your camera jams, you pray for a TV time-out" he confesses.
The Buccaneers have been Minardi's favorite team since they began playing. Until then his allegiance had been to the Green Bay Packers, a team he fell in love with the afternoon quarterback Bart Starr led them from two-and-one-half touchdowns behind to a victory by orchestrating three touchdowns in the final 90 seconds. As for individuals in the game, he says he's especially partial to Mike Ditka, head coach of the Chicago Bears. "He's a real tough guy, and a good leader, says Minardi. "Still, I want the Buccaneers to win every game they play."
A Jesuit High School and University of South Florida (degree in marketing and management) graduate, Minardi wasn't heavily involved in sports as a youngster. He played Little League baseball and sandlot football, but thought he'd make his mark in the courtroom rather than the football stadium. He even attended law school at Florida State University, and was working as a law librarian in the Virgin Islands when he decided he was more interested in pho- tography than anything else.
He was operating a Ro-Mo camera store and studio when his first major sports assignment came his way, shooting for the Tampa Bay Rowdies. "I didn't even know anything about soccer," he says, "but they liked me and they liked my pictures."
NOW HE'S AT home in nearly any sports venue. "I've been up to the sky boxes a couple of times, but everybody looks like ants running around. I want to get the action, I want to be in the action. In fact, I was in that movie they made about Ricky Bell (CBS-TV's "Triumph of the Heart"). I didn't know they were making it, and I saw him jump over the fence and beat up on the fan. I thought it was happening, and I ran right over and started firing, and said, 'I got the first NFL player to beat up a fan,' and sombody grabbed me and threw me down on the ground and said, 'We're making a movie here,' and it was so real, they left it in the movie."