L-E freelance photographer captures epic game moment

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 3, 2013 

Darrell Roaden is a 58-year-old computer salesman.

But on Saturday he was a freelance sports photographer who snapped one of the defining pictures from the epic Auburn-Alabama game in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Roaden was on the sidelines working for the Ledger-Enquirer when Auburn's Chris Davis caught an errant Alabama field goal attempt and sprinted 108 yards to college football history.

He was in the right place at the right time -- near the 20 yard-line -- and caught the image of Alabama's Brian Vogler, a Columbus native, trying in vain to bring Davis down. The picture moved on The Associated Press wire, ran in the Tuscaloosa News and has appeared on ESPN. But it started with the field goal attempt. "I was tracking the ball with the camera," Roaden said. "About that time at the bottom of the frame, I see this helmet, then these hands come up."

It was Davis, and it didn't take Roaden long to figure out he was returning the kick out of the end zone. Using his Nikon D700 camera with a zoom lens, Roaden was snapping as Davis ran past him and then Vogler, a Brookstone graduate -- made an attempt to stop the Auburn returner.

Vogler landed about 2 yards from Roaden, and the photo clearly shows the effort being made by the Alabama tight end to tackle Davis. "Look at the expression on his face," Roaden said. "He is doing everything he can to stop it. I feel bad for the guy."

As Davis finished the run and turned Jordan-Hare Stadium into a madhouse, Roaden still did not know what he had in his camera.

Roaden has been shooting high school football games for the newspaper for about five years. He had been assigned to a few small college games and one Auburn game prior to Saturday. He mostly shoots photo galleries of everything from local 5K runs to fundraising galas and has had thousands of photos published on the Ledger-Enquirer's website.

The day before the Iron Bowl, Ledger-Enquirer Photo Chief Mike Haskey called Roaden and asked him to shoot the Auburn-Alabama game.

"When he called me, I was like, 'Well sure, why not?'" Roaden said. "As soon as I got off the phone, I called my brother and two other people saying, 'Guess what I am going to be doing Saturday?'"

And that is exactly where he was, on the sidelines of the biggest college football game of the year. Moments before the Davis return, Roaden just missed the shot of Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall throwing the game-tying touchdown pass.

"I had a 5- or 6-year-old kid block me and I couldn't get an angle," Roaden said. "I got the shot, but his head was cut off."

Then he bagged the big one.

"It's tough to get a shot like that," said Haskey, who has been shooting major sporting events for about 30 years.

"It is a combination of skill and luck. I am a big believer that you make your own luck in that situation. And when something like that happens, you have to ignore your instincts to say, 'Holy cow, what is happening?' and keep shooting."

When Davis reached the end zone and Auburn fans stormed the field, Roaden said he got nervous and made his way to the safety of the media room under the stadium.

"I was the only one in there for 15 minutes," he said.

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