July 30th, 2018
I grew up in Michigan loving the Wolverines. I remember Saturday afternoons throughout my childhood, watching Michigan games with my Dad. Later, my first time watching a game live in the Big House was nothing short of spectacular. Watching the players pour from the tunnel out onto the field, I first felt the awe of Michigan’s incredible tradition of excellence. It was also when I first fell in love with the Michigan helmet. I started collecting bit by bit, first in high school and then more in college, long before collecting became popular. Throughout the years since, I have gained a deeper and deeper appreciation for Michigan’s wings, the most recognizable helmet in the college game, and for the history and tradition that surrounds it and the team that wears it into battle.
I earned my M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from Eastern Michigan University and now live in Florida, working in the Palm Beach County School District in the transition of high school students.
I still remember the snowy, January evening in 1989 when I unexpectedly received a personal phone call from an admissions officer at the University of Michigan and was told that I’d been accepted. From that moment, there was no double — I was a Wolverine. My years as an undergrad in Ann Arbor were grueling at times, but I look back at them with deep fondness, too, because of the things that I learned, the experiences that I enjoyed, and the many terrific people that made my collegiate experience what it was. I pursued writing through my studies there and, later, fell in love with photography. I've combining the two passions on various projects ever since.
I’ve always loved Michigan’s “look” — the colors, the design, and the traditions carried by them. Working with my brother James on this project gave me the chance not only to celebrate those traditions, but also to photograph many of my favorite places on my favorite campus in the world.
May 24th, 2018
We had the opportunity to have lunch with Rod Payne, All-American center for the Wolverines during the 1992–1996 seasons. Rod’s experience at Michigan shaped his life. He related that Michigan was family. Rod was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals and also played for the Baltimore Ravens.
Favorite Michigan memory? The 1995 Michigan Ohio State game. Michigan ran for 381 total rushing yards. Rod was key in opening holes for Tim Biakabutuka, who alone contributed a career high 313 yards in front of 106,288 stunned Ohio State fans in Columbus. Michigan took the victory 31–23 and crushed the dreams of OSU playing in the Rose Bowl.
Rod had a chance to see our photos and the new edition of Wings, An Illustrated Celebration of Michigan Wolverine Helmets, which will be available soon. He said the book was very unique and would be enjoyed by both fans and players. He especially appreciated the helmet gallery, spending time with the 1990s helmets, and noted, “I have one of those on my shelf!”
May 23rd, 2018
Have you ever been at a Michigan game or watched from the comfort of your own home and marveled at those fantastic gleaming football helmets? The unique design, the colors, the shapes of the wings?
Well, there was an artist behind these creations. Russ Hawkins is his name and he painted Michigan helmets for more than 50 years.
The relationship began when coach Bo Schembechler and equipment manager Jon Falk began working with Capital Varsity, a helmet re-conditioner. Russ Hawkins is the artist who hand-painted Michigan helmets for Capital Varsity. Every year, after the spring game, Michigan sent helmets to Capital for re-conditioning. Here, the helmets were disassembled and the canvas prepared for the next season’s creations.
How did he do it?
Russ started with a yellow molded helmet shell. He then painted the entire helmet our beloved Michigan maize. From there, he took thin line tape and molded the wings and stripes. This was done with precision and no stencils. He formed the tape with his eye to create those famous designs so recognizable by fans everywhere. Then, he followed with darker-than-navy blue to cover the entire helmet. All the paint was hand-mixed.
Finally, the tape was removed to reveal the winged design dating back to 1938.
So, whenever you think of Michigan helmets from the last 50 years, you can think of Russ Hawkins, the Leonardo da Vinci of college football.
May 23rd, 2018
Recently, I had the change to fulfill a lifelong dream — shooting photos during a game at the Big House in Ann Arbor.
There were a number of things that were not surprising in the least. First and foremost, I have even greater respect for experienced sports photographers than ever. Trying to get a great shot amidst the fast-paced action in a space of that size requires tremendous skill and anticipation. Of course, a bit of luck doesn't hurt, either.
Although I’m pleased with the photos I got, I cannot express enough admiration to those seasoned pros who immortalize great moments far better than I ever could.
There were also a few things that surprised me. First, I was shocked at just how crowded the field is during game time. Watching many a game on TV, I never realized just how many people there are roaming around on the field.
Second, although I should have known better, there’s really no such thing as overdressing if one plans to spend an extended amount of time down on the field. Despite relatively warm temperatures earlier that afternoon, the wind gusts inside the Big House at field level are something else and I was ill-prepared for how chilly it got as the game progressed. (I did begin to feel my fingers again by the following day, gladly.)
Third, it’s easy to get caught up watching the action through a camera viewfinder, but that can be dangerous. During a few plays, I nearly got plowed over by receivers or other players charging toward the sidelines where I was stationed as I was fixated on action across the field!
A big thank you shout out to Greg Dooley over at mvictors.com for the opportunity!
May 23rd, 2018
Top researcher and historian Steve Sapardanis (Doctor Sap) contributed this brief article on the history of shoes worn by the Wolverines on the field — Thank you Doctor Sap!
From as early as 1968, Michigan has seen a hodgepodge of shoe manufacturers until Nike changed all that in 1983. In 1968, players primarily wore Converse but were beginning to adopt a new shoe — Adidas. In 1971, a new shoe manufacturer was introduced — Puma. In 1975, another shoe manufacturer was added from Quebec, Canada and had a very distinct design/logo on the side of the shoe. It was a multi-studded cleat that was supposed to provide superior traction on Michigan’s Tartan (not Astro-Turf) playing surface.
In 1976, a fifth manufacturer was added to the group — some new upstart company called Nike. In some games, for example, Rick Leach wore the Puma cleats while Rob Lytle opted for the Nike shoes. After UM finally defeated OSU in 1976, senior RB Lytle was asked why he ran so hard and played so well against the Bucks. Supposedly, he remarked, “It’s gotta be the shoes!!” (kidding). By 1979, there was still no exclusive deal with just one shoe company, so players would ask equipment manager Big Jon Falk for the shoe of their choice depending on surface and weather conditions. Stan Edwards, for example, rocked the Puma on a dry clear day in 1979. But on a cold, dreary, slick day in 1980, #32 went with the Canadian/Quebec shoe for better traction.
In 1980, a sixth shoe company was added to the UM inventory of shoes — Pony. By 1982, Nike was the predominant shoe worn by the Wolverines. The Canadian shoe company was around for inclement weather game conditions, but Puma and Converse were now out of the picture. By 1983, Michigan was an exclusive Nike school and this made Big Jon’s job a lot easier in that he didn’t have to manage five or six shoe manufacturers anymore.
May 23rd, 2018
Not long ago, I had the opportunity to take a "tower tour" atop the Mackinac Bridge.
Checking out the view from the top of my favorite bridge in the world was nothing short of a lifelong dream . . . to say nothing of the opportunity it presented me as a photographer :)
May 23rd, 2018
Want to send a shout out to Lens Rentals, one of the coolest and most helpful businesses for photographers around. Their selection of lenses for rent (as well as cameras and other accessories) have helped me with many a project, from magazine articles to my tower tour atop the Mackinac Bridge to the creation of our coffee table book Wings and the photos on this site.
This service is terrific for both pros and enthusiasts who occasionally need pro-grade tools for specific projects, but may not want to make the leap and purchase those items. For example, I’ve rented both the Canon 70–300mm f/4–5.6L IS and the Canon 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6L IS, lenses that absolutely made certain projects but which I would rather not spend the money to permanently add to my tool kit.
In addition to Canon and Nikon gear, they also carry cool, more niche brands like Leica and Fujifilm. This part of their selection is a terrific opportunity for photographers to try before they buy. I’ve been interested in the FujiFilm X-Pro series since it was announced. I recently rented one from them to try it out . . . and immediately fell in love with it. I’ve already begun saving for one of my own.