(Above: OK, this is not the most flattering photo of me, but luckily this story isn’t about me — it’s about the guy I’m posed here with — Matt Lange).

Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time…
One day back in 2009 my buddy, pro-sports photographer Mike Olivella, calls me with a really fun idea — we’d hold a sports photography contest for amateur sports photographers and the winner would get the opportunity to shoot on the sidelines of a Florida State football game, alongside Mike and me (We’d pay all their expenses; airfare, hotels, etc and LensProToGo.com would ship the winner some long glass to shoot the game with). We called it “Shoot on the sidelines with Scott and Mike.” Here’s a link to the post where I announced the contest.

Folks, we have a winner!
Mike was tasked with picking a winning image, and he picked a fantastic shot by photographer Alex Walker, who won with an outstanding shot of his son, a soccer goalie. I was lucky enough to get to call Alex personally and tell him that he had won. Alex was a really great guy, and after talking to him for five minutes, I couldn’t wait to meet him in person at the game (over a month away). Here’s a link to see the finalists and Alex’s winning entry.

No good deed goes unpunished
For reasons neither Mike nor I still quite understand, a group of very vocal sports photographers got really, really, really mad about our contest. They started some incredibly hateful threads at a popular sports photography site that got so many comments, they had to close the original thread and start a new one so the hating could continue in full force. Besides just generally hating on Mike and me (OK, mostly me), their other gripe was that letting this one “amateur” on the sidelines would make the already hopelessly over-crowded sidelines that much more crowded, but worse yet this amateur would basically “run-amok” endangering himself and everyone around him. This had to be stopped!

Light your torches, grab your pitchforks!!!
These sports photographers were so incensed that Alex would get to shoot this college football game, that they went beyond the forums —  they carried their angry protest directly to the school and convinced them that letting this reckless amateur shoot the game was endangering the school, the other photographers, and even the players on the field. Their outcry was so loud the school felt they had no other choice then to revoke Alex’s sideline photo pass (by the way: FSU is not to blame one bit in all this. Mike explains why in a comment on a blog post that I’ll link to in a moment).

A great day for sports photography
I now had to call Alex with the news that his dream of shooting a college football game had been taken from him. I wrote about how these photographers were able to steal Alex’s dream from him in a post called “A great day for Sports Photography.” It was, until my recent “Open letter to Adobe” post, the most commented-on post in the history of my blog. It’s a very short post, so if you have a minute I encourage to give it a quick read right now — I promise it will make this story much more meaningful. Here’s the link (but remember to come right back and pick up here).

Friends to the rescue!
In that post, when I told how Alex wouldn’t be shooting on the sidelines after all, you couldn’t believe the outpouring of support from friends of the blog. For example, photographer, blogger, and social media guru Scott Bourne (of PhotoFocus.com) literally sent Alex over a thousand dollars in Photoshop plug-ins and software to help to make up for his loss of the shoot. He wasn’t the only one — lots of folks stepped up to send Alex all kinds of goodies, and we sent Alex a “care package” ourselves but of course, I felt really awful about the whole thing.

The only person that felt worse was Mike Olivella. Here he tried to do something nice, and not only did Mike and I wind up getting barbecued at a level I don’t think either of us had ever experienced in our professional lives, but Alex wound up without a shoot to boot. Luckily, Alex took the news like a pro. He was incredibly gracious, understanding, and was just happy to have won and didn’t want anything else — no replacement prize — nothing. Now I wanted to meet him in person even more.

I hate asking for favors, but I needed a favor…
I hate calling friends for favors, but in this instance I felt I just had to. A dear friend of mine, Mike McCaskey, is one of the owners of the NFL’s Chicago Bears, and at the time Mike was the Bear’s Chairman of the Board (Mike has since retired). I called Mike, told him the story about Alex losing his sideline photo pass, and Mike said, without hesitation:

 “The Chicago Bears would welcome Alex on our sidelines!”

I was thrilled, and I called Alex to tell him the news that he was now shooting an NFL game at Chicago’s Soldier field (Whoo Hoo!!!). It was one of the most fun phone calls I’ve ever made! Alex was blown away (Mike and I were thrilled beyond thrilled for him), and we arranged Alex’s flights, hotel, and so on, but I asked Alex to keep all this quiet until after the game, so the angry sports shooters wouldn’t try to ruin this shoot for him, too.

Jumping ahead to the game
Well, the plan came together and Alex got to Chicago to shoot “Da Bears.” I met Alex early that morning for breakfast, and he was just a wonderful, down-to-earth guy, and a very proud dad of his son, who just earned a college scholarship with his soccer skills.

We talked a lot about our families, our jobs, and life in general and I really enjoyed getting to know him. Before you knew it, we were at Chicago’s Soldier Field. We met up with Bears Chairman Mike McCaskey as soon as we got to the stadium and Mike treated Alex as though he was the single most important person at Soldier Field that day. Mike invited Alex to join him for lunch in the owner’s suite, and even went out shooting with Alex during the tailgating festivities.

I know a lot of Bears fans only know Mike as part of the ownership or management group, but I can tell you they would have seen a side of Mike McCaskey, (one that I’ve seen time and time again), that would have made them really proud to have Mike leading their organization. I wrote about Alex’s trip to the Bears game right here (without ever mentioning that it was in place of the shoot Alex had lost. In fact, I just called the post “Shooting On The NFL Sidelines”).

The shot you see above, is (from L to R): Mike Olivella, me, and contest winner Alex Walker, taken on the Bears Sidelines by Mike McCaskey (by the way, Mr. McCaskey is a very accomplished photographer himself, with gallery showings of his work, and numerous photography talks and presentations under his belt. He’s now focusing on his photography in his retirement, and I saw him last week at Photoshop World in DC soaking it all in).

OK, this story is about to take a turn, because it’s not what you think
I know this is long, but hang in there with me — I promise it will be worth the extra time.

But before we got to the Bears game…
I saw a comment on my blog — on that same “A great day for Sports Photography” post from a guy whose name I had recognized from posting on the blog, but I had never met. His name is Matt Lange (the guy shown posing with me at the very top of this post), and he worked with Louisiana Tech University as a graphic designer and sideline photographer. He said (I’m paraphrasing here):

“Look, I saw what happened to Alex and I feel terrible for him, and I want to do something to help. I was able to arrange a sideline pass for Alex to shoot a Louisianna Tech University football game. We’re not a huge school like Florida State, with a giant stadium and 80,000 fans, but we have a great program, and it’s a great place to shoot, and at least this way Alex would still get to shoot a college football game on the sidelines.”

I was blown away that Matt would reach out and do something like this, especially for someone he didn’t know, and I called him to let him know that thankfully we already had Alex covered with an NFL shoot with the Bears, and then I swore Matt to secrecy about the Bears shoot. He was really thrilled for Alex, and Matt seemed like a really great, down-to-earth guy (kind of like Alex), and although I had just met him, I already had a lot of respect for him.

One door closes…another door opens…
Since Alex wasn’t coming to shoot the game, Matt asked if I wanted to come up and shoot an LA Tech game some time and I took him up on it. Matt was right — LA Tech has a great atmosphere, and I got some of my favorite football images in that game (including some that are still in my football photography portfolio to this day [link]). While I was there hanging with Matt (I went to their tailgate party before the game, which was a blast), I made another friend in Matt’s buddy Donald Page (whom we all refer to now as simply “Big Daddy Don Page,” a nod to drag racing legend Big Daddy Don Garlitts). We all hit if off so well, that Matt and Don came to New York City with me the following week for Photo Plus Expo, and everybody from our crew took them in like they were family (we’ll all still great friends).

As it turned out, both Don and Matt were shooting NFL games for a small sports wire service called “Southcreek Global Media” and the more they told me about Southcreek, the more interested I became, and I eventually applied to shoot locally for Southcreek. A month later, I got picked up by them, and wound up shooting everything from Tampa Bay Bucs games, to Indy Racing, to Major League Baseball, College Bowl Games, Hockey, and all sorts of cool sports gigs. Really a great experience (and more on Southcreek in a day or so here on the blog). So, not only did I have a great football shoot, I made two new friends, and even wound up shooting sports for a wire service. Hey, ya never know, but this story isn’t over yet.

It was at the end of an episode of D-Town TV…
In 2010, when Matt Kloskowski and I hosted D-Town TV  we always closed the show by highlighting the work of a photographer, and in one episode I turned our viewers onto the photography and design work of my new friend Matt Lange. Matt is an absolutely kick-butt designer, for both Print and Video, and his work for LA Tech looks as good as anybody’s out there — totally EPSN or SI quality stuff, so I really wanted to share his work with our viewers and help him reach a larger audience.

So who was watching that episode that day?
Well, as luck would have it, Michael Benford, the Creative Director of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons (a terrific guy, and kick-butt designer and photographer himself), was watching and he started following Matt Lange’s work, just in case one day an opportunity came around to add to the Falcon’s in-house design staff.

Well, I’m thrilled to share with you that last week my buddy Matt Lange moved up to the NFL where he started his dream job as a full-time designer with the Falcons (Michael Benford clearly has a great eye for talent!). You could not wipe the smile off my face when I got the text from Matt Lange telling me that Michael had offered him the job and he and his wife were on their way to find a new home in Atlanta.

I had dinner two weeks ago with Michael Benford, the night before my Atlanta seminar, and he told me the story of how he found Matt — from that mention on D-Town TV. I’m still smiling.

I love when good things happen to good people
It was Matt Lange reaching out to help Alex Walker, back in 2009, with no agenda but help out a fellow photographer who he felt had been wronged, that unknowingly led Matt to his dream job in the NFL just a few years later.

Funny how that stuff works out, isn’t it? By the way, Matt got his dream job, but the Atlanta Falcons also just added one of the most talented graphic designers, video designers, and photographers in the industry. They won, too! (Go Falcons!).

There were lots of heroes along the way
People like Mike McCaskey, who literally saved the day with his offer to have Alex on his sidelines. To Scott Bourne who sent loads of plug-ins and software to Alex. To Mike Olivella who is still licking his wounds from just trying to do something nice with his original contest idea in the first place, but still couldn’t let it go that Alex lost that shoot, so he wound up arranging for Alex to shoot with him on the sidelines of the ACC College Championship Game (here’s the link to that story. That’s Alex and Mike at the game, shown above). To the many photographers who offered their support, sent gifts, and became fans of Alex Walker through this contest. I even asked Alex to write a guest blog here on my blog, and he totally rocked it. Here’s the link to hear Alex’s story. You’ll totally dig it now that you know Alex, and you’ll love the photos, too!

You can be a “Matt Lange” too!
Matt helped out somebody else with no thought whatsoever of what it would get him, but look what it got him. Life has a way of doing that. You do things, and good things seem to boomerang back to you. That’s not why you do good things — it’s just a wonderful side effect. :)

Sometime soon, you’ll have an opportunity to be a Matt Lange. Maybe it’s to help someone at work. Maybe a friend. Maybe like Matt it’s to help someone you’ve never met. Take that opportunity and do it. By the way, the feeling you get when you help somebody else — that right there — that’s your good deed already coming back to you. If you never get anything more from it than that feeling, you’ve already moved ahead in your life (and you helped somebody else move ahead in theirs). If you ever sit and wonder what life’s about. That is what life’s about. :)