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A front seat to every Super Bowl

When the Super Bowl kicks off Sunday in New Jersey, photographer John Biever will be there.

Just as he has for all of the 47 other Super Bowls.

Biever is one of four photographers who have been on the field for every championship game since 1967.

He got his start when he was just 15 years old. He shot the first and second Super Bowls with his father, Vernon, who was the longtime team photographer for the Green Bay Packers. The Packers won both of those games.

"I've been wracking my brain, trying to remember that far back. That was a long time ago," Biever said, referring to the first Super Bowl, which was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. "But as a kid, as a 15-year-old kid, it was overwhelming. …

"The thing I recall is, there were some Hollywood stars on the sidelines with us. I remember being next to Bob Hope at one point on the field. He started to come down to the field for a little while; then he'd go back in the stands. That would never happen now."

Today, the Super Bowl is one of the most coveted tickets in sports. But that wasn't always the case.

"The stands weren't full," Biever recalled. "I mean, the first Super Bowl, there were empty seats, which is incredible."

The Packers didn't make it to Super Bowl III. But Biever got a field pass from NFL Films co-founder Steve Sabol, a friend of his father's, to take photos for that game and the next few Super Bowls. Biever also took Super Bowl photos for NFL Properties before he became a photographer for Sports Illustrated magazine in 1988.

Looking back, he said, he has seen quite a bit of change since that first Super Bowl.

"The number of photographers on the field was, I would guess, maybe 50 total. And now there's probably 300," he said. "And the field hasn't gotten any bigger, so it's like you had a lot better access, a lot more room to shoot. Plus, TV has really come in a lot, and they've taken a lot more space, too. And (there are) more officials on the field. So it's really gotten crowded down there.

"It's quite difficult now to get a good picture. And that's why you almost have to send more people, because you have to kind of man every corner to cover the game."

For this year's game, Biever said, Sports Illustrated will probably have eight photographers on the field: six stationary and two roaming the sidelines, looking for the best shots during the game. He will be one of the ones roaming.

"Some of the years I've just done stationary in the end zone, and it's been a little frustrating (when) the play doesn't come your way," he said.

As always, Biever will be on the lookout for the players who wear their emotions on their sleeve.

That probably isn't Peyton Manning, the prolific Denver Broncos quarterback who recently broke the NFL's single-season touchdown record.

"Some people say, 'Wow, he must make the best pictures because he's the best quarterback,' " said Biever, who has more than 130 Sports Illustrated covers to his credit. "That's not necessarily the case. And that's where (former Packers quarterback Brett) Favre was great, because he showed his emotion a lot. We were able to get a lot of emotion out of him."

This is the first year that the Super Bowl is being held outdoors in a cold-weather city, but Biever isn't too concerned. He's covered plenty of cold games in Chicago and Green Bay, including the infamous "Ice Bowl" in 1967 that preceded Super Bowl II.

In that game, the temperature got as cold as 13 below zero, with a wind chill of 46 below.

"The hard thing for photographers in cold-weather games are your fingers," Biever said. "Because a lot of what you do is with the tips of your fingers, and that's the part that gets cold first, and that's the part you've got to try to keep warm."

Biever remembers that some photographers had their equipment break down during the Ice Bowl. But he said cameras today are much more weather-sealed, and their batteries last longer, too.

"Plus another thing that's gotten better is the fact that we use digital cards now instead of film," he said. "Film used to break in cold. You'd get halfway through a roll, and the film would break in the camera. You throw it away."

Biever said he'll have hand-warmers and layers of clothing for the big game this weekend, but at the end of the day, it's more mental than anything else.

"You just have to have a mindset," he said. "People can just talk themselves out of it: 'It's going to be cold, four hours of cold, so just deal with it.' As long as the equipment keeps working and your fingers keep working, you just got to tell yourself to keep doing it, do the best job you can."

- Kyle Almond, CNN