Feature written by Concordia sports information student assistant David Youngs
MOORHEAD, Minn (4/21/20)-- Players have come and gone through the years on the turf of Jake Christiansen stadium that Cobber Football calls home. As seniors graduate and set forth in the world their jerseys are filled by incoming freshmen in a never-ending cycle that floods the Concordia community with tradition, pride, and excellence.
Photographer Sheldon Green has been one of the few constant figures roaming the sidelines on any given crisp autumn Saturday afternoon. Green, and his camera, have seen it all over the past 16 years.
Green has been a photographer for Cobber Athletics since 2004. While his main role has been shooting action shots on the gridiron, Green has also lent his hand to Cobber basketball, baseball, and volleyball over the years.
“I just love Division III," Green said. "The level of enthusiasm and dedication of the athletes is remarkable. It's fun to document that and watch them grow as athletes.”
Green has been a lifetime photographer. After graduating from the University of North Dakota in 1971 his talent behind the lens took him across the region and around the country. As Green reflects on his career of photography there’s one experience that sticks out like a needle in a haystack for any sports fan; Green’s years in the early 1970’s shooting photography for one of the most storied sports franchises in history - the Green Bay Packers.
A STORY OF LUCK
Green was a young unattached college graduate in 1972 when he took a job at the Idaho Daily Journal in Pocatello, Idaho. He had moved into the role of State Editor when he quickly befriended Assistant Sports Editor, and Wisconsin native, Rob Zaleski.
“Sheldon was one of the coolest people that I’ve ever known, he had a wonderful personality, and everyone loved him,” Zaleski said.
Within the first months of working together Zaleski was offered the opportunity of a lifetime in his home state; a position at the newly formed Green Bay Daily News covering the Green Bay Packers.
Zaleski didn’t forget about his friend back in Idaho when he moved back to his home state of Wisconsin. While on a lunch break at his new job in Green Bay Zaleski phoned Green with a pleasant proposal that would rekindle their work partnership and friendship.
“Within a week and a half of him moving he reached out to me and said, ‘we need a photographer here,’” Green recalled. “I packed up out of Idaho and moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin and joined the Green Bay Daily News in 1972.”
The opportunity was nothing short of a dream come true for Green, who has fond memories of watching the Packers during their glory days as a kid growing up.
“We were huge fans growing up,” Green said. “My dad, brother, and I would watch them play every week.
Green’s introduction to Packer lore was nothing was right out of a dream as the wide-eyed 23-year-old had breakfast with Zaleski and Green Bay legendary running back Paul Hornung.
“I can remember that I was supposed to take a few photos at that meeting, I don’t think I ate a single bite of breakfast because I was in awe,” Green laughed.
That level of awe hit Green as he began to capture shots at Packer practices and games on a daily basis. While the team wasn’t at the top of the NFL like their storied run in the 1960’s when they captured three NFL Championships and the first two Super Bowls under coaching legend Vince Lombardi, Green would still be witness to NFL Hall of Famers every day on the job.
“It was like being starstruck, I’d walk out on the practice field and would be walking past guys like Ray Nitschke and Bart Starr and some of these great big names from the Packer glory days,” Green said.
After retirement from the Packers, Hall of Famer Starr stuck around town selling NFL properties with his backup quarterback Zeke Bratkowski before taking over the head coaching position in 1975. During that period Green’s new and refreshing photos in the Green Bay Daily News caught Starr’s eye. He was so impressed that he reached out to Green to inquire for business.
“One afternoon I got a telephone call and it was Bart Starr on the other end of the line. He had seen my photographs and wanted me to come and do some shots for him at his NFL properties business,” Green said. “I was this 23-year-old kid who didn’t really know anything and there I was in Bart Starr's office. It was pretty amazing.”
In an era when sports media wasn’t controlled by million-dollar television contracts, teams relied heavily on journalists and photographers to help generate ticket sales. As a result, media members were granted access to the game that are now non-existent.
“At the time selling a print version of the team was the major way to promote the game so we had pretty good access to players,” Green said.
Not only did that access take place on the practice field, but on weekends at Lambeau Field and County Stadium in Milwaukee where the Packers played two to four home games each year until 1994. Even though the two venues hosted the same team they couldn’t have been more different.
“Lambeau is a football only stadium so it’s perfect for viewing the game,” Green said. “Green Bay isn’t any bigger than Fargo-Moorhead, so it was just the biggest source of pride.”
Green enjoyed shooting photography at the ‘Frozen Tundra’ because of the incredible atmosphere and packed crowds. The secret? Bleachers.
“They have bleachers rather than individual seats because you could always squeeze another person in,” Green said. “That’s why it seems like the stadium is always packed, it’s just a wonderful experience being there.”
County Stadium on the other hand was a makeshift football field planted atop a baseball venue where the Milwaukee Braves and Brewers played.
“You've got a baseball field being converted to the football field so half the fans were way off the field. It wasn’t a good fan experience,” Green said.
Despite the poor fan experience one of Green’s more memorable experiences came within the walls of the County Stadium locker room when he was able to interact with one of the biggest icons in NFL history – New York Jets’ Super Bowl guaranteeing quarterback Joe Namath.
“Everyone always wanted to interview Namath because he was a real colorful guy and always had good quotes,” Green said. “After one game in the locker room there was a big cluster of media around Joe. Some of the guys always wanted to poke at him so one reporter said, ‘Hey Joe I heard you weren’t a very good student in college.’”
Namath responded with ‘Ah yeah I was there to play football. I didn’t study much so I went and found the easiest major possible so I wouldn’t have to work very hard in college.’
Naturally the media asked Namath what that major was. His response? “Journalism.”
“They were trying to play gotcha with Joe and he got them right back,” Green laughed. “It was just hilarious.”
STUDENT OF THE GAME
Green’s role as a photographer entailed much more than camera work. He learned to strategically position himself on the sidelines so that his lens could capture facial expressions within players’ helmets. Green did this by making sure he was always facing the offense of both teams. That way his lens would always be facing the Packers on both sides of the ball.
“My role was to really learn the game,” he said. “What is the down and distance? What are the tendencies of the team? On 3rd and 10 are they going to run the ball or are they going to throw a flat pass?”
During the Packers’ post-1960’s rebuilding era, Green strove to portray the team in the best positive light through his action shots.
“That was kind of the fun challenge, to show the game as it was played through the photographs but also show our guys in the best possible light too,” Green said.
Green’s photos didn’t just shed light on a losing football team, they were exceptional works of art.
“It was very clear from the beginning that he had an incredible gift as a photographer,” Zaleski said.
By 1975 Green had proved himself as a standout photographer for the Packers. He was known as someone who could go to a game and get ‘the shot’ that would represent the excitement and outcome of the game. His shots were often played large by the newspaper and highly recognized by the public because they captured the winning pass or a critical play in the game.
“Over the years I’ve had the chance to work with many award-winning photographers and Sheldon was as good as any of them,” Zaleski said. “He was simply a natural.”
But as times changed and media access lessened Green longed for something that was missing in his life, a sense of normalcy.
“It was a demanding job, our hours were often 6 p.m.- 2 a.m. so I would only see other journalists,” Green said. “I wanted a more fully-balanced life.”
Green packed up shop and moved back to North Dakota in 195 to run one of the newspapers that he had previously worked at in the western part of the state. That was followed by a tenure at the North Dakota Chamber of Commerce and the Concordia College Office of Communications in 1993 which led to his role in the Concordia Sports Information Office in 2004.
Sheldon is happy where he is at and thankful for the decision that he made. Yet he will always cherish the chance he had to document history for his childhood team.
“I was given an opportunity that was awfully rare and extremely special,” Green said. “I was given a chance and I worked really hard.”
And while his time in Green Bay was short, his mark on the community and Packer Football will forever be told by his incredible photography.
“He was only in the business for a couple of years but I’m sure if you mentioned his name up in Green Bay to some of the old-timers, they would know his name,” Zaleski said. “Sheldon was that good.”
Sheldon Green Picture Gallery