Photographer has made her mark on Heisman history

The shoot took no more than 15 minutes, the smiling 20-year-old clad in

his Texas A&M jersey posing in front of a white seamless


It’s just a series of photos in a weekend

in which Kelly Kline will produce thousands of them. But Saturday, when

the latest recipient of the Heisman Trophy takes a stage in the heart

of Times Square, the fruits of that photo session with Johnny Manziel

will be on full display — even if no one realizes it.

“Those are the ones that have really become part of

Heisman history,” Klein said.


Stretched across

the background during the ceremony are the portraits of the past

winners, the first 60-plus of which were painted by an a company owned

by former Tommy McDonald, the former Oklahoma All-America wide receiver,

who finished third in the Heisman voting in


McDonald, who is now retired, didn’t paint them

himself — he employed a team of six artists for that — but his

signature does appear on the bottom of the portraits. Tommy McDonald

Enterprises produced likenesses of winners beginning with the first, Jay

Berwanger (1939) through Ron Dayne in 1999.

In the

years that followed the Heisman Trust, with the help of ESPN for its TV

coverage of the ceremony, began manipulating photos to look like the

past. Kline, who was asked to take photos of the original portraits,

noticed distinct differences.

“I could see that they

had gone to the schools for a couple of years and requested photos from

the schools and it just looked off,” she said from her home in metro

Atlanta. “A school headshot is very different than this Heisman hero

portrait or how they’d always been in the artists


The Heisman Trust’s official

photographer — she shot her first ceremony in 2005 — Klein suggested

that to properly link the trophy’s history, she should pay homage to it

by taking photos that looked like the old


“I think more than anything I felt like

there was a need for it,” she said. “I was like ‘We can take this to

another level and make it work a little better with the past and make

the present feel like all work together.'”


studied the old renderings, looking at the shoulder angles and the

different perspectives and beginning with Tim Tebow in ’07, has held a

portrait session with the winner.

After their Monday

appearance on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America,’ the winner is in Klein’s

hands. She has them don shoulder pads and their jersey and makes slight

changes to produce a photo that can link the likes of Manziel, Robert

Griffin III and Mark Ingram to Doak Walker and Billy Sims.

“I do different things. Like I go a little low, I go

a little high. I have them turn a little left, a little right, a little

straight on,” Klein said. “I usually use two different lenses, a long

lens and a short lens because those two different things to accentuate

your size in the camera.

“To me the old ones look so

good that you almost want to keep that going so another 50 years from

now, these ones look as good as the ones that will be 100 years


From Klein’s shots, Rob Whalen, the executive

director of the Heisman Trophy Trust, will send a select few —

generally between 2-8 — to Dan Cunningham, art director at ESPN, who is

charged with building the environment for the ceremony.

It’s then up to Cunningham to decide which photo

will become the rendering we eventually see.

“I look

at the face … the smile means a lot,” he said. “I want to make sure

its the shot. It’s representative of what he’ll do

for the rest of his life.”

ESPN’s senior artists then

manipulate the image digitally, adding effects to it before cutting out

the headshot and placing it on a painted background. Finally, they crop

the images to ensue that, as Cunningham puts it “make sure the modern

day fits on a horizontal line with the


What once took McDonald’s company a year

to create is now accomplished in a few days.


the Heisman portraits have now gone digital, those images are even more

closely related to the past than just in their look and feel.

The original McDonald paintings were put in storage

after the Downtown Athletic Club was forced to close its doors in 2002,

its financial troubles escalating after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

They have since been photographed and reproduced to be used onstage,

while the portraits themselves remain locked


Like the Klein/ESPN artist creations,

everything we see during the ceremony is a really a



For Klein, one

image creates a stress all is own: when the winner holds the Heisman

Trophy for the first time — and getting it just right is


“That’s the most important Heisman

(ceremony) moment and the one that will forever be cemented in history,”

she said.

Klein is the only one taking photos during

the ceremony, with her images sent out to the photo services that

supply Web sites and newspapers around the world. Add in the uncertainty

of what the recipient will do with the trophy, and the weight of the

moment is undeniable.

“You have to be so prepared to

photograph that moment,” she said. “That’s a moment you have to be ready

for, not only for your equipment, but also mentally or else you’ll miss


While some winners have raised the award —

only to drop it down when they realize it weighs 25 pounds, creating

havoc for keeping a camera focused — Manziel, in particular, made life

all too easy on Klein.

“I think someone coached the

heck out of Johnny Manziel, because he literally stood there for 15

seconds with the thing,” she said. “I had so many photos I actually

stopped taking photos.”

Klein’s responsibilities

stretch across four days; resulting in thousands of images a she follows

the candidates at events from their arrival in New York City on Friday

through the Monday night banquet.

Along with being

the only photographer in the ceremony, she’s also in the green room

before hand and has a vantage point that allows her to see a side of the

proceedings that few experience.

“It’s real, raw

emotions,” Klein said.

It was on display in 2009,

when winner Mark Ingram, in the moments before they took the Best Buy

Theater, walked over to Tim Tebow and admitted that he was


‘Tim was like ‘Well, let’s go over here and

pray,'” Klein recounted, and the two of the went into a corner of the

room and prayed together.

A year later, it was Cam

Newton, who dealt with his nerves in a different way — by lighting up

the room.

He sat on a couch with finalists LaMichael

James, Andrew Luck and Kellen Moore and “couldn’t stop smiling he was so

nervous,” Klein said, “and it made all the other guys smile, that

nervous kind of smile and they were all hunched up on this little tiny

couch in the green room all looking at each other


It’s the personalities that make the images

and as captivating as Newton was and as genuine as Ingram came off, no

winner had quiet the impact on Klein’s photography — and vice versa —

than Grffin

She admits she took a risk with Griffin,

the winner out of Baylor in 2011, who after receiving the trophy flashed

a pair of Superman socks complete with a cape hanging off the back.

Klein capitalized on it and had her assistant

purchase a costume, which they cut off of, along with a pair of $10

black-rimmed sunglasses with the lenses removed.


asked (Griffin) first ‘What do you think of this idea? Because we’ve

only got about 10 minutes to do it,” Klein said. “He said ‘I love it. I

love it. Let’s do it.'”

The result was a Clark Kent

of a QB in transformation, the Heisman in front of him, as Griffin wore

the sunglasses frames and the Superman costume under his dress


But even after the shoot was over, Griffin

didn’t entirely shed himself of his alter ego.


funny thing is, these glasses … my assistant got them for $10 in Times

Square. Well, he loved the glasses,” Klein


<p>Griffin III

Kline said of working with 2011 winner Robert

Griffin III: “He was so much fun. He totally lived in the moment.”

(Photo by Kelly


Griffin would wear the

frames to a photo shoot with university officials and VIPs and at that

night’s banquet — a white tie affair — he was still wearing them. They

stayed on his face throughout his speech and until Bears coach Art

Briles took them off so he could wear them when he spoke to the


“It all came from his personality,” Klein

said. “He was so much fun. He totally lived in the moment and wasn’t

afraid to be his own person and just have fun with


Klein’s job is, as she puts it, “to chronicle

the Heisman, and I feel very strongly about that. This is


In her own way, she has become a part of

that history, and the debut of Manziel’s portrait will be the latest

chapter. Klein has a place in the annals of the Heisman that is right

there, right in front of the eyes of millions, yet unbeknownst to


It’s a contribution to the trophy that is truly

hidden in plain sight.