Picture Perfect


Vern Biever

Vern Biever has been witness to a number of the Green Bay Packers' most historic events, but for him perhaps none will stand out more than Saturday's Packer Hall of Fame Induction Banquet at the KI Convention Center in Green Bay, because this time Biever, the team's official photographer for more than five decades, will be among the men in focus.

Set to be introduced by legendary quarterback Bart Starr, Biever will be named to the franchise's Hall of Fame alongside of wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, who also will be in attendance.

For Biever, who has made a career by being on the outside looking in, Saturday's banquet will offer a new perspective, one which he is honored to enjoy, if not still adjusting to the view.

"Naturally I'm pretty excited," Biever said. "It's been a long time and I never thought it would come to this. It might be unusual for a photographer to be so honored, and certainly I don't consider myself up to the level of a Sterling Sharpe, but to be placed among all those names is pretty special."

Biever's relationship with the Packers dates back to 1941 when as a student at St. Norbert College he convinced the Milwaukee Sentinel that he could be their Packers photographer. Back in those days, Biever shot game footage and gave the film to a train conductor before phoning the newspaper in Milwaukee to tell them where they could claim their film.

That system worked until Biever was shipped off to France for World War II. When he came back just a few years later, he found that Milwaukee papers had moved forward, chartering a flight every weekend for their photographers to attend the games in Green Bay.

Out of a job, he contacted the Packers' public relations department and made an offer they couldn't refuse.

"I told them that if they provided me a field pass for every game, I'd take pictures for them for free," Biever recalled. "The price was right, they couldn't pass up the opportunity."

Nor could Biever, who got a sideline view as Packers lore was created in front of him, his photos becoming links to the legends.

It was at Super Bowl I that Biever captured what he considers to be his best picture, not for its artistic excellence but for its place in pro football history.

"It's not an action shot by any means, it's just a shot of (then NFL Commissioner) Pete Rozelle handing the first Super Bowl trophy to (Packers head coach Vince) Lombardi," Biever explained. "I remember thinking at the time, even though the stands were not full in those days, that this is going to be big, this is going to be like the World Series of football.

"I just knew immediately the historical significance of the picture. And I'm not positive, but I think I could have been the only still-photographer in the room for that. Maybe I missed it, but I certainly don't remember seeing anyone else get a shot similar to that."

Few can claim to have had a career like Biever's. Up until last season, he was one of a handful of photographers who had worked every Super Bowl, one of the others being his eldest son John who shoots for Sports Illustrated.

Biever had planned to attend Super Bowl XXXVI like the 35 championships before it, but backed out at the last moment, not eager to deal with the increased post-September 11 security, his photo equipment not feeling any lighter.

Credential in hand, he notified the NFL that he would not attend and shortly thereafter received a FedEx package full of complimentary Super Bowl gifts courtesy of the league. It was just a small token of gratitude from the NFL to a man who used to pay his own way to cover the event, but it struck a chord in Biever.

"It was so generous and I certainly didn't expect it," he said. "When I got that package, it was difficult not to cry, I almost broke down right there."

Watching the game wasn't much easier. Biever said he spent most of the game missing the camaraderie of the other photographers, imagining himself on the sidelines struggling for his position.

Next year, the Super Bowl will be easier to watch, said Biever, who still shoots Packers home games along with his youngest son Jim. Despite all the years dedicated to shooting NFL games, despite fathering two sons that followed in his footsteps (his daughter is also a photographer, although not of football), Biever insisted that photography has been his hobby all along.

"I never wanted it any other way," he said. "I've had several other businesses throughout the years, I just wanted this to be a hobby for me, and it grew into something you just couldn't believe . . .

"Years ago I could have never imagined it coming to this, but to be inducted into the Packer Hall of Fame is certainly something special."

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