GREEN BAY – Jim Biever always has considered himself more a fan of photography than football, which explains why his enthusiasm for a privilege many teenagers would die for was subdued at best.
Back in the early 1970s, Biever’s father Vernon, then the Packers’ team photographer, would ask his son to tag along with him to Lambeau Field. Having an assistant to carry the extra cameras and lenses up and down the sideline came in handy, except that Jim was often more interested in the darkroom work back home than the action on the field.
“It got to the point in the mid to late ’70s, with the trials and tribulations the team was going through, I’d say, ‘C’mon, Dad, do I have to go watch the Packers lose again?’” Biever recalled.
“As a snot-nose kid, you never think of what you’re going to do for an occupation, or what you’re going to do in life at that age.”
Biever ended up assuming his dad’s job as team photographer, of course. Father and son began splitting the Packers’ road trips sometime in the late 1980s, and the younger Biever fully took the reins in 1997.
The Biever era is now coming to a close, however, with Jim’s decision to step aside as team photographer this spring. The family’s photography of the franchise dates back to the 1940s, when Vernon began shooting pictures toward the tail end of Curly Lambeau’s tenure.
“Jim’s images have enabled Packers fans to heighten their appreciation of the players, coaches and heart-stopping moments over the years,” said Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy. “While media use and the internet has evolved the ways fans follow the game, there’s still something special about a great photograph that tells the story in a unique way.
“Like his father before him, Jim has a special talent to capture excellence and deepen the connection the fans enjoy with the team. We appreciate Jim’s accomplished work and wish him well.”
Biever’s memories from the Green Bay sidelines run the gamut, from trying to capture some of the emotion on Brett Favre’s face on that Dec. 2003 Monday night in Oakland after his father died, to casually shooting an officiating crew prior to a 2012 preseason game, when the regular officials were in a labor dispute with the league.
“The replacement ref came up to me and asked if I would mind taking a group picture of the guys here, and I’d do that quite often,” Biever said. “These guys said, ‘You won’t have to tell us to smile, because we’re so happy to be here.’
“That happened to be the same crew that blew the call in Seattle a few weeks later.”
Owner of a travel agency near his home in Port Washington, Wis., Biever plans to continue with his business ventures and some photography, but he’s getting away from the week-to-week grind of the NFL season. His older brother, John, a longtime Sports Illustrated photographer, did the same two years ago, though he continues to shoot the Super Bowl each season, having attended all 50 big games to date.
Biever said after years of kneeling on “frozen turf,” his knees have had enough, and a neck injury that resulted from a car accident a couple of years ago – on his way to the Green Bay airport for a road trip – has taken its toll as well.
Dealing with the weather has gotten more difficult, too, though the challenge of rain or snow or cold always has its rewards.
“Those make great photos,” he said. “You’re not going to get a snow picture in Miami, so it’s good and bad.”
Among dozens of favorite shots is one Biever didn’t actually take himself. Back in mid-October of 2010, the Packers were playing at home the Sunday after Vernon Biever passed away at the age of 87.
“Some of the local photographers got together and said, ‘Let’s meet on the G after the game for a moment of silence for Vern,’” Biever said. “That was a really special moment.”
Biever had to watch the Packers lose that day (in overtime to the Dolphins), but that season ended with the Super Bowl XLV title. The ’70s didn’t have the same payoff, but Biever is forever grateful he always went along with his father.
“I picked up little things along the way – what he was using for different cameras and different situations, how he dealt with people. He always said to just stay out of everybody’s way,” Biever said. “Those were lifelong lessons that I learned.
“I took a picture one time in the locker room, and my dad took the same picture, of one of Lombardi’s quotes, and it says ‘Leave no regrets on the field.’ I think it could say, ‘Leave no regrets in life.’”