It’s the hottest ticket in the world right now. No, we’re not talking about Super Bowl LIV tickets. We’re talking about securing press credentials to shoot Super Bowl LIV from the sidelines. Given that the NFL is pretty persnickety about who gets a coveted lanyard, one local photographer, Josh Umphrey, was just blessed with the sports equivalent of the golden ticket.
The Olathe native has been shooting NFL games since—we kid you not—he was in high school. Umphrey’s father just happens to be a prolific sports photographer who got his son involved in the business at an early age. Clearly, the apple didn’t fall far from the exquisitely lit, perfectly framed tree. “I’ve always worked for my dad. I was a high school kid shooting professional sporting events—which is pretty rare. I helped him when I could, shooting baseball, hockey, and football games—whatever he needed me to do. I had the opportunity at a pretty young age to help him at some pretty cool events.”
Turns out, shooting sports was always just a side hustle for Umphrey. His big boy job? Being an educator for the past fifteen years. Umphrey holds down the fort as the assistant principal at Olathe West High School—a job he not only enjoys, but wholeheartedly embraces. “My full-time gig has always been teaching and helping kids,” he says. “I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by teachers and staff who support me—and I’m thankful to my school and the district for supporting this endeavor.”
Of course, we wanted to know if his students were aware their school administrator has photographed iconic shots of legends like Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, and of course, Patrick Mahomes. The answer is a definitive and modest maybe. “I tend to think of myself as decently humble,” says Umphrey. “I don’t talk about it too much, but I think it’s gained a little bit of traction. I try to do my job at school and do the best I can. The kids are aware, I think. I don’t hide it, but I don’t publicize it.” We think that might change a little bit once this article gets out.
For Umphrey—whose work has appeared in Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine—he says shooting the Super Bowl is a “great opportunity.” In fact, he probably used the term “excited” about a half dozen times in our interview. But is he nervous? Uh, no. “Nerves are not a part of it at all. Trust me—if you ask my dad—I’ve shot plenty of games on my own. I think he more than trusts me to do a good job.”
Despite being mere feet from all the action, Umphrey is quick to mention that with any job, it’s still a job. “People always say, ‘Oh, man—you get to go to the games!’ But, it truly is work and you’re working hard—always searching for the right shots.”
A question about the pros and cons of working on the sideline quickly turned heartfelt. The sports shutterbug said easily the best part of the gig was the genuine camaraderie among all the photographers. “This might sound cliché, but the best part is being around other photographers,” Umphrey admits. “There are a lot of really great guys on the sideline. It’s almost like a small community and I love that aspect. Being around those guys, you gain a lot of great friends. I look forward to seeing them on a regular basis.”
When asked if they are any drawbacks, he replies, “It might sound a little corny, but my kids are becoming big-time Chiefs fans and not getting to watch [the games] with them is probably the biggest downside. You worry about missing out on those opportunities you have with your own kids.”
Naturally, he predicts the Chiefs will win, but he’s also a little gushy about this year’s roster. It’s a sentiment that’s been echoed throughout the metro. “There’s something a little more special about this team. The whole dynamic—Mahomes, Andy Reid—they all seem level-headed. They give everything they’ve got on the field. They realize there’s bigger things in the world, but still value their skill and profession. And for me, I’m drawn to that.”
Speaking of waxing nostalgic, when we asked if Umphrey had an all-time favorite shot, he struggled. When you’ve taken thousands upon thousands of action shots over the years, they all can blur together. One picture, however, finally made the cut. “The first thing I ever did as a photographer—like, I was in middle school. My dad and I were in Phoenix, Arizona, and we were taking pictures of this Indy car,” he says. “He handed me the camera and said take some shots. I remember that moment. I remember there was this one picture I took of this green, white, and red car that sparked my interest. If there’s one photograph that’s most memorable for me, it’s probably that. It made me passionate about photography. It’s a great memory of my dad giving me the keys to the car—kind of giving me an opportunity to learn and fail and do something unique.”
While he’s credentialed for the entire week leading up to the game, the former football coach says he won’t be going down until Friday. His priority is with the kids at Olathe West High School. “I’m in a profession where we put the students ahead of our needs often in the education field,” he says. “Ultimately, I want to be known for being kind to others—and being someone who is easily approachable.”