As San Francisco 49er greats Joe Montana and Roger Craig fielded questions about an upcoming legends flag football game, one reporter asked Craig what it was like to be back at The Stick?
Craig, the four-time pro bowler and three-time Super Bowl champ, bashfully said he had goosebumps when he pulled up to the stadium, drawing a soft complimentary laugh from the pool of photographers and reporters.
Bobbing around the group of reporters was an equally nervous and nostalgic photographer snapping photos from multiple angles with a genuine grin from ear to ear.
That photographer was John Hart, and on this June day he was on the sidelines of Candlestick Park clicking away with his lens firmly focused on some of the legends he photographed throughout the 1980s and ’90s.
But most days Hart can be found roaming the sidelines of local sporting venues capturing moments in time for The Union.
Hart has been with The Union for 50 years, officially starting in 1964, and by 1970 he was on the sidelines of Nevada Union football games, which at that time were played at the fairgrounds.
While photography intrigued Hart, he said it wasn’t something he sought out. It was photography that found him and he hasn’t stopped clicking since.
“I stumbled into it,” Hart said. “I got to know Pat Ryan, he was a photographer (at The Union), and somehow it came up where he gave me a camera to play with and I started going to places with him. He didn’t like doing football, so he said I could shoot football, Nevada Union, and in those days they played at the fairgrounds. I used flash bulbs, and would ride to the games with the stat guy from Nevada Union because at that time I didn’t have a car to drive, I was 18 or 19 by then.”
Since then, John has been the eye of Nevada County sports, covering everything from Friday night football, to Little League All-Stars, to even rocketry golf. He’s been out there for more than 30 Nevada City Classic bicycle races, 27 Nevada Union Sac-Joaquin Section championships, the emergence of Bear River High School — and the 23 Bruin section titles that have followed.
But with as many memories as Hart has made on the local sidelines, covering several of NU’s football championships being his favorite, he has always cherished his time photographing the 49ers.
“You feel like you’re one of the big boys,” he said. “I was there when the 49ers with Steve Young won the (NFC) championship; and Steve Young had the trophy and was running around the stadium. It was hard to shoot because everybody was running after him.”
Hart’s days on the sidelines of 49ers games came to a close abruptly in the early 2000s.
“I got creamed by Hasselbeck,” Hart said of the end of his run photographing the 49ers.
Matt Hasselbeck, a quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks at the time, threw an interception and in his attempt to make a tackle billowed into Hart on the sideline, forcing him to be carted off on a stretcher. Hart was fine, but The Union’s publisher at the time worried about the possible liability and opted to keep Hart close to home from there on out. Since then, John has stayed local for the most part, sometimes making a trip back to the place where he felt like a “big boy” only for special occasions.
To this day Hart still can be found on the sideline of any given field of play on any given day in Nevada County, often shaking hands with people he once photographed when they were kids, who are now parents — or even grandparents — of the subjects he’s currently photographing.
While at Candlestick for the legends game news conference Joe Montana took time to acknowledge that while a lot has changed over the years, one thing hasn’t and that was the wind at the famous stadium which slated to be demolished in 2015.
For Hart, during the 40-plus years he has been photographing Nevada County sports, technology has changed, The Union’s location has changed, the business as a whole has changed, but like the wind at Candlestick, John Hart is a constant and just part of the charm.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.