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Before UM photographer got crushed, she got the shot

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Photo taken by Michigan junior Samii Stoloff right before Michigan running back Karan Higdon crashed into her on the sideline.

Samii Stoloff, a junior at the University of Michigan, usually only photographs home football games. But she had traveled to Penn State over the weekend, so she figured she might as well set up shop.

Little did she know, she'd become the center of attention Saturday night in front of a crowd of 110,823 at Beaver Stadium.

"It was insane," she told The Detroit News on Monday afternoon, safe and sound back in Ann Arbor.

"I wasn't crying, I was kind of like in shock at that point. Then I realized the entire stadium was, like, quiet and they weren't continuing play. Then I started to cry, because everyone's looking at me.

"I looked around, 'Oh my God, I can't believe this is happening to me.'"

Yes, Stoloff was the photographer mentioned on the ABC prime-time telecast, the one who had been run over by Michigan running back Karan Higdon on a touchdown run early in the second quarter.

Let's start with this: Yes, she's OK. She's still using a crutch, as her leg is a little sore. But there's nothing broken. There's nothing torn. There's no concussion.

There's just, let's face it, a really good story that she'll be able to tell for years to come.

Stoloff, 20, was near the corner of the end zone when the fateful play happened, and admittedly she was a little closer to the field than photographers are supposed to be. There was a TV camera cart behind her, pushing her closer to the field.

And then Michigan decided, already down 14-0, to go for it on fourth down.

"I was trying to get the touchdown, and I'm watching him coming toward me. 'All right, it's just gonna be a close shoot, good thing I'm using my wide-angle lens,'" she said. "Then, he's on top of me and I'm on the ground. I was on my back at this point, and I'm so afraid my (left) leg is broken.

"I knew I didn't hit my head. I was aware of where I was, and I was just so afraid I had either torn a ligament or broken my leg.

"So I just laid there and let people come to me, because I know that's what you're supposed to do."

Michigan junior and photographer Samii Stoloff, left, with former Michigan tight end Jake Butt.

Quickly, medical personnel had rushed to her side, as did her professor, who asked who could be called. She gave her Dad's number.

Meanwhile, there lay Stoloff, eventually on a stretcher  and clutching her camera.

Photographers treat their cameras like members of the family. Two weeks ago, Stoloff's camera suffered water damage during the monsoon at the Michigan State-Michigan game. She packed it in rice and saved it. She wasn't about to let it out of her sight at Penn State. Her health be damned.

"I live for my cameras. My camera is there for me," she said. "It sounds stupid, but all my work is there. No way it was getting lost."

Stoloff, who shoots for the Big Ten Network and the University of Michigan, eventually was taken underneath the Beaver Stadium stands and into a first-aid room, where she was looked over by several doctors. Her head, neck, shoulders, hips, torso and knees were examined. She was worried maybe she had torn an ACL, since she already had experienced one of those nasty injuries years earlier.

While in the first-aid room, Stoloff called her Dad, who hadn't seen it, because he changed the channel. Eventually, doctors gave her some pain meds, some crutches and she got back out onto the field.

Stoloff was back on the field early in the third quarter, but she was done shooting for the day.

"I wanted to be aware of my surroundings," she said, laughing.

All while this is going on, Stoloff  even if her name wasn't being used  was becoming a popular topic on Twitter, especially after the ABC sideline reporter mentioned a photographer had been injured, accompanied by an overhead camera shot of her being loaded onto the stretcher.

She was getting text messages, and her mentions were blowing up on Twitter. And then she started crying again, though this time it was a good cry  many folks, folks she didn't even know, wanted to know that she was OK.

Eventually, by the way, Stoloff did relinquish her camera, even if just for a moment. A photographer friend volunteered to hold on to it as she was getting checked out.

"And as he was giving it back to me, I said, 'Did I at least get the shot?'" Stoloff said. "And he was like, 'You got the shot.' I was so excited. Well, then, I guess it was worth it."

Stoloff posted the two photos on Twitter (@samiihandstandi) and Instagram (@samii_stoloff_photo), the shots right before she got crunched by Higdon.

The first is Higdon crossing the goal line, just inside the pylon.

The second is Higdon falling down, right toward Stoloff.

Higdon commented on Instagram, telling her to, "Get well." Stoloff plans to print out the photograph and have Higdon sign it, a reminder of a memorable Saturday night at Penn State  where, for several moments, more than 100,000 pairs of eyes were transfixed on her, a college junior just there to do a job, get some good shots, and head home to Ann Arbor under the photographer's typical cloud of anonymity.

"It could've been so much worse," said Stoloff, from South Florida. "I'm healing. It's getting better."