NEW ORLEANS — Ada, Minn., native Nick Wagner has taken photos during elections when candidates have received death threats. He was on the ground taking photos when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. He's taken photos while flying in old war planes in Fargo.
Tuesday, while photographing the Sugar Bowl between the University of Georgia and the University of Texas, Wagner had the most dangerous moment of his career. It came when the horn of Bevo, a Texas longhorn and University of Texas mascot, hit him in the face and back.
Bevo is around 1,700 pounds and his horns are 58 inches wide.
OMG this angle of Bevo and Uga pic.twitter.com/ez4aub88Ij— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) January 2, 2019
"This tops the list," Wagner, 24, said. "You never think it's going to happen to you, but this steer has a whole lot of spice to him. He's dragged some of the handlers at games and was bucking before the USC game. Usually the Bevos before him have been chill, but this guy's got some spunk."
Wagner got into photography for sports. He wanted to experience sporting events in a completely different way than anyone else. He worked for the Minnesota State High School League, The Forum, the Associated Press and the Deseret News before heading to Austin to work for the Austin American-Statesman.
"The big draw was making it to the big stage," Wagner said. "I wanted to shoot games at Williams Arena and the Target Center, where the big boys play."
Wagner's career brought him to where a big dog played Tuesday at the Sugar Bowl.
The pregame plan is pretty much a free-for-all for Wagner, as he tries to get something for viewers to look at before the game. He generally gets players warming up or coaches talking. Sometimes he gets actor Matthew McConaughey talking to Texas coach Tom Herman, so he's always looking for something interesting.
"You never know what you're going to get," Wagner said.
On Tuesday, Wagner had heard Georgia's bulldog mascot, Uga, was going to meet Bevo in somewhat of a staredown. Wagner knelt on the ground to get some shots of Uga, as Bevo was behind him behind a few barriers, if you can call them that.
The "barriers" were not strong enough.
Bevo came storming through, Uga and his handler booked it and chaos ensued. Bevo's nose and horn pushed into Wagner's back and his right horn got him in the face. Bevo's handlers grabbed his left horn as Bevo charged, which eased up on the hit to Wagner's face.
"If the handlers weren't able to get a hold of his left horn, I don't know what how it would've ended," Wagner said. "He was ready to go."
Wagner also is usually on his belly to get shots like the ones he was trying to get of Uga. He couldn't imagine what would've happened if he was on the ground.
He ended up with some scrapes on his face that have gone away and a mark on his back near his spine. On Wednesday he was driving back to Austin and said his face feels fine, but his back is starting to feel the pain. He has the next few days off to heal.
The original video of the incident has been viewed nearly seven million times. The clip was shown on ESPN repeatedly.
"I was hearing from people I hadn't talked to in years to make sure I was OK," Wagner said.
Wagner still photographed the game. He said his mom knew he was OK because of a group text with his family where they were making jokes. She's used to him being in the middle of things.
"She knew I had a job to do, so she didn't call," Wagner said. "But I got a hold of her later."
No one from the University of Texas or the Mercedes-Benz Superdome checked to make sure Wagner was OK. He said he understood because there was a lot of people scattering.
Some believed it was the red jersey on Uga that did it. Some think it could be the history of bulldogs that sent Bevo flying. Bulldogs were originally bred to control livestock and were even used in a sport called bull-baiting in which dogs would latch onto the nose of a bull until the bull went to the ground or killed the dog. Old English bulldogs were bred for the sport.
Wagner, however, would like to hear from Bevo.
"I tweeted at him and he didn't tweet back, so I don't know if we're cool or not," Wagner said.
Either way, Wagner will be back photographing Texas basketball in a few days.
"It's crazy because now it's going to be a story," Wagner said. "We never want to be made into the story as a journalist. But it's a story I'll be telling forever."