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Coach Huf - The Painting of  John Hufnagel  -  2013 
Nik Lewis

Brett Schimmel

" Coach Huf " - This is a 22" x 28" Acrylic on Canvas painting of John Hufnagel - Calgary Stampeders Head Coach

Copyright by Joe Versikaitis

" This is why I love doing this! "

I have a wonderful relation and I am so blessed to be mentored by one of today's world known sports artist, Stephen Holland. He is an American artist, known for his portraits of athletes and celebrities. Holland's most famous paintings have been of Muhammad Ali.  He's work is just fantastic!  Sometimes our subject matter go from contemporary to abstract art and the business of it all. We ventured into what direction my art work should go. So now let me tell you about this venture!

I am a sports fanatic and to top it off a sports artist. In my world,  I truly believe the two go hand in hand. I mention to people who ask me why I do this, I will tell them that  I love painting sports portraits and I love watching sports.  These last few years it's been football, whether it is North American - CFL or NFL or the European football which to us here in the western hemisphere is soccer.   So to me watching sports and creating art go hand in hand. But most important it's the thrill to meet the player, create the artwork, and then watch the smile come onto their face when they see the final art piece of themselves.

Like many football fans I watch a lot of games, mostly via the TV. I always follow players that I think would look cool on one of canvases!  Because of the PVR I can watch, stop plays and make some quick sketches. So when I get the opportunity to go to a live game and photo shoot players for a project, I have an idea of what I m looking for in a players pose or stance. I work by using images to references a players face and the way the sun or stadium lights falls on his body. But mostly for the face details. After all the player needs to recognize himself in the painting before he agrees to take the painting home.

One of my many photo shoots came in the 2013 of the CFL season where the Calgary Stampeders hosted the Hamilton Ticats. 

Days before I arrive at the game, I have my mind set at taking photo shots of a few players and going from there. This way if I don't get my shots of that certain player I can always fall back on the other players.

As usual the shots that I was looking for didn't come. I was looking for a certain pose or action shot but it wasn't materializing. I went over to the Ticats bench area and snapped a few shots of receiver Dave Stala.  I was about to take more shots when the Ticats made a play on the field and all the players on the bench stood up and I couldn't see through these giants in front of me.  Well, that ended that inspirational thought.  I begun to walk back to the Stampeders side to see if my luck would change.

I set out along the sideline snapping shots of the plays as they unfolding in front of me. I am not sure if anybody knows this but it takes a long time to get around a football field when you stop and try to take action shots. It also seemed that the play was always on the other side of the field. I finally reached the Stampeders bench area.

One thing for sure, it's a real neat experience being near the play on the field and listening to the crowd behind you. But really it's even more especial to stand beside the future or now a day legends on the sideline and listen to what they say to each other. There is also the coaches talking about the next play with the players that just got off the field.

Then there was the kicker Rene Paredes going through his routine. He was my prop for a good 40 shots most likely a future painting.

It was on the sideline where I seen the TSN cameraman that I had talked to earlier in the game. As we were talking the play had stopped and then I seen Coach Huf wandering onto the field with his head set wrapped around his neck asking the referee for an explanation on a call. The stadium lights lit up McMahon's field. As Coach Huf put his head set back on his head and with  a deep concentration glare walked towards the sideline.  Even though there was 25,000 fans sitting on our side of the stadium , it felt like Coach Huf was looking through us and through the bleachers into the parking lot...that's the look that I wanted to capture! That's it I said!

As I stood there and snapped a few photos all I seen was the distant dark blurred crowd behind him and there in front of me was a living legend in the bright stadium lights. I recall telling the TSN cameraman who at the time was looking in another direction " Look at that " I said. As he turned and pointed his camera at Coach Huf all he could say was - " Way too Cool!"  I told the cameraman , my friend " This is why I love doing this. I can't wait to do a painting of this."

During the rest of game I was following Coach Huf for about 30 to 50 more shots. Some of shots were good quality and some not so good. When I say good quality, I mean clear and detailed and where I can see every hair, wrinkle, stitching in the shirt, etc. The wind was blowing pretty good so most of his shots had his hair flying all over the place. I only had a few shots where his hair was laid down and styled if you wish. I decided to go with the messy hair look because that's how I recall seeing it.

Hey, that's how paintings are conceived and created!

" This is why I love doing this! "

Joe Versikaitis

Coach Hufnagel signs the painting on November 16, 2015 only to have to take it off 9 months later because I sold it to the Stampeders. They presented to John on September 13th in a private ceremony, I believe it was his birthday gift.

I remember the day when John left a message on my answering machine to get back to him in regards to him signing my painting. It was about a week before hand that I sent him a letter asking for his signature on this piece and his permission to show case the piece at my exhibit that was coming up in November of 2016. I figured if I asked for two things I would at least get one of them.

 I got a hold of him the next day which was November 16. I was in Red Deer at the time when I called him which was about 1:30pm and he said to meet him at the Stamps office at 3:30pm cause he was going home at 4:pm. I thought holy crap I still have to go home and pick up the painting and then head down to the McMahon. I told my boss Jason that I was getting my painting signed by John Hufnagel...see you later!...lol I really don't recall what he said.  Well by the time I got home, down to the stadium, and parked in front of the Stamps office it was 3:25pm. 

I went inside the reception area and the secretary paged John. A few seconds later at the top of the long stair case in the main reception was Coach Hufnagel welcoming me upstairs. By this time I was a) in auhh that this was actually happening and B) it seem surreal. What sucks about the surreal things is that it was going too fast for me. All I can think of is that this man needed to get home by 4 and I was not going to be the one to keep him late.  We exchanged hand shakes and I gave him an 8 x 10 photo of the painting with my signature on it of course..lol He looked at the painting grabbed my sharpie and signed it on the white space below his right arm on the painting.  He didn't say anything about the painting. He just signed it and then we talked about the next game coming up which was the Western Final against Edmonton. He seem nervous about the game and said that it was going to be a tough game against the Eskis.  About the only thing I could say was " don't worry you guys have done well so far and you will do good ". I felt like I was talking to one of kids before they played a game. " Don't worry just go out there and do your best and have fun!"...I don't really think it was the game that was going through his mind but I think he was sad that his coaching days were coming to an end.

Before I knew it I was shaking hands with one of the greatest coaches in CFL history and thanking him for signing my art rendering of him. Then just like earlier on,  that surreal thing came back to me and I found myself sitting in my car again reminiscing about what just took place.

It was one of those situation where I wished I could have taken a video camera and recorded everything!  In one way I was so pumped that I got my painting of Coach Huf signed by the man himself but at the same time I was kind of sad for him. He had such a great career as a coach and it was coming to an end.

That night when I finally got a chance to hang my painting up again I noticed he signature for the first time. You see earlier on after John signed it I just stuck the piece inside my portfolio holder, zipped it up and stuck it inside my car. But now I have this painting in front of me and I am looking at the signature and I noticed that it says Joe Hufnagel....!

I said to my wife Michele " Oh no John signed the painting Joe instead of John!"..Well not much I can do about it..It is what it is! I thought hey what a hell of a story for this painting.

As it happened and like I mentioned earlier I had to paint over it. But not before I talked about it with my friend who is the Marketing Manager for the Calgary Stampeders.  I said to him that John signed it Joe and then Hufnagel underneath it. At first he didn't believe me then I sent him the photo. He did some digging and found out that this is the way John signs. He signs so quickly that he mixes his H and N together in one loop type squirrely letter that looks like and E...

Then I got to thinking about my own signature, well I can never sign the same way twice and my letters are hard to read so I guess John signature would make sense!..lol

It's a pretty cool story that happened on that November day in 2015!

It was a day that my rendering of John Hufnagel and myself were a part of a moment in his career.

Joe Versikaitis - Sports Artist


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