Eli Manning Hugs Michael Vick, and Other Portraits of NFL Tenderness

A brief glimpse at the softer side of America's most violent sport

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As a web producer, much of my 2011-12 NFL season was spent flipping through endless photo sets, looking for ways to illustrate stories on team rivalries, playoff matchups, or particular players. This often called for depictions of players at the crest of their powers, plowing through defenders at the apex of their aggression, clawing at facemasks and burying their opponents deep in the dirt.

But the spectrum of emotion on the field runs equally in both directions. In between the hi-resolution photos of rib cages being splintered under the weight of a 300-plus-pound linebacker were pictures of tenderness on the field. These moments serve as a reminder that despite the NFL's best efforts to treat them otherwise (read: commodities to be traded, profited from, and discarded when damaged beyond repair or no longer useful), the players are still human beings that experience joy and heartbreak in equal measure, together on the field as both teammates and opponents.

Below is selection of photos that illustrate the softer side of those mean machines we most often see tearing each other to pieces.

Image credit: AP Images

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Daniel D. Snyder is a writer based in New Mexico.

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