Opinion: Inside the AJC’s Super Bowl game

Confetti falls along the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after the the New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, in Super Bowl LIII Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Confetti falls along the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium after the the New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 13-3, in Super Bowl LIII Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta.

The front-page headline of Monday morning’s newspaper seemed to say it all: TAKE A BOW, ATLANTA.

In the weeks leading up to last Sunday’s Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, all eyes were on Atlanta. Would the city shine on the biggest of stages? Another freakish winter storm wouldn’t ruin the whole thing again, would it?

What about the roof at Mercedes-Benz Stadium? And MARTA? And the airport? Could each moving piece work flawlessly and harmoniously – and with such precision – that all of it would go off without a hitch? The answer, we learned, is yes.

Along the way, we also learned that covering a Super Bowl is really hard work – and a lot of fun.

In a single week, our photographers juggled 103 assignments – most of them Super Bowl related. They supplied a steady stream of dynamic photos for digital and for print and logged endless miles to document the pomp and pageantry from start to finish.

In a single week, we added 150 pages of coverage to the newspaper. There was the commemorative front page that was sold exclusively at the airport, as well as an eight-page section in the daily newspaper and a stadium edition immediately after the game. We even produced our own movie poster (more on that later).

In a single week, we explored harder-hitting topics, such as human-trafficking, economic development and the nationwide debate on how NFL dealt with Colin Kaepernick and other players who tried to shine a spotlight on social injustices.

“I usually don’t write comments, but after the last week, I have to tell you what a fabulous job The AJC has done,” one reader wrote. “I cannot think of any other articles that could possibly be written about the event – and I have enjoyed reading every one of them.”

Amid the sheer volume of it all, a creative and innovative spirit took hold and energized our newsroom. Oftentimes, readers wondered how we captured a particular image, or how we produced a certain section, or why we chose to write a specific story.

So, I wanted to share some secrets on how we pulled it off.

We’ll start with what we called the “stadium edition.”

This was the special section that proclaimed the Patriots as “CHAMPS!” after New England clinched its sixth title. It was distributed outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium at the conclusion of the Super Bowl.

How did we produce it so quickly?

The answer is simple: We created two versions. One assumed the Patriots won; the other assumed the Rams won. Yes, that is extra work, but it was the only way to ensure they were ready when the final whistle blew.

These sections were printed Wednesday morning – days before kickoff. Early Super Bowl Sunday, they were driven to a holding area near the stadium, where they remained closely guarded until we knew which team won and which version we’d be distributing. (The Rams version was later destroyed.)

As for that four-page special poster that wrapped Monday morning’s front page, we almost had to abandon the concept.

Late Friday night, we realized a configuration with the design would make it impossible to print all four pages of the poster in color, as we had envisioned. Just when all hope seemed lost, someone suggested we print the front pages in color and the inside pages in black and white.


On Sunday night, we faced another challenge. All along, our idea was to devote the front of the poster to the flyover by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. But when the first batch of photos arrived, there was no such shot. We weren’t in the right position to capture that photo – or so we thought.

Panic set in. We began weighing our options. We tried several different images. Then, Bob Andres, one of our photographers, nonchalantly transmitted the perfect photo.

“Flyovers can take you by surprise, so I was prepared for it,” Andres told me after the game. “It all happened so fast, I was only able to get off a few shots. When I saw what I had, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’” Andres had plenty of other photos to shoot, so he had forgotten all about the flyover shot.

When Andres saw the photograph in Monday morning’s newspaper, he suddenly realized what a beautiful image he had captured. He was even more stunned by his photo of Gladys Knight, which appeared inside the four-page poster section. “I was just trying to get in the right position, but logistically, I didn’t think I had anything,” Andres said of the picture he had taken of Knight and members of the Armed forces during the National Anthem.

In fact, when he saw the Knight photograph in Monday’s newspaper, he didn’t even realize it was his. (Initially, he feared we had attributed the picture to the wrong photographer.)

Now, about that movie-themed poster that appeared in Sunday’s newspaper.

The concept was inspired by a special section produced by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the late 1990s. It was a big idea I had always wanted to replicate but never found the right opportunity – until now.

So late one night, I sent a note to Justin Beckett, one of our designers, and others suggesting the poster. Beckett read my email a dozen times. “I thought it was a joke,” he told me later. Once he realized we were serious, he began reviewing classic movie posters such as “White House Down,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Fight Club” to make sure ours was as authentic as one hanging in your neighborhood theater.

The movie poster alone took about 20 hours of design time. It underwent countless revisions along the way. Flip Kearney, who normally serves as our A1 editor, came up with the spoof on the critics’ quotes – a signature piece of the poster.

“It was so worth every hour we put into it,” Beckett told me on Monday. “I was ecstatic with the final version.”

So were others.

ESPN showed our movie poster on its pre-game show. And there was this response on social media: “As the actual movie critic at The Times-Picayune, I wholly endorse the image … spot-on and hilarious!”

It was, without a doubt, a super week. We hope you enjoyed our coverage as much as we enjoyed putting it all together.

I’d share more secrets, but I’m not sure my boss will let me.