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|| News Item: Posted 2011-02-20

What was it like covering the Super Bowl?
Dallas Morning News staff photographer G.J. McCarthy and his colleagues answer the question.

By G.J. McCarthy, The Dallas Morning News

Photo by Louis DeLuca / The Dallas Morning News

Photo by Louis DeLuca / The Dallas Morning News

Workers try to clear a sidewalk near the Dallas Convention Center in front of a Super Bowl XLV logo after a morning snow storm on Friday, Feb. 4, 2011 in Dallas.
So one of the more common questions I've gotten lately is, "Hey -- what was it like shooting the Super Bowl?" I take it they mean the game, but for myself and the rest of the staff here at The Dallas Morning News, it was a whole lot more than just that hour of actual football. So here's my reply:

"Well, think of the most important assignment you've ever had. Then, multiply it by 100. THEN, just before the gig, add several inches of ice and snow … just to make things interesting.

*Some kind of monster*

Planning for our coverage for Super Bowl XLV was years in the making -- pretty much from the moment we found out that then non-completed Cowboys Stadium would host the game.

Staff photographer Tom Fox, along with members of our SportsDay department, attended Super Bowl XLII in Glendale, Ariz. and XLIV in Miami, Fla. There was a lot of interest in the former game, as University of Phoenix Stadium's relationship to the community of Glendale was expected to be a lot like Cowboys Stadium and Arlington, Texas. Also, the trip helped generate a lot of ideas for our coverage of XLV. Deputy Sports Editor Mark Konradi, along with the help of Tom and others, came up with a list of more than 300 different ideas from the Arizona trip alone.

I would say about a year out from the game (early 2010), things started to come together for us at the DMN as far as planning goes. Chris Wilkins, Deputy Director of Photography and our Sports Photo Editor, was definitely the man with the plan, attending tons of meetings with SportsDay. Actually, the Super Bowl did something I've never really seen here before -- it had a showing in every single section of our paper: 1A, Metro, Lifestyles (multiple sections), Business, and of course, Sports.

Right off the bat, we new this was going to be a monster. How big of one? That developed as we trudged along.

*By the numbers*

For someone who sucks at math (failed an Algebra course in high school!), I actually enjoy looking at numerical breakdowns of stuff. When you step back and take a macro view, then break it down to the micro level, you really get complete look at whatever you're examining at. So, here goes:

237 -- number of photo assignments between Monday, January 31 and Monday, February 7.

140 -- number of Super Bowl-related photo assignments in that same time period.

84.2 -- highest percentage of Super Bowl- to non Super Bowl-related photo assignments (2/6, game day).

77.7 -- percentage of staff photographers (including two interns) who worked on Super Bowl Sunday.

340 -- number of staff and freelance Super Bowl-related images published since January 1, 2011.

24,765 -- number of images shot by eight staff photographers covering the game (six game shooters, two feature "roamers").

Photo by Louis DeLuca / The Dallas Morning News

Photo by Louis DeLuca / The Dallas Morning News

Green Bay Packers safety Anthony Smith (27) and defensive end Cullen Jenkins (77) run onto the field for Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
350 -- number of Super Bowl images turned in on game day.

43 -- number of staff images from the Super Bowl published in the February 7, 2011 edition.

38 -- number of Super Bowl videos shot and produced by staffers between Monday, January 31 and Monday, February 7.

*"Just another game"*

About a week before the big day, Chris Wilkins gathered all the Super Bowl "shooters and editors" (those who would be shooting and editing stills and videos from the actual game) at the downtown office to discuss the plan. We went over game-day story proposals from various departments, as well as positions for those shooting the game, fleshing out a runners schedule, and just about everything else you can think of. It was also time for a little pep talk from Chris, who reminded us that it was "… just another game," no different, really, than the 16 ones we shoot in the average season. He expressed overwhelming confidence in us all ("one of the best sports shooting staffs in the country," he added), and with that, we were off.

Every single one of our shooters and videographers was credentialed to shoot Super Bowl events; not the game itself, but all the other stuff. And boy, does that "stuff" add up. You have players coming into town; fans coming into town; the NFL Experience; one million parties; and of course, the snow.

Snow and ice, actually. It was a M-E-S-S. Funny thing is, when it comes to inclement weather photos, the DMN is like a junkie -- can't get enough. So when you add that to the fact it occurred during probably one of the biggest things to happen to DFW in a long time … it was the very definition of "all hands on deck."

Just about everyone pitched in to document the wintry mix's effect on XLV, and we used everything at our disposal -- stills, video, and especially mobile media. Last year the photo staff was outfitted with iPhone 4's so we could better document spot news and get stuff on our website, fast. The experiment paid off; folks out in Metro are doing this now, too.

The combined effort by all led to some of the best documentation I've seen here, and it was all delivered with amazing speed not only to our site, but to apps for the iPhone and iPad.

That, to me, was probably one of the more interesting things to come out of this whole experience. Since I arrived here in summer 2007, I've watched the ebb and flow of technology at this paper. Some stuff works, other stuff doesn't. It's been a lot of trial and error, but I think all those things came to fruition during Super Bowl week. When we needed it most -- when our readers expected the most -- we were able to deliver a timely, high-quality product almost as soon as we were documenting it ourselves.

*The Big Day -- In their own words*

Photo by Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News

Photo by Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News

Dancers dance during the halftime of Super Bowl XLV between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington on February 6, 2011.
Our "team" of photographers, videographers, editors and runners slowly started trickling into the McClatchey Tribune photo trailer (where we were staging at) between 11:00 and 11:30 am. At noon, Chris had a brief huddle with us -- making sure everyone knew their role, knew where everyone else would be, and of course, knew we needed to have fun out there. Already on the long walk from the media lot to the stadium, several staffers had made some great feature pictures, something I found reassuring.

Now for the remainder of this piece, I thought I'd switch over to my colleagues who covered game day (and other events), both inside and outside of the stadium. We had a huge range of experience -- interns to seasoned veterans; Super Bowl first-timers to one staffer who had covered a dozen. For my own take, I can say that it was a pretty cool experience. Got to meet a lot of nice, out-of-town media; saw a few famous people here and there; and I made a few pictures I liked. I'm very proud of the work our photo staff did; honored and humbled to work alongside so many talented people. Speaking of which …

Louis DeLuca, staff photographer

"XLV was easier to work than many of the other Super Bowls I have covered. In the past I have camped out in a sideline spot three hours before game time and did not move from there until the postgame. And that was after waiting in line with other photogs to get in the stadium for an additional three hours. It seems the NFL has streamlined the process over the years, and there are definitely less photographers on the field than in the 1990s, which is when I did most of my Super Bowls. The cluster at the postgame jubilation is as crazy as ever, and it still surprises me they allow that kind of hand-to-hand combat to go on after the game. Security also went really smoothly, I thought, and I barely spent 10 minutes getting into the stadium, which was a surprise."

"I grew up a huge Green Bay fan in the 1960s and 70s, so it was very special for me to be shooting on the field as Green Bay won the Super Bowl. It was a dream come true, and I was very thankful to get to be there for the Packers winning. I think my favorite moment was when the Packers took the field through the gauntlet of flags and smoke. It was very energetic, loud and electric."

Vernon Bryant, staff photographer

"[Covering Super Bowl week was like] groundhog days. I went to three player availability assignments, which were nothing but a glorified press conferences."

"As for the game, you could tell it was different from the moment we got to the stadium. The security perimeter around the stadium, parking farther out, and beefed up security just to get in to the stadium was an alert that this wasn’t the normal regular season game. Although once the game started it was just another football game, it just happened to be for the all the marbles. Oh and the halftime show was quite extravagant and interesting."

Photo by Tom Fox / The Dallas Morning News

Photo by Tom Fox / The Dallas Morning News

Green Bay Packers safety Charlie Peprah (26) tackles Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward (86) on the Super Bowl XLV logo during Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium.
Lara Solt, staff photographer

"A group of Packers fans drove down from Wisconsin and found themselves celebrating the Super Bowl at a Packer-friendly bar called the Point After North in Flower Mound. The bar's mascot, a 20-year-old Coors Light Wolf, was eventually stripped of some of its Cowboys clothing and was replaced with Green Bay gear.

But soon the wolf was forgotten, and somehow I became the good luck charm for these hard-core Packers fans. I spent a lot of time with this fun-loving group, documenting the roller-coaster of cheers and tears as the game went on, but every once in a while I would wander off to a different part of the bar to photograph the few Steelers fans who were there. At some point someone picked up on the fact that apparently when I walked away, their team started doing badly, and when I came back, their team would start doing well again. Before I knew what was happening, they started celebrating with me, including me in their group hugs, and would not let me leave their table.

Although I am not a football fan, their enthusiasm was so contagious I wanted to cheer with them, 'Go Pack Go!' or 'We Believe!' I stayed with them until the victorious end. If it was luck, it must have been the wolf, or just good playing on the part of the Pack. Either way, I'm pretty sure it wasn't because of me. Maybe they just believed."

Nathan Hunsinger, staff videographer

"I was expecting my week to be squeezing between the layers of large cameras and fat masses of media men. I knew covering XLV week was going to be big and difficult to do something different than the 30tons of media around me.

I relied on the editors to put me in the right place and time. From there I assessed what could be done in the time allotted and tried to make something interesting."

"I touched the Lombardy Trophy with my bare hand (index and middle finger to be exact) when the escalators jerked to a stop. I was riding the escalator backwards in front of Drew Pearson as he led the procession for its procession for its presentation to Dallas. When the escalator stopped we all lurched backwards as Pearson stumbled and saved the trophy with inches to spare my hand was outstretched and I gave it a little tip. If anybody has tape of this out there I would love to see how close it got. I however was changing my color temperature at the time and have no tape."

[See a time-lapse Nathan did on the XLV letters here --]

Guy Reynolds, photo editor

"After all the build up to the BIG night, editing on Super Sunday was actually considerably easier for me than the preceding two nights. That’s not to say I wasn’t busy and stressed because that goes with the territory. Friday and Saturday were both bears because of the amount of extra events and extra space in the paper. I was busier than a cat shittin’ on concrete.

But Sunday I had much-needed help. Michael Hamtil was in around game time and when the seating fiasco became the focal point of the non-game reporting I had him take on all the A-section editing where we used 20 images over 8 pages. That left me to concentrate on the 14-page sports section (29 images) after dealing with all the rest of the needs for elsewhere in the paper, including the regular sports section. For the section I had a set of mocked-up pages to plan from that was a helpful map of sorts. I knew what I needed for most of the pages and was able to be on topic with the searches for stuff like the anthem singer, celebrities, halftime hoopla and

With the limited number of shooting passes, the sheer number of images wasn’t overwhelming. Take away the halftime and pregame histrionics then the ones with the pigskin in it were all in all maybe 15-20% more than I handle on any home game Sunday. There were of course a slew of post game photos right on deadline and beyond and that was the major crunch. Picking out the 1-A lede was something Michael and I agreed on rather easily. These events have become so scripted that the pictures are predictable and that’s what we wound up with.

Our game coverage was its usual very high quality effort on the field and from the stands. We had every big play from multiple angles. The main difference was seeing so many shots from up high. On most of our home games we might have one gun up high (sometimes none) but for this we had three. I like seeing images from different perspectives but it seemed too high-heavy this time and that shows in the paper even though I tried to strike a balance. With three other editors working from the the raw takes the flow of images was steady and there wasn’t really anything missing, there just wasn’t anything stellar either. Some games are like that though; you get a bunch of singles and doubles but no home runs."

Ryan Henriksen, Winter/Spring photo intern

Photo by
"Super bowl XLV was actually my first NFL game to even attend. I wasn't sure what to think going into it other than I needed to capture features that told about the super bowl, the fans, and the stadium, as it was the first one in Cowboys Stadium. My job wasn't to capture the action, it was to capture what told the story of having the super bowl in North Texas.

My favorite moment from the game happened when I was walking to the trailer to submit after halftime. On my way out I ran into all of the halftime dancers in their white suites leaving the building and running out into the rain. Their suites lit up and they were all worried about getting electrocuted. I shot it but ended up not making a picture I really liked from it.

The hardest challenge I faced was trying to show that this was the Super Bowl and different from a regular season game. That's why I tried to contrast the stadium with the Packers and Steelers fans. I found myself backing up more often than shooting closer because I was trying to show that contrast. My take as a whole ended up with a distant feeling rather than a feeling that I completely covering the event with enough visual variety."

Andrew Jacobsohn, Winter/Spring photo intern

"My Super Bowl responsibilities started early in the week -- beginning Monday I was stationed out of the Media Center until the last event (HOF announcement), the night before the big game. Days started on average at 7:30 a.m., while ending 12 hours later.

Even though it was my first Super Bowl I had no time to acclimate to the excited atmosphere that surrounds the week before the big game. Early in the week I decided to commit myself to making the images I felt I should be making for the newspaper, while letting the mass of excitement sit in the back of my mind so not to get carried away too quickly.

My duties included photographing all happenings along radio row and activity on the floor of the media center; from standalone features to celebrity sightings and the daily press conferences. I made it a personal mission to file at least one video a day from the media center. I’m proud to say I accomplished that goal.

One of my personal highlights from the week was collaborating with the metro desk reporters and editors also stationed in the media center to provide visuals for their blogs and stories that were developing throughout the day. I felt as though a new bureau of the DMN just popped up overnight, and we were producing top-notch content as though we’ve been working and clicking there for a while."


See a slideshow of the Dallas Morning News' best photos from Super Bowl XLV here --

The photo staff's blog can be found here --

(Gerry McCarthy is a staff photojournalist with The Dallas Morning News. He previously worked at the Columbia (MO) Daily Tribune and The Paris (Texas) News. He is happily married, out of shape and balding, unable to leap tall buildings in a single bound. He was Joan of Arc in my former life.)

Related Links:
Gerry's member page

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