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The Day After the Super Bowl: A 90-Minute Curation Drill

Curation is an awful word for a powerful idea: Instead of spending a lot of money to cover something outside your news organization’s core interests or budgetary means, spend a little money to cover it by writing your own narrative and providing links to other news organizations’ efforts.

Sports are an excellent place to make curation work for you, particularly for big events that are covered to the point of saturation. After reading Dave Kindred’s deadline drill I decided I wanted to try something similar — a curation drill on the day after the Super Bowl. (I’m an old hand at this — even though we didn’t call it that, The Daily Fix is a curation exercise.)

I decided to give myself 60 minutes to gather links and a half-hour or so to write it up. I’m going to tell you what I found and what my thought processes were, then show you what I produced.

A curated sports column obeys Red Smith’s advice that people read about the game to have fun again. It should also serve as a good summation if found later through search. It must cover these basic elements: game recap, in-game analysis, profiles of key people, a nod to the defeated, and fan reaction. It should capture the tick-tock of events as well as their significance. To take advantage of the Web’s strengths, it should make use of first-person writing, video and (if available) multimedia. To that, I’d add something we learned at the Daily Fix: A curated column also has to work alone as a brightly written narrative for people who are too busy to follow links or print out the column to read later.

One thing I learned writing Daily Fixes is that the best summations and on-the-street reactions are often found not from hometown papers, but from outside perspectives – the enormity of events can overwhelm local columnists, whose killer columns often come a day later. So while I always try to give a nod to local news organizations, you shouldn’t tie yourself in knots trying to be respectful on that front.

A good place to start for curation is ESPN. They cover the waterfront, and so let you lock down basic aspects you need, with the option to replace their columns as you find other perspectives.

From ESPN I gathered a niceAndrew Astelford Page 2 piece on Saints fans, terrific analysis by Kevin Seifert of Tracy Porter’s critical interception, Pat Yasinskas looking at Sean Payton as a gambler and Len Pasquarelli onDrew Brees’s accuracy as a passer. That was a good start: I doubted I’d use all of those columns, but I knew I now had several key aspects covered.

Next, I wanted to dive into New Orleans and its fans – that was what made this story so amazing, so I was willing to run a few such columns. I remembered that Slate’s Josh Levin was a Saints fan and had written a great Super Bowl preview, so I checked Slate and found a column from him that had the exact giddy “We did it!” feel I’d been hoping for – and, as a bonus, Levin had linked to a TV show spotlighting Brees’s amazing ability to hit his targets. That was a great find, giving me a first-person account and some unexpected video.

I like the Washington Post’s roster of columnists for outside perspectives, so I jumped over there to see what they had. Les Carpenter’s fan story was great, Mike Wise had a nice column that used a Brees band-of-brothers quote I remembered from TV the night before, and the sports page called the Saints’ win LOMBARDI GRAS, which made me laugh. At the New York Times, Campbell Robertson had another nice New Orleans column, while Joe LaPointe had a fun, offbeat take on Porter’s haircut.

Next I decided to check in with the Times-Picayune. They’d had great Bourbon Street video after the Saints beat the Vikings, and a new video gave me the you-are-there feel I wanted, though I wasn’t happy about the pre-roll beer ad. I decided to check YouTube for fanmade video, but keep the T-P link in reserve just in case. Checking the T-P’s columns, I found a useful roundup of Web columns that might be handy for me.

I was about 35 minutes in at this point – a good time to think about what I had and what I still needed.

I’d already decided I wasn’t going to bother with anything about ads or how the broadcast went, so no need to worry about that. I still needed some game basics, and figured I’d use the NFL’s own highlights there. I remembered Brees holding up his infant son (Baylinn?) during the celebration, and hoped for some nice writing about that moment. Watching the game, I’d also been struck by the Saints players touching the Lombardi Trophy on its way to the podium, so I wanted a column or video of that if I could find it. I needed something about the Colts. I wanted to hear what the always-eloquent Joe Posnanski had to say. On Twitter I’d read about a great New York Post column that I wanted to check out — and I’d stumbled across a great tweet by a friend of a friend of mine who’s a huge Saints fan. Just for fun, I wanted video of the Ying Yang Twins’ “Who Dat” song about the Saints. I wanted a stats-focused look at the game, though since I had the Seifert piece I wasn’t going to look too hard for it. I needed more local reaction. And if I could find it, I wanted something from an independent Saints blogger. (If I were a regular curator, I would have auditioned stats-focused stuff and Saints blogs earlier in the week.)

So, back to work. I stuck with the Times-Picayune and found a pretty good “open letter” to the NFL by Mark Lorando – but what I really liked was this Jeff Duncan column with local color and a picture of Brees’s son. I noted the boy’s name was Baylen, not Baylinn – and wrote that on a Post-It note, since I’d be in a hurry later.

I hit SI and found Posnanski, whose column was great and about Peyton Manning. That covered me for the Colts if need be, though I wanted something more general as well. Next I jumped over the New York Post, where Peter Finney Jr.’s New Orleans column was indeed very nice. I thought about tying that in with a column by his father, who works for the Times-Picayune, but decided that was too inside baseball for general readers.

I was running out of time. Better take care of my video. I jumped over to NFL.com and grabbed the link to the game highlights, and found a video montage of celebrating Saints that I liked too. And there was video of the trophy running the gantlet. I had to Google the presenter’s name (hey, I’m a baseball guy), which took precious time, but I really liked the moment, so I decided it was worth it.

Now I really had to hurry. I still wanted more Indianapolis reaction, so I jumped over to the Indianapolis Star and saw Bob Kravitz – a terrific writer – had a column. A quick glance told me it was good. Now I still needed stats, Baylen, and YouTube stuff.

A quick look at Football Outsiders gave me a nice in-game diary. Done there. I searched for a Drew/Baylen column, came up empty on my first few tries and decided I’d handle it myself. That left me with YouTube. I found the Ying Yang Twins video at once and looked for Bourbon Street footage. Most of what I found was from the Vikings game, though. Frustrated, I triedone more link and found it was the Times-Picayune footage I’d seen earlier. That was a sign – stop looking and start writing.

I wrote a quick top myself to set the scene, then dove in, finding quotes from columns I wanted and leaving others aside as duplicative. I started with the basics, taking the NFL highlights and Football Outsiders material in lieu of a game story, then following that with quotes from and links to the Seifert analysis and Yasinskas looking at Sean Payton. (Two ESPN stories, but I liked them both.) I decided to take care of Indy reaction next, using Posnanski and Kravitz. Then I’d be able to stretch out with the New Orleans material, which was the emotional heart of the story.
I started with Duncan’s T-P column, liking its local flavor, then followed that with Levin’s piece. But in quoting from them, I noticed they were both really about Brees – and realized that I no longer had a Brees column. So I moved Duncan up to the first part, mentioning Baylen and the Brees video from Levin’s piece, and took a different quote from Levin, now leading the fan reaction. Still, that seemed like a rough segue from Indianapolis’s sorrow, so I decided to begin the New Orleans material with the Dawson video.

That led nicely into Levin, and from there to Carpenter and Robertson. I hated leaving out Finney’s piece, but decided it didn’t fit there and would come too quickly as part of my introduction. I wanted to end with something other than columns, so I decided I’d try to use video to give some sense of what it must have been like in a giddy New Orleans.
I paired the Ying Yang Twins video with the T-P’s slice of Bourbon Street, but realized the former was too much – if I were a Colts fan, I might smile ruefully at the celebrations, but there was no way I’d watch a music video. Finally, I decided I wanted to end with something more universal – and the Cajun Boy tweet I’d noted in passing was perfect, speaking to the ecstatic fan in all of us. I worried briefly about the profanity, decided it was mild enough, gave the results a quick trim and once-over, and I was done.

How’d I do? See for yourself. Total time: 90 minutes or so. Travel budget: Zero.

Euphoria in the Crescent City as Underdog Saints Upend Manning, Colts

New Orleans, the City That Care Forgot, has been beset by cares since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina drowned much of the city as a stunned world watched. Afterwards, the city’s remaining residents feared their football team, the beloved though perennially star-crossed Saints, would join the diaspora. The Saints had decamped for San Antonio, and reportedly were in negotiations to stay.

But then something marvelous happened: The Saints returned to the Superdome, a showcase of misery during Katrina, and became a rallying point for their broken city. And this year, something even more marvelous happened: Led by head coach Sean Payton and rifle-armed quarterback Drew Brees, the Saints stormed through the NFC, topping the Minnesota Vikings in the championship game and earning the right to play in the Super Bowl against native son Peyton Manning and his AFC Champion Indianapolis Colts.
Which left the small manner of a football game to settle things last night.

Happily, Super Bowl XLIV was a taut, thrilling affair, undecided until late. Happier yet for New Orleans, the Saints prevailed, mixing a couple of trick plays with patience and efficient play for a 31-17 win. Cue the merry bedlam of what the Washington Post dubbed Lombardi Gras.

The key play came with three-and-a-half minutes left and Manning driving the Colts toward the end zone for a tying score. On third down, Saints cornerback Tracy Porter sniffed out the Colts’ pattern, stepped in front of Reggie Wayne, and ran an interception back 74 yards for a TD that all but ended the Colts’ year.

On ESPN, Kevin Seifert breaks down what Porter saw: “Before the snap, Porter noticed receiver Austin Collie as the outside receiver and Wayne in the slot position. ‘We knew Collie wasn’t normally a guy they liked in that spot,’ Porter said. In previous instances of that formation, Porter said, Collie had gone into late motion and run the slot position’s route. The slot man, in turn, ran what’s known as a ‘stick route’ — essentially a 6-yard pattern designed to reach the yardage ‘stick’ and convert a first down. On cue, Wayne ran that route. He had no chance to make the catch.”

In the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Jeff Duncan offers an appreciation of Brees, complete with a wonderful photo of the QB holding up his infant son, Baylen, amid the confetti: “They elected a new mayor in New Orleans on Saturday. They will crown a new king of Carnival next week. But New Orleans is and forever will be Brees’ town. He’ll never buy another drink, never purchase another meal and never pay another parking ticket. It’s his faubourg. We’re just living in it.” (And check out this video – via Slate’s Josh Levin – to see just how accurate Brees’s arm is.)

Back to ESPN and Pat Yasinskas, who pokes holes in the morning-after conventional wisdom that Saints coach Payton (a nation of copy editors woke up this morning still cursing the Payton/Peyton combination in Super Bowl stories) is some kind of crazy gambler. Yes, there was that onside kick to open the second half, but as Yasinskas notes, Payton’s bets are all carefully calculated.

Payton’s best wager of all, he says, was on defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

“Once upon a time, Williams had a reputation as a great defensive mind,” Yasinskas writes. “That got sullied during stints as a head coach in Buffalo and as a coordinator in Washington and Jacksonville. There were also whispers about how Williams could be a bit of a self-promoter and more style than substance. Payton threw out $250,000 of his own salary to make sure the Saints got Williams. It turned out to be the best bet he ever made.”
(Want more? The NFL has the game highlights, while Football Outsiders has a running commentary from the game that’s full of interesting strategic insights.)

As always, a Cinderella story meant another disappointed sister went home sans prince. In Sports Illustrated, Joe Posnanski writes that from high school on, “there’s no way to look at Manning’s brilliant career without noticing that there’s an awful lot of heartbreak in it.”

Posnanski wonders why this should be, given that Manning isn’t out of the Brett Favre damn-the-torpedos school of quarterbacking: “Manning takes no shortcuts. He studies all night. He makes prudent choices. He does not tempt destiny. He works hard to do the right things. So, how do you explain the crushing defeats?”
In the Indianapolis Star, meanwhile,Bob Kravitz tries to offer solace: "What’s sad is, the Colts could have achieved so much this day. They could have fully validated a decade’s worth of excellence with a second Super Bowl title in four seasons. And Manning could have become one of 11 quarterbacks to win multiple titles, and insinuated himself into the conversation about the greatest quarterbacks of all time. Immortality was within reach, for the franchise and for the quarterback.”

But the evening belonged to the Saints, who were carrying the hopes of their fans in a way that for one night made a host of overheated sports clichés absolutely true. The team’s coronation was briefly and happily delayed by Saints players laying hands on the Lombardi Trophy (rivaled only by the Stanley Cup as sports’ greatest) as NFL legend Len Dawson brought it to the podium. Meanwhile, Saints fans were jumping and cheering and pinching themselves to make sure it was all true.

“When the game was over, I tried to call home and couldn’t get through to anyone for 15 minutes,” writes Slate’s Levin. " ‘All circuits are busy’—that is, everyone who knows what it means to miss New Orleans was dying to find out what they were missing. When I managed to reach a friend who’d been watching the game in the French Quarter, he told me that all the folks in Brees jerseys had sprinted full out for Bourbon Street after the final horn. Once everybody was smashed together, dancing on cars and screaming ‘Who dat!’ there was no doubt it had really happened.”

In the Washington Post, Les Carpenter captures the celebration beautifully: “At the moment the Saints won the Super Bowl and New Orleans would never be the same, they spilled through the doors of Sidney’s Saloon at the corner of St. Bernard Avenue and St. Claude. They jumped and they danced and they hugged and they shouted to the night, ‘Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?’ … [I]n the section of New Orleans known as Treme, police cars with lights flashing stopped for the party in the middle of the intersection. White policemen laughed as black revelers jumped on their hoods and rocked their bumpers. Cruiser windows opened, and nowhere in the city once broken by a hurricane did it ever come together quite like this.”

“Decatur Street exploded,” writes Campbell Robertson in the New York Times. “A woman in a gold skirt and opera gloves, a man with a fleur-de-lis top hat, a girl with a yard beer, a girl next to her with a golden fedora, all of them, hugging, kissing, spilling out of Molly’s onto the streets of the French Quarter. ‘I can’t believe this is happening!’ shouted one man, apparently at a loss to understand what he had just watched — that he had just seen 43 years of frustration, of spectacular successes at finding defeat, come to the unlikeliest conclusion of all.”

Those who were there, it seems certain, will talk of it forever with a grin and a wry shake of the head. By way of pale imitation, here’s video from Bourbon Street, shot by the Times-Picayune’s Rusty Costanza.

And while pictures are worth a thousand words, sometimes 87 characters can sum things up pretty well, too. In the final seconds, the Brooklyn writer and Louisiana native who goes by the moniker The Cajun Boy offered this via Twitter: “I can honestly say, this is the happiest moment of my life. No bulls–t. I can die now.”

Jason Fry is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y. He spent more than 12 years at The Wall Street Journal Online, serving as a writer, columnist, editor and projects guy. While at WSJ.com he edited and co-wrote The Daily Fix, a daily roundup of the best sportswriting online. He blogs about the Mets at Faith and Fear in Flushing (www.faithandfearinflushing.com), and about the newspaper industry at Reinventing the Newsroom (www.reinventingthenewsroom.com). Write to him at jason.fry@gmail.com, visit him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jason.fry, or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jasoncfry.
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