Editor’s Letter from Terry McDonell: Deeper into Football Season

Note: This Editor’s Letter appears in the Oct. 3, 2011, issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands now.

Since Jeff Pearlman left Sports Illustrated in 2003, he has written five books, two of them New York Times best sellers. Among Pearlman’s great strengths are the thoroughness of his reporting and his ability to draw the most from his sources. For his latest work, Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, which is excerpted beginning on page 70, he interviewed nearly 700 people over 2 1⁄2 years to draw a detailed and sometimes heartbreaking portrait of a complex hero. As a football player Payton was magical, and for fans in Chicago and beyond he defined ruggedness and commitment. But like all truly transcendent figures, the great Payton had many more layers than were apparent from his public image. The excerpt from Pearlman’s book looks at Payton’s life with empathy and an understanding of the difficulties he faced once he left the game.

Nothing is more satisfying during football season than messing with the playbook, especially if you can surprise even yourself. That’s how we feel about the new Sports ­Illustrated Football Rivals application. One of our most ambitious digital productions, the app explores great college and pro football rivalries: the seminal games, deciding plays and dominant performances, enriched with video, audio and 3-D surprises. The more than 300 pages include rare video, such as the breakout runs in 1972 that pointed Ohio State freshman Archie Griffin toward the Heisman. There are also archival photos from the early days of the ­Auburn-­Alabama rivalry, an exploration of what originally froze the Bears and ­Packers’ icy relationship and a resonating meditation on the Army-Navy game played in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s death. Each rivalry lives on a “time line” interface so that users can intuitively find highlights, stories from SI’s vault, key statistics, and updates from this season’s showdown.

The app was put together by SI’s Digital Products team, led by creative director Christopher Gibbons. The look and feel are his, as was the vision: “I want people to feel a sense of wonder when they first download the app. But as they get into it, they should feel completely embedded.” Producer Mike Phillips relentlessly oversaw the project’s myriad details and worked with Emmy Award–winner Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) on the narration for seven original videos, which Chandler nailed with nuance and emotion. “I got goose bumps,” says Phillips. Innovative technical director Munish Dabas created most of the motion ­graphics — he’s the guy who enables you to spin Bear Bryant’s houndstooth hat — while senior designer Dominic Aratari produced many of the app’s surprises. Presented by Coca-Cola Zero, the free app is available for the iPad, iPhone and Android smartphones and can be downloaded at SI.com/rivals.

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