Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Steve Sabol of NFL Films: 1942-2012

Since I was born in 1972, I was way too young to know or worry about the National Football League or those legendary Steelers Super Bowl teams from the 70s. However, thanks to Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, and his son, Steve, I was able to learn about the great game of football and those Steelers teams by watching the countless shows that NFL Films has been producing for the better part of five decades. Steve Sabol, the president of NFL Films who died yesterday of brain cancer, was the driving force and the vision of the company for many years. It was fitting that Ed Sabol founded a company that produced football footage, because once he handed the football off to his son, Steve, he never stopped running with it until he was finally tackled by the ravages of time.

No blog entry I write about the man will do Sabol as much justice as what Homer J of Behind the Steel Curtain wrote in this wonderful tribute piece.

I never realized that Sabol was an art major in college, but that may explain so much, because, above everything, an NFL Films production is artistic in style. It captures the game of football with a sense of cinematic flair, and that was all Steve Sabol. NFL Films innovated such things as the close-up on a football as it spiraled through the air as well as fitting players and coaches with microphones to help capture the drama on the sidelines and on the field.

Did you know that the late Bill Saul, a Steelers middle linebacker in the 60s, was the first player NFL Films fitted with a wireless microphone during a game?

NFL Films is also known for its great narrators, and there was none more legendary than the late John Facenda. He was called "the Voice of God" for his ability to bring features to life with his deep voice and slow and deliberate style. That link is titled "The Autumn Wind," and it was written by Steve Sabol, and it may be the most popular narrative in the company's storied history.

And did you hear the musical score? Oh, those musical scores that NFL Films produces. I still get goosebumps when I watch an NFL Films piece from the 70s, accompanied by one of those classical scores.

I consider myself a bit of an NFL historian these days, and a great deal of the history that I learned can be attributed to the many NFL Films productions that I've watched all throughout my life. I grew up watching NFL Films productions like NFL Yearbook, a highlight package show about each team's previous season; NFL Films Football Follies; the NFL Game of the Week; and, my favorite, the Super Bowl highlight shows.

I think what makes NFL Films so great is that it captures the game of football on, well, film. As I said, I was too young to watch any of those 70s Steelers teams, but the great thing about Youtube and DVDs is I get a chance to watch the occasional network broadcasts of those old games today. However, no offense to network footage that is produced on video tape, but it just doesn't seem as dramatic to me. Here's footage from NBC's broadcast of the Immaculate Reception, circa 1972. Not bad. Now here's an NFL Films production that chronicled the event that forever changed the fortunes of the Steelers franchise.

Which one gives you goosebumps? Yeah, I like the second one, too. It captures the drama that led up to the event, the controversy surrounding the play, and oh, that music. That glorious music.

NFL Films had a way of making players, coaches and teams from bygone eras seem almost mythical to me by the time I learned about them as a kid, and that is something to truly treasure.

Not too many people get to realize their vision, but Steve Sabol did, and millions of football fans around the world are forever grateful.

RIP, Steve.

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