The National Football League would not be where it is today if not for Steve Sabol. The host of so many TV shows, videotapes and other productions for NFL Films was the creative force behind the company that turned NFL football into something larger than life. Sabol died Tuesday at the age of 69 after a battle with brain cancer.
There are great people associated with the game of football, but only a handful changed the game forever. Sabol joins that short list along with others like George Halas, Paul Brown and Bill Walsh. We will never view the game the same way since Sabol came along.
NFL Films was created in 1962 by Steve’s father Ed. The younger Sabol was 20 at the time and ended up being a camera man for the very first production the young company, then known as Blair Motion Pictures, made: a highlight film for the 1962 NFL Championship Game between the Packers and the Giants at Yankee Stadium. Much of the film was ruined by the harsh weather conditions, but the Sabols were still able to put together a unique film that impressed NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and NFL Films was born.
Over the years, Steve Sabol became the face of company. He would introduce each segment on “NFL Films Presents,” the weekly show he hosted for so many years and he did it so naturally. Sabol was everybody’s buddy, the guy who we loved to hang out with and watch football except that Steve had an insider’s pass and could get us behind the scenes whether it was in a coach’s meeting, on the sideline or just seeing the best plays from the previous week’s games from a different, more dramatic angle than we already saw it on TV.
NFL Films added dramatic music, slow motion photography and the voice of John Facenda and suddenly great moments in football history could be relived again and again. They became immortalized in our memories and the heroes of the gridiron became larger than life.
Sabol helped take our breath away with dramatic finishes like the Immaculate Reception or the Music City Miracle. He made us laugh at and with players during the Football Follies and he helped us get to know the players off the field with candid interviews with players both past and present. He was also the driving force behind shows like “NFL Matchup” and “America’s Game” and more recently “A Football Life.”
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement after Sabol’s death.
“Steve Sabol was the creative genius behind the remarkable work of NFL Films. Steve’s passion for football was matched by his incredible talent and energy…He was a major contributor to the success of the NFL, a man who changed the way we look at football and sports, and a great friend.”
Sabol left us too soon. But he spent his life combining the two things he loved: Film making and football. He put all of his heart and soul into his work and we all reaped the benefits, by watching the game of football like it had never been seen before.
So long Steve Sabol…You were like a friend I never got to meet in person. But you were always there and your hard work has given me countless hours of football enjoyment. You will be missed, but never forgotten….