Steve Sabol, who just transitioned, was the president and one of the founders of NFL Films, along with his father Ed. Steve took his father’s vision to another level and by most accounts became the linchpin behind the ever present mega-cable and television sports genres.
“As one who actually grew up with NFL Films,” Victor Marsh recalled, “I am sadden by Mr. Steve Sabol Passing. Filmmakers of Steve’s caliber and attributes are rare in life. He served as the Master Storyteller of our generation;”
My early memories held baseball up as America’s Game and it was acknowledged as the preeminent American sport. The NFL was gaining ground, but baseball was king. So it took visionary filmmakers like Ed and Steve Sabol to expose my Marsh and me to the humane, intricate and exciting undertakings of professional football.
Ed’s first major contract was to film the 1962 NFL Championship Game between the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers at Yankee Stadium in New York. That was just the beginning as he and his equally visionary son, Steve, transformed how we view sports – especially football.
They took a sport, football, the modern day first cousin to the Roman Gladiators, who fought so gallantly against lions and each other in the now world famous Coliseum, and gave this violent sport a human face.
Ed was the main man behind NFL Film, but his son Steve learned the game from the bottom up, too. Steve served as a cameraman, editor and writer in the 1960s and 1970s, before becoming CEO. When ESPN was founded, they signed NFL Films as a production company and Steve became an on-air personality. He won 35 Emmy Awards and played a part in founding the NFL Network.
While baseball was resting on its laurels as America’s Pastime, football, Ed and Steve were revolutionizing how we see sports on television. They came up with the football follies and highlights.
More importantly, they filmed football not only on the playing field and the action shots; they filmed the sidelines, put microphones on coaches and players, and shot angles and action in a football game while not always following the football.
What was unique about Steve and Ed’s approach to the filming the NFL was they somehow turned this game of large men – and small – crashing into each other with mean intentions into ballet and poetry.
Steve famously authored the poem “The Autumn Wind”, which was put to music and shown with highlight, and, was later adopted by the Oakland Raiders as its unofficial anthem.
Steve eventually became the artistic vision behind the studio that revolutionized the way America watches football and all of sports.
No one thought that 24-hour news or sports would succeed – the idea was way over most heads. But men like Steve and Ted Turner saw the future and who can deny either of them? No one!!
Partnering with ESPN, Steve and his artistic presentation of football helped drive football into America’s Game. It is unquestionably the top rating draw in this country, and, the Super Bowl has posted 10 of the top 20 Nielson rated shows in American television history. No other American sports even has made the Neilsen top 46, but the NFL has 21 Super Bowls in that list.
Steve and his father may not be reason the NFL has ascended to such heights, but one could argue that they have been a linchpin behind the marketing and interest in the game.
Surly Steve and his amazing feel for presenting the most violent of games into a family friendly genre indeed is noteworthy. Baseball, basketball and hockey h no connecting organization like NFL Films.. Now that the NFL Network has succeeded both baseball (MLB Channel) and NBA TV has cable stations that try to mirror what Steve and Ed did for the NFL.
Although both MLB and NBA TV do a credible job of highlighting games and even showcasing classic contest from the past, but they can match the magnificent marriage of music, poetry, voice overs and film artistry of NFL Films.
Leland Stein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @LelandSteinIII