.

Remembering Steve Sabol, President of NFL Films

For 50 years, the South Jerseyan helped transform football into the most popular game in America. Sabol died Tuesday after an 18-month battle with brain cancer.

Before you read any of these words, please, take a moment to watch a video or two, above, that accompanies them.  

Let them take you away to an earlier, bygone day, if they can.

To a time before Sundays were dominated by ads for light beer and Toyotathons; a time before the concepts of fantasy sports and football widows.

A time when football was a fun way for high school and college kids to spend their Saturday mornings and not the billion-dollar bulwark of the American sporting landscape.

A time before those afternoon contests were elevated to the stuff of Viking legend. A time before your mind's eye could picture "the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field"—words never actually uttered by the immortal Jon Facenda—or before your ears beheld the couplets of the Oakland Raiders paean "The Autumn Wind".

Try to imagine one-size-fits-all highlight footage shot from the press-box perch of the stringers and beat writers who follow the game. Or try to imagine it without the cinematic concepts of slow-motion replay, operatic scoring and showing dramatic action in small moments.

That's what Moorestown resident Steve Sabol brought to the game of football.

As president and co-founder of the Mt. Laurel, NJ-based NFL Films, Steve and his 96-year-old father, Ed, performed the great audio-visual alchemy of their day, transmuting sweat and mud into gold—literally and figuratively.

For 50 years, the Sabols followed players into the trenches, coaches into the tunnels and fans into the stadiums. What they extracted from those journeys formed the indelible narrative of the sport.

Their work was governed by two dominant mottoes; one familial, one critical. Ed Sabol urged his son: “Tell me a story and it'll live forever.”

At Colorado College, Steve Sabol, an art history major, was inspired by the writings of Remy de Gourmont: “Art is the accomplice of love. Take love away and there is no art.”

Infusing his strong work ethic with a passion for storytelling, Steve Sabol filtered football through a Hollywood lens at a vantage point few people had ever experienced.

He was good at it, too. Steve Sabol remains the only five-category Emmy winner (cinematography, editing, writing, directing and producing), personally accounting for more than 40 of its 107 statuettes.

A biography of Sabol provided by NFL Films describes him as "big, bold, honest and funny," and "one of that now-rare breed of executive[s] who not only had done every job in the company at one time or another, but could still do any of them better than most.

"More than the company's head, he was its heartbeat," it said.

At the news of Steve Sabol's passing Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement that his legacy was "assured," and marked Sabol as "a major contributor to the success of the NFL...and a great friend."

NFL Network anchor Rich Eisen could barely maintain his composure enough to introduce a video tribute to a man whose achievements touched so many lives in the sports world.

"We here at NFL Network wouldn't be on the air if it weren't for the genius, the leadership, the kindness and...and the man's drive and determination to make sure that the National Football League was presented in a fashion that made the sport exciting and brought it home to all of us in a manner that we had never seen," Eisen said.

"It is beyond belief that this weekend's games...will be the first in over half a century in which Steve Sabol will not be with us to enjoy," he said before throwing it to the video package.

"We recall."

Steve Sabol, president and co-founder of NFL Films, died Tuesday after an 18-month battle with brain cancer. He is survived by his wife, Penny; son, Casey; parents Audrey and Ed; and sister, Blair.

Michael Makinson September 19, 2012 at 11:06 PM
Our son David was fortunate enough to do his college internship at NFL films and that led to his current career at NBC/Syfi Channel at 30 Rock in NYC; and a close friend worked for there for 25 years. Nothing but wonderful stories are told by those who were part of the NFL Films family. The NFL Films story is that of the great American dream. It all started with a home movie camera, an Eagles game and a spark of an idea by Ed Sobal.

Boards

More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something