Skip to comments.Steve Sabol dies at age 69 (owner, force, spirit behind NFL Films)
Posted on 09/18/2012 8:24:35 PM PDT by STARWISE
With the eye of an art history major, Steve Sabol filmed the NFL as a ballet and blockbuster movie all in one.
Half of the father-son team that revolutionized sports broadcasting, the NFL Films president died Tuesday of brain cancer at age 69 in Moorestown, N.J.
He leaves behind a league bigger than ever, its fans enthralled by the plot twists and characters he so deftly chronicled.
"Steve Sabol was the creative genius behind the remarkable work of NFL Films," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement from the league confirming Sabol's death. "Steve's passion for football was matched by his incredible talent and energy. Steve's legacy will be part of the NFL forever. 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 was diagnosed with a tumor on the left side of his brain after being hospitalized for a seizure in March 2011.
When Ed Sabol founded NFL Films, his son was there working beside him as a cinematographer right from the start in 1964. They introduced a series of innovations taken for granted today, from super slow-motion replays to blooper reels to sticking microphones on coaches and players. And they hired the "Voice of God," John Facenda, to read lyrical descriptions in solemn tones.
Until he landed the rights to chronicle the 1962 NFL championship game, Ed Sabol's only experience filming sports was recording the action at Steve's high school football games in Philadelphia.
"We see the game as art as much as sport," Steve Sabol told The Associated Press before his father was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year.
(Excerpt) Read more at espn.go.com ...
Like most football fans, I grew up watching NFL Films.
The pictures, the storylines, the commentary and presentation brought fans closer to the game. Then there was the music. Every time NFL Films put together an album of the music it played behind their stories, I purchased it. Too bad my collection is on vinyl, and I didn't keep an old record player to replay my memories.
In fact, I may go out and buy a turntable because Steve Sabol passed away Tuesday at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer. Steve Sabol and his father, Ed, turned pro football into an art form.
Steve Sabol won 35 Emmys for his NFL Films work.
I can't think of opera without having memories of background music used by NFL Films. I can't watch a crazy fumble or wild play without remembering Mel Blanc's voice narrating an NFL bloopers reel. I can't think about Lambeau Field or the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Oakland Raiders without hearing John Facenda, who had one of the greatest voices ever.
In 2007, though, I felt my indebtedness was repaid. I spent an entire evening with Steve Sabol at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I've known him for years, but this night was special. I was receiving the McCann Award, which is voted on by writers around the country. Sabol received the broadcast honors for that year.
Both of us were able to share that special moment as we became part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
We had time to talk about how his father, Ed, needed to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, as well. As fate would have it, I had the honor of being part of the meeting in which that eventually happened.
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Big Ed Sabol was a client of mine years ago. A real character ..street tough .. you'd never forget him if you met him: world record swimmer, Army veteran, notorious curmudgeon, dry humor, ever the sharp wit, wry commentary dotted in blue language, always in charge of the moment .. what an extraordinary original. And what a gargantuan vehicle he and Steve created, legends both now. They truly revolutionized the entire sport of football and how we enjoy it. I can't imagine his heartbreak, if he's mentally sound today, at the tremendous loss of his beloved son and partner. RIP Steve, the maestro of it all .. God comfort Big Ed and Steve's loving family.
******* ~ ~ ~ ~
A beautiful, lovingly told story about Steve, written in March 2012. If you love watching the game of football, you'll truly enjoy the journey this comprehensive, behind-the-scenes piece reveals.
On a Saturday morning last March, when the usually frenetic corridors at NFL Films were quiet and dark, Bill Driber sat across the desk from his boss and friend of 28 years, Steve Sabol, answering questions that troubled them both.
Two weeks earlier, at an awards dinner in Kansas City, Sabol blacked out, awakening in a hospital bed. When he returned home to suburban Philadelphia five days later, it was aboard a specially equipped medical plane.
Testing revealed a brain tumor that cannot be removed.
On the day he was to record the video that would present his father for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, last summer, Steve Sabol took his seat in a familiar studio.
From behind the camera, Hank McElwee, the man who set the aperture on Sabols camera and loaded his film when they were blazing trails together on NFL sidelines 40 years ago, asked if he was ready to go.
Yeah, Sabol said.
And he started talking.
Let me tell you about my dad, Sabol said, smoothly. He was a loving father. He was a generous boss. He was a leader. He was a dreamer. But most of all, he was the funniest man Ive ever known.
Behind the camera McElwee stood, stunned.
Freaking nailed it, McElwee thought.
Seated in the adjacent sound studio, behind glass, Vince Caputo quickly checked to make sure everything was running. He was the one Sabol came to see soon after he returned to work, asking whether there was a way to cobble his words together into a narration of a film that they could show at the induction. Sabol knew he could not get through a traditional speech from a stage.
You understand how Im talking, Sabol said to Caputo. I cant get more than six or seven words together. But if I write something and I try to say it a little bit at a time, can you put it together?
When I make a mistake, can you fix it?
Caputo has known Sabol since he was a boy and Sabol was a young man. The son of Ed Sabols longtime driver, Caputo grew up around the old NFL Films offices, washing cars out back for extra money. He worked summers in the film vault. When Caputo was in college, studying engineering, he floundered. Sabol came to him with the offer of an internship in the NFL Films sound department. Turned out, he was good at it. A couple of months later, Sabol offered him a job.
He trusted me 27 years ago by putting me into a position to succeed, Caputo said. And I think Ive spent the last 20 years trying not to disappoint him.
Whatever it took, he said, we were going to get him through.
McElwee was one of the companys first employees No. 21, it said on his pay stub. Today, he is head of cinematography. But McElwees first job was as an assistant to Sabol, who was learning his way as a producer, editor and cameraman.
Heres this rich kid whose father owns the company, McElwee said. Im from the other side of the tracks. I watched him work and said, God, Im struggling to keep up with this guy. I knew he was the boss son, but he earned everything he got.
We all realized pretty quickly that Steve was the force behind what we were doing here. The sound. The pictures. Big Ed had the idea and he sold the owners on it, but when it came to the actual vision of this company, without a doubt it was Steve. Steve saw things in a unique way that every network is copying right now.
In the afternoon, after theyd shot the rest of the 10-minute narration in fits and starts that took up much of the day, McElwee put an arm around his old friend.
Sudden, how long did it take you to memorize that first part? McElwee asked, using the nickname that Sabol gave himself when he played small-college football Sudden Death Sabol.
Hank, Sabol said, Ive been working on it for three months. I had to get it right.
At the induction in Canton, McElwee was one of four NFL Films cameramen following the Sabols for the day. As he has so many times after a game, he came away from the ceremony with a shot that he knew captured the moment. As McElwee filmed Big Ed Sabol sliding an arm through his new, yellow jacket, he panned up and caught Steve Sabol in the background, smiling with pride.
I call that a tingle shot, McElwee said, where the hair on the back of your neck stands up.
As a football fan I have to thank Mr. Sabol and his family. They have made the game more interesting, more fun, and more epic. The game is great, and they are part of that greatness.
Rest in Peace.
I do not think the NFL would be where it is today if it wasn’t for Sabol (father and son). Those NFL Films are absolute legend. RIP
Steve Sabol through the years
NFL Films 10 Greatest Players in Pro Football History
The Sabols showed us stuff we never dreamed we’d ever see; and the NFL has always been more interesting ever after. That super slow-mo footage had to have taken miles of film over the years. I’ll bet they welcomed the advent of digital.
When they brought in Mel Blanc to do cartoon voices as occasional comedic punctuation, well, that was the piece de la resistance.
The sports-loving world feels a void today.
Tax payers have been fighting the NFL for 50 years in Minnesota. We just lost again. I HATE the NFL.
I agree with what everyone else here has said. The Sabols took football to a new level. NFL Films was as much fun as watching the game. RIP Steve. You did good.
My all-time favorite NFL Films Feature
Joe and the Magic Bean
NFL Films is great. The Sabols’ deserve a wing in the Hall of Fame for what they did for the NFL ...
Rest in Peace “Sudden Death”
Interestingly, I came away from those DVDs with a somewhat diminished view of the NFL. The Sabols and their achievements were exceptional, but after watching all of those DVDs I had the lasting impression of a professional football game as a contrived spectacle more than a sporting event. Steve Sabol even acknowledged as much when he discussed the historical accuracy of the highlight films regularly presented by NFL Films. He said something to this effect: "When people look back from a historical perspective, most of these players will seem as extraordinary and superhuman. They'll never see Jim Brown stumble and fall in the backfield or fumble a football, for example, because there was never any reason to include something like that in a highlight film."
I remember Steve saying that had enough film in the vaults that had never been seen to play on the NFL Network for 10 years, 24/7/365.
May he RIP.
Don’t forget Jonathon Winters. He was in a few of the early ones, he and “Maude”.
What a shame! NFL films made football magic to me. Rest in peace, Steve.
I remember watching NFL films projected onto a sheet hanging up in the ratty old YMCA on Lee Circle in New Orleans when I was a kid in 1970.
It was a great way to keep us day camp kids contained on a rainy summer day.
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