Steve Sabol, the iconic figure whose father Ed Sabol was the creator of NFL Films, passed away on September 18. His cause of death was brain cancer. He was 69 years old.
I’ve been an NFL fan since 1983, and I have always been a fan of NFL Films. The Sabols perfected the art of creating game footage that made fans seem like they were right on the field. Regardless of which team you rooted for, NFL Films always covered each NFL team with dignity and grace.
There were many great memories created by Sabol and NFL Films. I can hear the booming baritone of NFL Films narrator John Facenda saying “The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field”, dragging out the word “field” for effect. I can picture former Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Franco Harris scoring a touchdown with “The Immaculate Reception”, leading the Steelers to an improbable playoff victory over the Oakland Raiders in 1972. NFL Films captured that moment so perfectly, I felt like I was there watching it live.
Speaking of the Raiders, I remember hearing their theme music on NFL Films, extolling the virtues of the great Raider teams when they were featured. The music and production of NFL Films gave the Raiders the ominous presence and aura that gave credence to the phrase coined by late Raiders’ owner Al Davis: “Just win, baby!”
NFL Films also produced “The Football Follies”, showing the lighter side of the NFL. I remember one program showing several clips of players falling down during games. This particular program was narrated by Mel Blanc, the voiceover actor who famously provided the voices of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and other “Looney Tunes” characters. The addition of Blanc only added to the comical ambiance that Sabol appeared to be searching for
However, my favorite NFL Films segment focused on ten trivial NFL historical facts. There were two facts that stood out to me. The first: in 1994, former Detroit Lions’ running back and Hall of Famer Barry Sanders had runs of 85,84,69,63,62, and 48 yards that did not result in touchdowns. The second fact was that Hall of Fame quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Dan Marino, who played respectively for the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins, share the same middle name: Constantine.
Steve Sabol’s contributions to the NFL culture have shaped the way fans watch the game today. He was a legend that will be truly missed.