The Dallas Cowboys: America’s Team – Courtesy of Steve Sabol

Steve Sabol

Rick Osentoski – US Presswire

“They appear on television so often that their faces are as familiar to the public as presidents and movie stars.” “They are the Dallas Cowboys, ‘America’s Team’.”

When I was a kid, during the summer NFL Films would come out with the previous season’s highlight film for each team. This was a big, big deal for me; I couldn’t wait until it showed up on local television. I was ready for the 1978 version when that phrase was uttered at the beginning. I knew immediately that the Cowboys would have a target on their back bigger than Texas – and I was only 12 years old.

Thanks a lot, Steve Sabol. While it was actually an NFL Films staffer at the time, Bob Ryan, who coined the phrase, it would never have seen the light of day if not for Sabol.

As much as that term would be used against the Cowboys in ensuing years though, and still is to this day, at the time I loved it.

A lot of kids just like me grew up watching NFL Films. Every week, the “NFL Game of the Week” was must-see TV. My brother and I would be so fired up after watching we would immediately head to the backyard for an impromptu game of tackle football. That phenomenal NFL Films music would play in my head as I mimicked the moves of the players I had just seen.

Now, the creative genius – and I do not use that term lightly – behind NFL Films has passed away at the age of 69. If you care at all about the passing of this true league giant you’ve already read the tributes and the coverage of his death. But that’s not going to stop me from writing my own.

He was not only a true genius, but a true artist as well. His brilliance in helping shape the way we still view the game today cannot be overstated. He’d probably bristle at those words, but facts are facts. He and his father Ed portrayed the game as no one had ever envisioned. Their work in the 1960s played a huge role in taking the NFL from the fourth most popular sport (behind baseball, boxing and college football) to the most popular sport in America by far. Nothing else even comes close.

In every televised NFL game, before just about every snap, you’ll get an up close look at the quarterback or some other significant player. NFL Films had a lot to do with that. Super slow motion has its roots in the beautiful cinematography pioneered by  Steve and his father Ed Sabol in the 1960s. Nobody ever dreamed of the kinds of angles filmed by Sabol and his crews, and describing the myriad iconic images captured by NFL Films could fill a large book. The gnarled hands of Dick Butkus as he sat on the sideline waiting to go back on the field. Vince Lombardi screaming “What the hell is going on out out here?” The silhouette of Tom Landry captured in Texas Stadium as he walked the field before a game at Texas Stadium.

The list goes on, and on, and on and on.

If you’re below the age of, say, 30, it would be understandable if you don’t have a true appreciation of Sabol and everything he accomplished. But for those of us who grew up watching the master’s work, his loss is profoundly felt. Inexplicably, the NFL did not see fit to induct Steve Sabol into the Hall of Fame at the same time his father. Maybe Steve wanted it that way so that the spotlight would be fully trained on his Dad. I don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that somebody in Canton had better be working on a new bust.

Thank you for all you did, Steve Sabol. Thank you very, very much.


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