NFL Films president Steve Sabol dies at 69
Steve Sabol, the best man in the storied marriage between pro football and video, died Tuesday, 18 months after learning he had brain cancer and 13 after introducing his father, Ed, at his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Sabol, who was two weeks shy of his 70th birthday, long ago officially inherited the mantle of leading NFL Films from Ed, who founded the company (then called Blair Motion Pictures) upon securing rights to chronicle the 1962 NFL Championship game for $3,000.
But the younger Sabol was intimately involved from the beginning, serving as a 20-year-old cameraman for that first, frigid game at Yankee Stadium between the Giants and Packers.
"Steve Sabol was the creative genius behind the remarkable work of NFL Films," commissioner Roger Goodell said.
"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 himself summed up NFL Films' mission many years ago, saying the goal was "to bring a new understanding to something that's already been seen -- to give creative treatment to reality."
Creative he was, pioneering numerous innovations, from slow-motion replays and music to heighten the game's inherent drama, to providing an insider's view by putting microphones on coaches and players.
One of Sabol's last, most satisfying accomplishments was helping champion the election of Ed Sabol, now 96, into the Hall of Fame. A month later, Steve was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor.
The younger Sabol oversaw a company that won more than 100 Emmy Awards and helped shape the look and feel of a league that has become not only the most popular, lucrative entity in American sports but the most popular show in all of television.
Steve was known around the NFL as a passionate, expansive storyteller and historian. It was Sabol who after Super Bowl XLII, in 2008, had the depth of knowledge to deem David Tyree's catch on the Giants' winning drive the greatest play in Super Bowl history, and have most everyone accept his judgment.
The hallways of NFL Films headquarters in Mount Laurel, N.J., near Philadelphia, are adorned with dozens of pieces of art, football-related and otherwise, from Steve's vast collection. He was an art history major and a running back at Colorado College, where he played against Wichita State's Bill Parcells.
The list of NFL Films' innovations and iconic touches is long, from the slow-motion spiral of a long pass to the voice of John Facenda narrating the poem "The Autumn Wind," (written by Sabol, naturally), to memorably putting a mic on Chiefs coach Hank Stram for Super Bowl IV (shot by Steve, naturally).
Sabol never stopped innovating. He was the driving force behind HBO's "Hard Knocks" series, and he oversaw NFL Films' evolving role since the NFL Network launched in 2003, creating a demand for more content than ever.
In addition to his father, Sabol is survived by his mother, Audrey; wife, Penny; son, Casey; and sister, Blair.