NFL Films President Steve Sabol, who captured the essence of the league with such brilliant and imaginative cinematography, died today at the age of 69 after a long battle with brain cancer.
He left behind an unmistakable imprint on the league with his memorable pieces that depicted life in the NFL and showed viewers a unique side of the sport with sideline shots and in-game footage. Sabol was the son of NFL Films creator Ed Sabol, who was recently inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Here’s a sampling of reaction from around the league about Steve Sabol’s passing:
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: “Steve Sabol was the creative genius behind the remarkable work of NFL Films. 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.”
Colts owner Jim Irsay: “With the passing of Steve Sabol, this is a sad day for football fans everywhere. As someone who grew up watching NFL Films creations, I can attest to Steve’s vision and contribution to the incredible popularity of this sport. His, along with his father, Ed’s, creativity and passion for the game cultivated many, many avid fans. On behalf of the entire Colts organization I send our sympathy to the Sabol family and his colleagues at NFL Films.”
NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi: “When you walk around the NFL Films library, I call it a working museum because each picture on the wall has a Steve Sabol symbolic memory to it. He put each picture there and everyday you’re reminded of his genius, his talent, his unbelievable passion for football. I would love passing him in the halls and we would stop and have a five minute conversation about the history of the league, comparing an old player to a new player. He was just an amazing mind in terms of football and a creative genius. Every day when I walk into that office, I take a picture and try to post it on Twitter because they’re unique; they’re situated in a setting that he wanted them to be situated in. It’s a huge loss for all of us in the NFL family because he was truly part of the creative process that made this league so great.”
Chiefs owner Clark Hunt: “Today, the Chiefs family and the entire National Football League mourn the loss of Steve Sabol – a dear friend, a true visionary and one of pro football’s biggest fans. We are deeply saddened by Steve’s passing, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Sabol family in this extremely difficult time. With his limitless passion and unparalleled ability as a storyteller, Steve captured the essence and emotion of our sport, and it was through his eyes and through his lens that we watched pro football become America’s game. Steve and his father, Ed, chronicled and immortalized pro football’s greatest moments, including the iconic footage of Hank Stram from Super Bowl IV. Steve’s artistry as a filmmaker gave an unforgettable, cinematic history of the NFL to an entire generation of fans. But beyond his tremendous contributions to the game, Steve was a remarkable man and a cherished friend who will be greatly missed by our family and all who were blessed to know him.”
Steelers owner Art Rooney II: “Steve Sabol was a dear friend to the Rooney Family and he will be missed by the entire NFL community. The impact that Steve Sabol and his father Ed have had on the NFL in creating and growing NFL Films will continue to be enjoyed for years to come by NFL fans everywhere. He was a genius in his work, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family.”
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie: “Steve Sabol was one of the most influential and innovative people in the NFL community. Football benefitted so much from his unique vision and incredible ability to bring fans closer to the action. He was also a joy to be around, an endless source of energy and ideas. All of us at the Eagles will miss him, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith: “Steve Sabol leaves a lasting impact on the National Football League that will be felt for a long time to come. His vision and innovation helped make him a pioneer the likes of which the NFL has never seen before and won’t see again. The Players of the NFL are indebted to Steve for his immense contributions to advancing our game and helping make the fan experience as great as it is. He was also a true friend of the Players. Our entire Player community will miss Steve, his brilliance and his warmth. He, and his father before him, linked generations of fans to generations of Players. We send our thoughts and condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. He was truly one of a kind.”
NFL Network Analyst Sterling Sharpe: “We’re talking about a guy who loved football more than the players. He couldn’t wait to sit down and talk to all of us who were in the building about what was going on in the NFL and what it was like in the early days when his dad started NFL Films. It definitely is a sad day. I enjoyed going into his office and visiting with him, I enjoyed him coming out on the set when we were getting started to do Playbook. We use the term and phrase ‘they will be missed’ an awful lot. It’s going to be really hard to replace Steve Sabol. He truly will be missed. I know all of us who worked in that building week in and week out during the season, and those people who knew him way before I did, he is truly, truly going to be missed.”
Former NFL head coach Steve Mariucci, now an NFL Network analyst: “I think I could speak for a lot of coaches, and we all sort of went through the same thing with Steve. It took some time – a short period of time – before you could really understand what Steve was all about. I’ll never forget the first time that I got asked by Steve to be wired as the head coach of the 49ers. I was very reluctant to do that; I had never been wired before. I said, ‘OK I’ll do it but I don’t want the team to know that I’m wired, let’s keep this secret.’ He said we have you covered. I was wired up before the game in a private room, the cameras were never close to me; they were on the other side of the field. He said to me just be yourself; don’t even think about us, coach the game and then we’ll take the wires off when it’s all over with. You know how emotions fly during the game and I probably did some things or said some things that I didn’t want aired. I remember calling him the next day and said you have to do me a favor, I think I might have cursed or something like that on the sideline; can you not air that please? He said, ‘Coach, remember we are not here to make you look bad, you’re going to have to trust us; we’re here to promote your team, to promote the National Football League and you can trust that we will always, always be on your side and make you look as good as possible. We’ll have some fun with this.’…He became like a brother that way; you trusted him so much. Every coach trusts him and NFL Films and that’s a general statement around the league. Players and coaches trusted that they would always do the right thing and make you look good.”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: “I really believe Steve was put on this earth to do this job, and be a part of what he contributed to the NFL. I honestly don’t know of anyone who loved, understood or appreciated the NFL more than Steve did. He was one the greatest storytellers of our time – not just in sports but in any part of the American society. I have often said that they only throw ticker tape parades for war heroes, astronauts and people that win games or championships – sports figures – because they are larger than life. Someone has to take these accomplishments, these people and make them larger than life. Someone had to take a moment and turn it into a [legendary moment] and that is what Steve Sabol did for the NFL better then everyone. He could take four seconds of film and create a story that is remembered for a lifetime. He knew how to amplify the moment and make it bigger than it really was. He was a precious asset, his life and work to football and the NFL because it does become bigger than life in presentation. It may not really be that way, but that is the presentation of it. He could combine words, technology, music, snow, elements, human emotion, competition, and say something that left an imprint on people. The other thing he did, he liked to take fans [and] people where they normally couldn’t go: behind the scenes, in the locker room, in the huddle and in our case, he liked to come into a draft room and show some things that go on in a draft room and make it in a way that created more interest in the game. He created those memories for generations of fans. On a personal basis, he inspired me. Just the things I am talking about here, he inspired me to put the biggest digital board right down the middle of the field because we wanted to, in a way, share the theater of stage with our fans. We wanted [fans] to come inside the huddle, instead of a face that is a foot high, we can put it right in the middle of the field as it is going on and put it 70 feet high. That style was Steve’s style and influence. He will be missed but he will always be remembered because of his great contributions to what we do every day and that is show the great nuances of our game.”
NBC announcer Bob Costas: “I am sure many people have noted this already but in addition to all his accomplishments and his dad’s accomplishments with NFL Films, those of us who know him really just feel a personal loss because he was such a good guy. Everybody loved this guy; they loved being in his company. He was a tremendous story teller. He had a vibrancy about him. He had a real enjoyment of the life he lived, being around his friends and the work he did and that enthusiasm never waned. I think we will miss him as a person. What he and his dad built stands for itself. I think he would be the first guy to tell you because he was modest, it wasn’t exactly art, but it was high craft. They developed this in such a way that football fans look forward to every week. It didn’t just document the league, but it mythologized the league, it glorified the league. It was a huge part – especially in the 1960s and 1970s – a huge part of the emergence of the NFL as the most popular sport in America.”