This week, I have decided to write another homage to the passing of a sports legend. This time, it is not a player, coach or an owner but rather an artist. Steve Sabol, the president of NFL Films passed away Tuesday at the age of 69. He lost his 18-month battle with brain cancer.
Sabol leaves behind a National Football League that is bigger than he ever imagined it. The League is a $9 billion machine and has fans across all ages, demographics, sexes and ethnicities.
He got his start as a cinematographer for his father, Ed, when the elder Sabol won the rights to archive the 1962 NFL Championship. Since then, Steve has been responsible for an interpretation of the NFL that we take for granted today. His innovations include super slow-motion, reverse-angle replays, attaching microphones to coaches and players during games, synching highlights to music, custom recorded scores and even hilarious blooper reels.
Many of the NFL’s greatest myths have come through Steve Sabol’s imagination, including the Frozen Tundra of Green Bay, America’s Team and Dwight Clark’s dramatic catch from Joe Montana in the 1981 NFC Championship Game that sent
San Francisco to the first of five Super Bowls.
Sabol was an all-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference fullback while with Colorado College. He was majoring in art history while playing for the Tigers. It was his art inspiration that revolutionized the way fans enjoy the NFL. In 2003, Sabol was given a Lifetime Achievement Emmy by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. In all, he won 35 Emmys in writing, cinematography, editing and directing and producing. He is the only person to have that many statuettes in so many different categories.
“How would I define our job at NFL Films,” said Sabol early in his career. “I’d say it is to bring a new understanding to something that’s already been seen. To give a creative treatment to reality.”
Sabol did just that throughout his career. He made football just as exciting from the couch as from the stadium. He viewed the game of football as art just as much as he did a game. He had a knack for telling great stories about those athletes who we love and love to hate. Through Steve’s work, we are able to unite on Sunday afternoons and enjoy the game of football, knowing that NFL Films, Sabol’s baby for half a century, will tell us all about the game we love.