Upon his arrival at Colorado College in 1960, Steve Sabol
was a skinny halfback who viewed himself as an attraction that was larger than
life. Little did he know, he would eventually take the game of football to
Sabol, who nicknamed himself "Sudden Death" during
his playing days, eventually became a bruising fullback and created quite the
reputation — largely on his own behalf.
But putting his All-Conference accolades and self-promoting ways aside, it was
what Sabol contributed in his post-playing days that proved to be his most
important contribution to his beloved game of football.
In 1962, pro football wasn't exactly the attraction it is
today. With baseball, college football and boxing taking up most of the
viewership throughout the United States, NFL games fell to fourth in terms
of popularity — if you can even believe that. But as the NFL season drew
closer to its eventual conclusion that season, Ed Sabol and his son, Steve, won
the filming rights to the season's NFL Championship Game.
The game itself, a 16-7 victory for the Green Bay Packers
over the New York Giants, wasn't all that memorable, but the Sabols'
involvement would change the way American's watch football forever.
Steve Sabol and his father would eventually have
their small company, Blair Motion Pictures, bought out by the NFL in 1965 and
transformed into what we now know as NFL Films. The company originally agreed
to film every game and produce a highlight film for each team. That was just
the beginning, though.
The younger Sabol, who originally served as a cameraman,
producer and director for the films, took over as president of the company and
saw NFL Films into a new era of football. I was an era that would see the NFL become
America's most popular sport in the polls, television ratings and revenue by
1970 and carrying through to today.
Through Sabol's guidance, leadership and foresight, simply watching
a football game would no longer be acceptable. Sabol sought to attack the
senses with his product.
The loud crunch of a gruesome tackle, the slow-motion sight
of a football turning end-over-end through the uprights and even the
"voice of God" became integral pieces to each football game. But each
contest became much more than just fans sitting down to watch a
"game," it had transformed into an in-game viewing experience.
His important innovations and enhancements,
such as micing up players and coaches, slow-motion replay and montages like
"football follies" didn't go unnoticed either.
Art Modell, the late owner of the Cleveland Browns and then
Baltimore Ravens, once said that NFL Films "sold the beauty of the
game." A true compliment from a man so heavily involved in the development
of football as we know it.
Patriots owner Bob Kraft also chimed in on Sabol's character, calling
him both an "artist" and a "visionary" while crediting him with preserving the history of the game.
Sports Illustrated also recognized Sabol's incredible impact
on how America watches football, in 1999 calling NFL Films "perhaps the
most effective propaganda organ in the history of corporate America."
Sabol's creation was much more than mere propaganda, though.
Before succumbing to the horrors of brain cancer on Tuesday, Sabol was
responsible for developing a product that would help both grow the game's
popularity and the enjoyment of the people who choose to watch it.
Steve Sabol may not, yet, be in the Pro Football Hall of
Fame like his father, who was inducted in 2011, but he's more than deserving
and will undoubtedly have his plaque enshrined in Canton, Ohio, soon enough.
So, when you sit down to watch Thursday night's
Giants-Panthers showdown on the NFL Network — which you can also thank Sabol
for, at least partially — or any number of games this weekend, take a moment
to think about just how much you're enjoying the product on your screen. Then
remember the man who is largely responsible for your unique viewing experience.