NFL Films Loses Visionary President Steve Sabol; Legacy Lives On
NFL Films President STEVE SABOL died yesterday at the age of 69 after an 18-month battle with brain cancer. On Long Island, Neil Best notes during Sabol's tenure, he 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” (NEWSDAY, 9/19). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Stephen Miller notes the “rise of NFL Films coincided with the shift of pro football from a second-tier sport played mainly in baseball stadiums to arguably the most valuable televised content in the U.S.” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/19). NBC’s Brian Williams said Sabol “changed the way we all experience pro football” ("Nightly News," NBC, 9/18). CBS News' Scott Pelley said, "He revolutionized pro football without ever suiting up. ... You may not recognize the name Steve Sabol, but if you're a football fan, you'll recognize his work" ("Evening News," CBS, 9/18).
INDUSTRY SALUTES: Tributes poured in throughout the sports business, as CBS Sports Chair SEAN MCMANUS said, "Steve Sabol was a true visionary whose passion and storytelling changed the way we watch the NFL on television. Very few who have never played in the NFL have had such a profound impact on the game." McManus added, "Steve was the epitome of class, creativity and integrity." Cowboys Owner JERRY JONES said, “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.” Chiefs Chair & CEO CLARK HUNT said, “It was through his eyes and through his lens that we watched pro football become America’s game.” Meanwhile, ESPN President JOHN SKIPPER said, “The work he and his dedicated and talented team create every day is one of the many reasons why so many more fans love the game of football today” (THE DAILY).
KEPT IT LIGHT: NBC’s BOB COSTAS noted Sabol recognized that “football can be kind of serious,” and NFL Films “always made a point to find the humor in it, the goofiness in it, the blooper reels, the little asides from someone who was mic’d on the sidelines tosses off” (NFL Media). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Jason Gay writes Sabol “put eyes and ears everywhere, elevating bit players into Roman warriors and turning sideline chatter into screwball comedy” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 9/19). In N.Y., Douglas Martin writes Sabol “put more cameras on the field than others had and used them to provide new perspectives.” He “used film, not tape, for greater clarity,” and he “interspersed the smacks and whistles with the sounds of a 60-piece orchestra playing TCHAIKOVSKY.” He made “some of the first funny films of players’ ‘bloopers,’” and he “wrote scripts, often rhyming ones” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/19).
ARTISTIC EYE: In L.A., Mike Kupper notes it was Sabol “who suggested the artistic touches that set NFL Films apart.” While growing up, Sabol “nurtured two great passions: art, whose appreciation he got from his mother AUDREY, who befriended up-and-coming artists and hung their work in the Sabol home; and football, a craving he developed on his own” (L.A. TIMES, 9/19). In Newark, Steve Politi writes Sabol was “an innovator and a historian, a filmmaker and an entertainer, and above all else, among the biggest reasons the NFL has reached these absurd levels of fan interest and TV viewership.” His most “underrated accomplishment” is taking an event “we’ve already seen and making it feel new” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 9/19). In L.A., Chris Erskine notes Sabol was “an art history major who went on to become one of the most celebrated sports filmmakers of his time.” He leaves behind a legacy “that can be seen in every video montage from ‘SportsCenter’ to your local news.” Sabol will best be remembered for “applying an art major's eye to the blood sport of the NFL” (L.A. TIMES, 9/19). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes with a staff that “understood that he was turning games into Hollywood productions, Sabol created a separate reality that made fans consider whether an NFL Films production, and not a television set, was the best way to enjoy a game” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/19). The AP’s Rachel Cohen noted with the eye of an art history major, Sabol “filmed the NFL as a ballet and blockbuster movie all in one.” He leaves behind a league “bigger than ever, its fans enthralled by the plot twists and characters he so deftly chronicled” (AP, 9/18). The N.Y. Daily News’ Bob Raissman said, “What Sabol did was really put the NFL and make it into an art form" ("Daily News Live," SportsNet N.Y., 9/18).
A LASTING LEGACY: In Cincinnati, Joe Reedy writes, “When it comes to naming individuals from the past 50 years who have done more to make the league as popular as it is today, he is near the top” (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 9/19). ESPN’s Adam Schefter said, “Nobody was more responsible for making the NFL what it is than Steve Sabol.” He “singlehandedly revolutionized the way we view the game.” ESPN’s Trey Wingo said because of Sabol, “every NFL fan has a visual history of the game they love unlike any other sport" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 9/18). In Philadelphia, Rich Hofmann writes, “What Steve Sabol did was big and loud and bold and forever” (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 9/19). In L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes there should be “no question he deserves a bust in the Hall of Fame” (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 9/19). FOXSPORTS.com’s Peter Schrager wrote Sabol “made football -- a brutal, grisly and dangerous sport -- look, sound and feel like a pristine artistic masterpiece” (FOXSPORTS.com, 9/18). In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes one of Sabol’s “most memorable achievements was the role he played in creating and developing” HBO’s “Hard Knocks,” which NFL Films co-produced. It was Sabol “who convinced teams to appear on a show,” and it was Sabol “whom the owners trusted when it came to editing each episode” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/19). SI.com’s Richard Rothschild noted Sabol “somehow found a way to make even a 2-14 outfit sound like it was on the brink of championship contention.” As a sports filmmaker, perhaps “only the late BUD GREENSPAN produced as long-lasting a body of work as Steve Sabol.” But Greenspan “viewed the Olympics with a non-critical eye and lacked Sabol's sense of humor” (SI.com, 9/18). SI.com’s Peter King wrote Sabol’s “ethics were above reproach, and he was one of the most authentic football lovers ever born.” He was “convinced every team had 10 good stories, and he knew deep down that [the] filmmaking brilliance of those he hired would make the stories better than maybe they were” (SI.com, 9/18). The AP’s Jim Litke wrote, “Without ever playing a down in the pros, Steve Sabol got millions to fall hard for the NFL” (AP, 9/18). SPORTS ON EARTH’s Joe Posnanski wrote, “Before Steve Sabol, pro football was a game without mythology. … He was a whirlwind. He was a football fanatic. He was an artist. He was possessed by the game.” He added, "He really did help create today’s NFL essence” (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 9/18).
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Sabol was recognized last March as one of the SBD/SBJ Champions of 2012 and Bill King took an extensive look at his life and career.