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Volume 23 No. 18
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A history of capturing the greatest moments

Steve Sabol left college to join his father Ed at NFL Films and together they turned the game into a cinematic masterpiece.
Photo: ap images
Steve Sabol left college to join his father Ed at NFL Films and together they turned the game into a cinematic masterpiece.
Photo: ap images
Steve Sabol left college to join his father Ed at NFL Films and together they turned the game into a cinematic masterpiece.
Photo: ap images

Born of a 45-year-old overcoat salesman’s $3,000 bid for the rights to film the 1962 championship game, NFL Films forever changed the way the sport was presented, putting highlights to music and overlaying a dramatic narration that gave the game the feel of a Hollywood feature film.

Slow motion, color footage of leaping receivers and hurdling runners. Audio of grunts and screams, and the crack of colliding pads. Close-ups of players and coaches, and of the ball, spiraling tightly through the air. All of it set to theatrical music. 

It all was the vision of Ed Sabol, a former actor whose only experience behind the camera was making home movies, and his son, Steve, who left college to join his father in the startup venture they would call Blair Motion Pictures.

NFL Films facts

Employees in 1964: 6
Employees in 2019: 264
9,312
Total games filmed since 1962
4,000
Hours of annual programming, including over 1,100 hours of original programming
500
Number of players and coaches who have worn an NFL Films microphone during a game
100,000,000
Feet of archived football action stored in over 50,000 cans
129 Emmy wins for cinematography, writing, features, sound, sports series and specials
Narrators have included:
Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Mel Blanc, Orson Welles, Vincent Price, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburne, Alec Baldwin, Bruce Willis, Gene Hackman and Ed Harris
NFL Films has filmed:
World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Final, Davis Cup,U.S. Open Tennis Championships, Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup, Wimbledon, PGA Championship and 24 Hours of Le Mans
Feature film credits include:
Invincible, Jerry Maguire, Rudy, The Waterboy, Everybody’s All-American, Necessary Roughness, When Harry Met Sally…, Black Sunday, Semi-Tough, Paper Lion and Brian’s Song
Sources: NFL Films, Sports Business Journal research

Two years later, Sabol convinced NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle that all 14 teams could benefit from a highlight film similar to the one that he captured at the ’62 championship game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers. Rozelle got the owners to kick in $20,000 each and Blair Motion Pictures became the league subsidiary known as NFL Films.

The father and son operation took off quickly, known for the quality of its production — with 129 Emmys and counting — and the prolific output of its staff, which at its peak produced about 4,000 hours of programming a year, including 1,100 hours of original programming.

From its 200,000-square-foot TV and film production facility that opened in Mount Laurel, N.J., in 2001, NFL Films has evolved along with the media landscape. Rather than weekly shows that air in syndication the following week, NFL Films now works at a pace more similar to a television operation, feeding content to the 24-hour NFL Network.

But it still produces work that’s in step with the vision of its founders, Ed and Steve Sabol, dedicated to a cinematic presentation of the game.

Steve Sabol, who died of brain cancer in 2012, was honored with 35 Emmys, winning for cinematography, writing, directing, editing and producing. Ed Sabol, who died in 2015, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2011.

NFL Films through the years

1962

Ed Sabol, founder of Blair Motion Pictures, bids $3,000 for the film rights to the NFL Championship Game.

1964

Blair Motion Pictures becomes NFL Films.

1965

First to place a microphone on a player and coach during an NFL regular-season game. 

1967

First season of “NFL Films Presents” — now television’s longest-running sports series. 

1968

First to produce a sports blooper film. 

1978

Wins its first Emmy for “Road to the Super Bowl.” 

1995

First live-action sports movie shot in Cinemascope, the critically acclaimed “100 Yard Universe,” shown exclusively at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

1997

Produces highlights for NFL.com, making the NFL the first professional league to feature sports programming on the internet. 

1998

Shoots its 7,000th NFL game. 

2002

Opens new 200,000-square-foot television and motion picture studio fully equipped for HD production. 

2004

Ed and Steve Sabol honored with the Sports Emmys’ Lifetime Achievement Award. 

2011

NFL Films wins its 100th Emmy Award (Outstanding Edited Sports Series: “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals”). 

2016

NFL Films debuts its first steaming series, “All or Nothing,” on Amazon Video. 

2018

“All or Nothing” brand expands to include seasons featuring college football and international sports.

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