Ed Sabol, who founded NFL Films in 1964 and helped revolutionize the way sports is covered, died today at his home in Scottsdale, AZ. He was 98.
A Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, Sabol’s myriad theatrical contributions to TV sports coverage include putting music behind highlights; wiring coaches players and refs for sound; ground-level slo-mo and montages; closeups of the ball in flight; and the ever-popular “Football Follies” blooper reels. NFL Films offered an intriguing new look at the game — intimate images accented with lyrical sometimes near-reverential words delivered by Joe Facenda. All of this helped contribute to pro football becoming the dominant player in U.S. sports television. (Above, watch Orson Welles narrate the classic Seussian short “Joe And The Magic Bean.”)
“We began making the game personal for the fans, like a Hollywood movie,” Sabol told The Associated Press before his Hall of Fame induction. “Violent tackles; the long, slow spiral of the ball; following alongside the players as they sidestepped and sprinted down the field. The movie camera was the perfect medium at the time to present the game the way the fans wanted to see it.”
In 1985, Sabol ceded the captaincy of NFL Films to his son Steve Sabol, who had started out as a cameraman for the company at its launch. The younger Sabol died in 2012, having inducted his dad into the Hall of Fame the previous year. The Sabols received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2003.
Born on September 11, 1916, in Atlantic City, NJ, Ed Sabol was a championship swimmer at Ohio State University and was selected for the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. But he refused to participate in Adolf Hitler’s games and later served in World War II. After a stint selling overcoats with his father, Sabol — a dilettante filmmaker — founded Blair Motion Pictures. Named after his daughter, the company’s first winning bid was for the 1962 NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium. He parlayed that into an exclusive deal for film rights to the league, and NFL Films was born.