Saturday, January 26, 2013

J-Speaks: Innovator and Chief of NFL Films Passes Away

Back in 1962, a father and son who put together a company back then when they secured the rights to chronicle the 1962 National Football League (NFL) Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. They impressed then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle so much with their high quality work that the company eventually became NFL Films. What was to follow was the evolution of how the game is seen, replayed and even heard. That evolution was pioneered by NFL Films president and co-founder Steve Sabol. Back in September 18, 2012 this great innovator who has taken how we watch sports, especially the NFL in a different way left us.

On that aforementioned date, Sabol who co-founded NFL Films with his father Ed Sabol passed away from brain cancer. He was 69 years old.

He leaved behind his 96-year-old father Ed, his mother Audrey, his second wife Penny, his daughter Casey from his first marriage Lisa and his sister Blair, who was the original namesake of Sabol’s production company, Blair Motion Pictures before it became NFL Films

Two understand how long Sabol has been a part of the NFL, the Sept. 20, 2012 Thursday night match-up between the New York Giants at Carolina Panthers was the first game since 1963 that Sabol did not have a hand in putting together a film in capturing the dramatic moments for all of us to enjoy.

On top of that back on Sept. 19 was the first time in the history of Inside the NFL, which airs every Wednesday on Showtime, the first time in 34 seasons that the longest running show on cable television was aired without what host James Brown called their, “leader, creative force and dear, dear, dear friend Mr. Steve Sabol.”

“Steve Sabol was the creative genius behind the remarkable work at NFL Films,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said.

“Steve’s passion for football was matched by his incredible talent and energy. Steve’s legacy will be part of the NFL forever. He was a major contributor to the success of the NFL, a man who changed the way we look at football and sports, and a great friend.”

Sabol who was two weeks shy of turning 70, officially took the mantle as leader at NFL Films from his father who founded the company when it was called Blair Motion Pictures upon securing the rights to chronicle the aforementioned 1962 NFL Championship Game for $3,000.

Sabol began his rise at NFL Films in the 1960s and 1970s working behind the scenes as a cameraman and producer.

He first was introduced into the lives of the nation in front of the camera in 1979 when ESPN was founded and signed NFL Films as a production company.

He reinvented how we not only viewed football and all sports on television, but he brought us inside the game from all angles.

Sabol pioneered the innovation of slow-motion replays that we see now on a regular basis from normal slow-mo to fast speed replays. He also in the highlights in the look back at each game from the week before on shows like “Inside the NFL” he included music to heighten the drama of the contest. He also did something that was of very high risk, he put microphones on the players and coaches or as it is called now, they were wired for sound.

“He’s a guy whose done so much for the National Football League and just making football more interesting and more exciting and just more phenomenal,” NBC’s Sunday Night Football play-by-play analyst Al Michaels said.

It is that kind of innovation that made Sabol a legend and won him over 35 Emmys for his writing, cinematography, editing, directing and producing. NFL Films itself has won over 100 Emmys.

Sabol along the way was awarded the Dan Reeves Pioneer Award in 2007 in recognition for his innovative ideas that have contributed to the game of pro football. In 2010 Sabol received the Sports Leadership
Award at the March of Dimes 27th Annual Sports Luncheon, one of the highest profile events of the year for the sports and sports media business in New York. One year later in March, NFL Films was recognized with the Lamar Hunt Award for Professional Football in recognition for their visionary leadership that helped the NFL become the preeminent pro sports league in America. In November Sabol and his father Ed were inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, which was followed in December by Steve’s induction into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

With all of those great accomplishments, Sabol’s most satisfying accomplishment of his great career was helping champion the election of his father Ed into the Hall of Fame.

When you accomplish all that Sabol was able to do, the question then is asked, how? How was he able to revolutionize what we see on the small screen?

For starters he was a fan first and then he was an artist. He thought like a Hollywood storyteller that was big, bold, honest and funny.

He saw the game through the eyes of an artist with an unwiring eye for details and a pitch perfect ear that allowed him to transform NFL Films from a simple chronicle of the game an epic myth maker that took chances and brought a closer look of the game to the viewing audience through slow motion cameras; the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the players and coaches through mics; reverse angle cameras, folly films and custom composed musical scores.

“If someone were to ask me how would I define our job at NFL Films, I’d say it is to bring a new understanding to something that has already been seen. To give the creative treatment to reality,” Sabol said once.

He also said once, which is his motto, “Tell me a story that will live forever.”
With over 1 million feet of game film, dozens of pieces of art and other important pieces related to football at the NFL Films headquarters in Mount Laurel, NJ and having One NFL Plaza being renamed One Sabol Way, Sabol who was an art history major and former running back at Colorado College and his great work will live never be forgotten.

What also will live forever is the respect he gained from some of the finest that broadcast the NFL games to us for so long.

“He treated everybody with kindness and he had respect for all human beings and I think that was his greatest trait,” NFL on CBS color analyst and “Inside the NFL” host Phil Simms said.

“I think you have to think about Steve through a child’s eyes. We all fell in love I think, or at least I did with those highlights,” NBC Sunday Night Football color analyst and “Inside the NFL” host Chris Collinsworth said. “He made you fall in love with the game on an emotional level with the work they did I just don’t know you can compliment a man more than that.”

He began his 20-year run at NFL Films as a cameraman. He was the driving force behind HBO’s pro football series “Hard Knocks.” He oversaw the evolutionary role of NFL Films’ when the launch of the NFL Network nine years ago created a demand for more content of a game that has become the best in American sports. He was an author of the poem “The Autumn Wind,” which later was adopted by the Oakland Raiders as their unofficial anthem. He had a vision, a goal and a mission and Steve Sabol accomplished that mission and them some. He changed how we saw, thought of and cared about not just football, but all of professional sports.

It will be a shame that he physically will not be there in one week from tomorrow for Super Bowl XLVII between the Baltimore Ravens versus the San Francisco 49ers, but Steve Sabol will be there in spirit and his influence will definitely be all around the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA next Sunday night.

Information and quotations are courtesy of 9/18/12 5:30 p.m. ESPN Bottom Line update during “Pardon the Interruption” with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon; 9/18/12 8 p.m. edition of ESPN’s “Sportscenter” on ESPNEWS; 9/19/12 Newsday article in the Nation section “Steve Sabol, 69, innovative NFL Films chief;” 9/20/12 8 p.m. contest New York Giants vs. Carolina Panthers on NFL Network Pre-Kick; 9/21/12 1 p.m. edition of “Inside the NFL” on Showtime Extreme with James Brown, Phil Simms and Chris Collinsworth;

No comments:

Post a Comment