Few people have done more to popularize the NFL than Steve Sabol, the president and co-founder of NFL Films, who died today a couple weeks short of his 70th birthday from complications of brain cancer. If you're anything like me, Sabol's life work was instrumental in fostering your love affair with pro football.
Born Oct. 2, 1942, in Moorestown N.J., Sabol played college football at Colorado College, but the family business had its origins during his high school career. Sabol's father, Ed, used a motion picture camera that he received as a wedding gift to film Steve's high school football games, giving rise to the family passion for capturing football on film. Soon thereafter, the Sabols founded a small film company called Blair Motion Pictures — Steve originally worked for Ed as a cameraman — and won the rights to film the 1962 NFL Championship game, impressing NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle with their work.
In 1965, the Sabols agreed to Rozelle's proposal to buy out their company, renaming it NFL Films — a name that became synonymous with expertly filmed and packaged highlights, with the booming voice of John Facenda and stirring marching band music serving as the soundtrack.
NFL Films' priceless archives provide the only filmed record from many 1960s-era games, including some of the early Super Bowls. With such series as Greatest Moments and Lost Treasures and Football Follies, NFL Films has captured the drama, tradition and even the humor of the National Football League.
Upon ESPN's founding, the network signed NFL Films as a production company, and Steve became an on-air personality, showing as much talent in front of the camera as behind it. Eventually, NFL Films amassed more than 100 Sports Emmys, with Sabol earning more than 40 personal Emmy Awards.
—Rob Doster, Athlon Sports
Of his work with NFL Films, Sabol once said: "The only other human endeavor more thoroughly captured on 16-mm film than the National Football League is World War II." For that, we can all be grateful. Rest in peace.