As I was falling asleep on Monday, I saw the news that Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films passed away. I was very sad to see that an important pioneer in film and in sports passed away. In a way I can’t be too sad. He lived a very long and healthy life, dying at the age of 98 years old. He lived a complete life.
The story of his greatest professional accomplishment is fascinating, as is his whole life’s story. He was born in Atlantic City, NJ in 1916, was a successful athlete in high school and college, even being selected to compete in the 1936 Olympics, which he declined to participate in due to Nazi Germany hosting the games. He served in World War II, had some success doing plays on Broadway, then settled down and had a family. For income, he worked in his father-in-law’s coat business, which Sabol hated. He was bored, unfulfilled, and itching to move on with his life. He wanted to find a profession he would love, and he found inspiration in a Christmas gift. He received a simple 16 millimeter movie camera, and he filmed everything, especially the adventures of his son, Steve. Ed filmed Steve’s first haircut, pony ride, and all of his football games from 4th grade to senior year in high school. Eventually, when he had enough money saved, he sold the coat business. With the money now in hand, Sabol created a film company: Blair Motion Pictures, named for Ed’s daughter, Blair. However, he now needed something to film. He looked back at what he already filmed and saw that most of it was his son Steve‘s football games. And he saw some early pro football talk shows and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could see pro football as if it were a movie?” So that’s what he aimed to do. He found that NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was trying to get someone to film the 1962 NFL Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants. Sabol outbid every other film group to get the rights to film the game. After the film was released, Pete Rozelle liked it enough to give Sabol the job of next year’s championship game. After the 1963 NFL season, the NFL liked Blair Motion Pictures’ work so much that they gave an exclusive contract to Blair to be the only company filming NFL games. After receiving that contract, Blair Motion Pictures became NFL Films, and since then, they have been filming NFL games, and entertaining homes for decades. Just listen to some of the music from NFL Films. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9QNCnQh9c0
NFL Films is far and away the best sports media company in the world. Their films are always top notch in visual quality, the narration is excellent, the music is perfectly written, and there are very rarely mistakes made in editing the clips. It shows a brutal, yet beautiful game in a way that other mediums can’t, and shows the amazing ability and work of the men playing football.
Perhaps that is the greatest success of Ed Sabol’s career, he showed greatness. Do we care too much about sports? I’m sure I do. Sports doesn’t determine the best political situations, or dictate morals, or help solve economic troubles in and of itself. It doesn’t have a direct impact on the fans of the game, yet we revere athletes like they are true heroes, we set our schedules so we can watch their exploits in games that will not directly change our lives. Why? Because we seek greatness. We want to see the extraordinary exploits, talents, and accomplishments of others. We look for entertainment, encouragement, a distraction from the world around us, or some reason to smile. Watching others be so great in the arena accomplishes all of these things. But beyond that, they allow us to dream. They fill our heads with the possibilities of what we could do. We watch Tom Brady in the Super Bowl and are amazed. We watch Ernie Banks live so happily and play so joyfully, and want that for ourselves. We watch people closer to us, like BU Basketball Coach Jones, and we admire their intensity and passion. Sports is a way of learning lessons that few other avenues can. And in the sports world, very few groups showed us all of sport’s lessons the way NFL Films did, and will continue to do.
Thank you Ed and Steve Sabol. Steve, you passed away in 2012 of cancer. Now I hope you and your dad are enjoying peace and eternity with God. You certainly deserve it.