The National Football League is what it is today, not because of George Halas or Pete Rozelle or Johnny Unitas or Joe Montana. The NFL is the most popular sport in the United States because of Ed Sabol and his son Steve. Cancer took Steve's life too soon and that news today left me with an empty feeling.
Ed Sabol created NFL Films. NFL Films was ESPN before America was connected by satellite and cable television. NFL Films turned the shooting of sports highlights into high art. The camera work was unparalleled, the writing was imaginative, the music memorable, all pulled together by the Voice of God that was the late great John Facenda.
Ed gave birth to NFL Films but it was his son Steve that made it the juggernaut that helped feed a nation's pro football Jones for the last 50 plus years. It was sometime in the early 70's that the NFL eased it's way past Major League Baseball as America's favorite sport. I would argue it was Ed and Steve Sabol are responsible for that success.
It took MLB another decade to catch on to the idea of making game highlights available to the nation on a nightly basis through SNS (Sports News Network) in the early 1980's and by then it cows were out of the barn. Baseball would never catch back up.
The last NFL Films production I watched from beginning to end was a special they put together last winter on the memorable playoff game between in 1971 between the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins that ended in double overtime and was the longest game in NFL history. Footage, long thought lost, was discovered and NFL Films lovingly put together a wonderful remembrance of that epic game. It was a game that I listened to on the radio on a Christmas drive out to Abilene, Kansas. Finally getting to see it through the beautiful color footage brought a lot of pain because the Chiefs lost, but it brought back incredible memories of what it was like to live in America in the early 1970's.
Steve Sabol was a genius. He may not have given birth to NFL Films but he made it an American institution. The hundreds of films he produced and thousands of game highlights his photographers shot give the NFL an amazing historical archive that no other American sport can boast.