NFL Films pioneer Steve Sabol dies at 69
Steve Sabol speaks on behalf of his father, Ed, in Dallas after the elder Sabol was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
September 18th, 2012
03:48 PM ET

NFL Films pioneer Steve Sabol dies at 69

NFL Films President Steve Sabol, who helped his father establish the Emmy-winning production company that changed the way people viewed professional football, died Tuesday after an 18-month battle with brain cancer, the NFL said.

He was 69.

NFL Films, which has filmed every NFL game since 1965, produced weekly highlight shows in the days before sports cable networks, breaking away from highlight reels of the past by showing action in slow motion with multiple ground-level cameras, with stirring music and sound from the sidelines.

The company was founded by his father, Ed Sabol, but Steve was with the outfit from the beginning and took it over in 1987, helping it become a business with revenue of tens of millions of dollars, with programs on several networks.

“Steve Sabol was the creative genius behind the remarkable work of NFL Films,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goddell said in a statement. “Steve’s passion for football was matched by his incredible talent and energy.”

“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,” Goodell added.

Ed Sabol founded Blair Motion Pictures in 1962 and bid a few thousand dollars for the rights to film the 1962 NFL Championship Game. With Steve as a cameraman in the six-person crew, the company produced the film “The NFL’s Longest Day,” which persuaded the league to buy the company.

By 1967, the outfit produced the film “They Call It Pro Football,” which debuted one of the hallmarks of NFL Films’ early years – announcer John Facenda, whose rich, firm voice led to his nickname “The Voice of God.”

One of the company’s innovations under the Sabols’ guidance was putting wireless microphones on the players and coaches during games.

“All of that’s standard stuff today, but before NFL Films it was unheard of,” the NFL Network said in its obituary for Steve Sabol. “But then, Steve never thought like a sports filmmaker, he thought like a Hollywood storyteller.”

Steve Sabol, an All-Rocky Mountain Conference running back at Colorado College, a major in art history and an avid movie fan, was “uniquely qualified to make football movies,” his father once said, according to Steve Sabol’s NFL Films biography.

The younger Sabol began at the company as cinematographer. The company learned through experimentation, Steve Sabol told CNN.com’s Steve Almasy in 2011.

"We had to figure out what the hell we were doing," Steve said. "The company was sustained by my dad's personality. We were all a bunch of young kids trying to figure out how to make movies. Thank God there was one veteran (among the five staff members), a director named Dan Endy."

Steve Sabol won 35 Emmy awards for cinematography, editing, writing, directing and producing. Both Sabols won the Lifetime Achievement Emmy in 2003, and Steve Sabol introduced his father during the elder Sabol’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year.

– CNN's Steve Almasy, Jason Hanna, Paul Caron and Jillian Martin contributed to this report.

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soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Raven

    Great stuff those NFL films were, and are. Rest in Peace Steve, and you did a great, great job of it!

    September 18, 2012 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. maduro

    Bob Shepard had a great voice but John Facenda was the voice of God ! He coined the phrase the frozen tundra of lambeau field.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Kevin

    Ed outlived his son, holy jeez.

    But I SWEAR I remember seeing a story about Ed passing a few months back, I must be mistaking him with another NFL pioneer...

    September 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Congo

    Wow. I lived the NFL through his NFL films. One of my many heroes in thing called Life.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. SuckItUp

    major reason why the NFL is so popular.

    facenda to harry the K. You can not get any better.

    even the technological advancements when it comes to filming reached out past football.

    Ed has his place, Steve needs to be right next to him in the hall of fame

    September 18, 2012 at 8:58 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sinfully Yours

    RIP Steve. May you watch the current NFL Follies...I mean replacement refs from the big stadium in the sky.

    September 19, 2012 at 6:26 am | Report abuse |
  7. Elliot Carlin

    Thanks Steve. You made a decent contribution to society and you were all class. RIP

    September 19, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Rick Davis

    I remember him as "Sudden Death Sabol" at CC.

    September 21, 2012 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
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