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. johndanger

    This is very sad news. He was one of the good guys. A genuinely nice person who made sports film an art form. He will be missed. Sad news. R.I.P. Steve.

    September 18, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. lgbarn

    If you are any kind of a football fan, then you know that name Sabol means football.

    September 18, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • banasy©

      I agree...even *I* know this, and I am admittedly not the most knowledgeable on all things football...

      Condolences to Mr. Sabol's family and friends.

      September 18, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ExPAVIC

    "That's a take." "Cut and print it." Next shot....

    September 18, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. David

    Sad news.... my condolences.

    I must point out a glaring error in the above article. John Facenda... the "Voice of God"? Who's John Facenda?

    Nonsense! THE voice of God will ALWAYS belong to the late Bob Sheppard, the announcer at Yankee Stadium for 56 years.

    September 18, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • warnat

      whatever...NFL trumps all other sports...and Facenda WAS the voice...not some nobody Yankee...

      September 18, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mattski

    NFL Films is still unique in sports coverage. If I remember right, didn't Ed die just about 6 months ago? RIP Steve & Ed

    September 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • hbtc687

      No, Ed is still alive at 96 years old. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the 2011 class, which is probably what you're remembering.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jdj

    I love these movies. Thanks to the Sabols.

    September 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Zaphod2010

    That's too bad. RIP. His football shows were/are the best.

    September 18, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Mary

    It took four "reporters" to write an article that doesn't mention where Mr. Sabol died, where Blair Motion Pictures was founded or where NFL FIlms is located.

    September 18, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sad to hear...

      I can answer one of those...NFL Films is based in Mount Laurel, NJ, just east of Philadelphia.

      Sorry to hear about Steve Sabol. He and his team pioneered the football fan experience and helped the NFL reach new heights.

      September 18, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  9. me

    up until a few years ago, he had a Dick Clark ability to not seem to age for the longest time

    September 18, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Mike

    The voice of God will ALWAYS belong to the late Bob Sheppard. NobodY comes close. NobodY.

    September 18, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Pitchfork

    Him and his dad changed the way we look at football, all right! RIP

    September 18, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Umpire Sam

    A great guy RIP Sir you will be missed

    September 18, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. jb laws

    They have been around forever !! Bad day for the NFL !!!

    September 18, 2012 at 6:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Kevin

    Sad news, I enjoyed their work since I was a little boy. RIP Steve and thank you so much.

    September 18, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Pigskin Pete

    Both Sabol's epitomized football and the passion fans have for the game. I grew up with Mr. Facenda's voice – and he is the voice of god – sorry New York. No one else even comes close – don't even debate it, just pay homage to to a team of innovators.

    September 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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