Today is a profoundly sad day for anyone who loves the history of the National Football League. NFL Films President and visionary Steve Sabol passed away at the age of 69 from complications of inoperable brain cancer. For me, Sabol was the greatest American storyteller of my lifetime.
Seems like a bold statement, right? But in many ways, my love for the NFL stems from the implementation of his ideas. NFL Films was more than just a vehicle for a football league. It became almost mythological the way players, teams, coaches, and games were recounted and retold. From the iconic music, to the pathos-inducing slow motion imagery, NFL Films was a sports institution in America. And Steve Sabol was the driving force behind their work.
I am sad because well before I aspired to be a journalist, I was just a fan. I was the kid who tried to talk my dad into staying up all night so I could watch all of the Super Bowl highlights Sabol hosted the night before the Super Bowl. One of my goals was to make it to Mt. Laurel, New Jersey, and pay homage to the man that brought the world the God-like voice of John Facenda and the dulcet tones of Harry Kalas every week.
Instead, I can speak on the fact that without Steve Sabol, I assuredly would not be as big of an NFL fan. Through his imagination, storytelling and vision, the league made itself more accessible to its fan base. Sabol's stories remain vivid because they are so iconic. Major League Baseball struggles with younger fans because they don't have the same connection to the past; there isn't enough historical video available to show them where the game came from.
In contrast, the NFL is a walking, moving monument to its history. Even novice fans have heard this or this and can equate it to pro football. Men like Vince Lombardi became immortals thanks to Sabol's work. The reality is, and it should not be lost on you, that the NFL ascended as NFL Films became the preeminent vehicle for showcasing a sport in America. Which is to say, most of us learned the history of the game we love so much and appreciated its uniqueness through the work of Steve Sabol and NFL Films.
That will be his enduring contribution. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is a mere formality. Truthfully, Sabol and his father Ed deserve their own wing. You won't find much footage in Canton that doesn't have their imprint on it. As a result, they can be credited with accentuating the passion and pride that most American fans have in their football teams. So Godspeed to an American visionary and an unequaled storyteller, the legendary Steve Sabol.