I was watching NFL Network when Rich Eisen cut into their programming to give the announcement. His teary-eyed announcement brought out my own feelings and recollections on how I became a fan of both the NFL and the Detroit Lions.
I wasn't one of those children raised on football. My mother's family had come to the United States from the Netherlands, so soccer was the sport of my youth. Sunday afternoons consisted of church and then Kung Fu movies usually found their way on to the TV.
That changed in 1983.
I was visiting my grandfather and he had started having a fascination with football. The moment that changed my life forever happened on that 13th of November.
A highlight of Billy Sims and his infamous karate kick run appeared on the screen. The excitement of seeing that moment, along with the tie in to Kung Fu Theatre, had me hooked for life.
Living in NJ, being a Lions fan wasn't easy. It was rare to get national coverage except for Thanksgiving games. There was no Internet, streaming or DirecTV. Newspapers only provided box scores for games not in your market, and I lived in a market dominated by the Giants, Jets, Eagles and even Steelers.
It was NFL Films that filled my young brain with stories and images of the Detroit Lions. The slow-motion filming style, the hallowed music and Steve Sabol's storytelling kept my young brain dreaming. My view of the Lions was all a fantasy of course, but it was my fantasy.
When Barry Sanders was drafted, that fantasy got even more fuel. Sanders was a marvel to watch, but with the NFL Films treatment—he was magical.
That will always be Sabol's legacy. He had a gift for turning a great game into a magical experience. He gave the game a mystique. Sabol and NFL Films are the reason the NFL is America's game.
I will always remember the man that started my interest in the sport and the Lions. His innovations inspired me to where I am today.
Steve Sabol—you will be missed.