On Saturday night, the membership of the most elite group in professional football expanded by seven, as the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted the Class of 2011.
While the class may not be quite as illustrious as the Class of 2010, headlined by all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith and all-time leading receiver Jerry Rice, this is certainly another very worthy class.
There are also two first-ballot Hall of Famers in this year’s class, those being legendary running back Marshall Faulk, and one of the NFL’s greatest all-time cornerbacks in Deion Sanders.
However, there is one man, whose induction may not receive as much attention as those of Faulk, Sanders, and Shannon Sharpe, but who in my opinion is the most deserving of all the men in this class of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That man is Ed Sabol.
A person not overly educated in football history may ask, who is Ed Sabol? This question may be the reason why it took until this year for Sabol to receive his due honor in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, because this is a man who should have been inducted many years ago.
Sabol is the man behind NFL Films, the media production company that set the precedent for the way football, and sports in general, are televised today.
Sabol, an alum of a great school called The Ohio State University, launched Blair Production at the age of 45. It would be Sabol’s youthful enthusiasm that would go a long way in the success of NFL Films.
It was in 1962 that Sabol’s company first made its mark on the National Football League, when he won the bidding to film that year’s NFL Championship Game.
In 1964, Blair Productions officially became NFL Films, which would soon become the staple for how sports would be filmed and produced.
Influenced by Hollywood film-making, Sabol turned simple game highlights into reels that resembled feature films. This was in large part due to two extraordinary talents who Sabol found to enhance the NFL Films experience.
The first is Sam Spence, the composer who came up with the tremendous soundtracks that are still used in the company’s highlights today, and are truly the best in the business, certainly influencing future compositions to be used by ESPN in their sports highlights.
The second is John Facenda, the deep-voiced narrator who could talk about any aspect of the game, and make it sound great. NFL Films also invented many of the technologies that have been used in sports filmmaking ever since.
Before there was ever an ESPN and SportsCenter, NFL Films produced highlight films, all the while using technologies such as slow-motion capture, and using microphones to capture coach audio.
These technologies have been taken to a whole new level today, but it was NFL Films who revolutionized the technology, and made it such an integral part of how we view sports to this day.
Why must Ed Sabol be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Because for someone like me, who was born in 1992 and did not have the opportunity to watch many of the greats play, knows much about many of the players in the Hall of Fame in large part because of the work of Sabol’s NFL Films.
Sabol’s work is such an integral part of football history, it is truly a shame that it has taken him until 2011, nearly 50 years after the first NFL Films production, that Sabol is finally being inducted.
Of course, now that he is to receive his due honor tonight, there is no more reason to look back at why it took him so long to get into the Hall of Fame, but it is now time to celebrate his well-deserved recognition.
In an NFL Network documentary I watched earlier this week, someone (I do not remember who it was) had a quote that is a perfect summary of why Sabol must be forever a member of the Canton fraternity: “Can you describe the history of the National Football League without mentioning Ed Sabol?” (not an exact quote).
If one is to give a well-representative history of the league, then they certainly could not.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame should recognize the men who have made the greatest mark upon the game of football.
Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk, and Shannon Sharpe all certainly made their mark on the game over the past 20 years, establishing themselves among the all-time greats, all while being integral parts of teams that won Super Bowl championships.
However, while Sanders, Faulk, and Sharpe all rank among the greatest players to play at their position, none made a mark greater upon the game, and upon the world of sports as a whole, than did Sabol.
Even 100 years from now, the work of NFL Films will continue to have an imprint upon the history of the game, as the preserved work of Sabol and his company will stand as the greatest surviving artifacts to visually and audibly display the talents, importance, and personalities of the historical greats of the game.
It is great that a fraternity that ranks among the most exclusive in American sports will finally hold a bust that honors one of its game’s most important pioneers. Enjoy the moment, Ed, you deserve this.
And for everyone else, remember that the next time you watch a sports game, sports highlight, or any sports-related telecast, it has been influenced by the work of NFL Films, and when you see technology utilized such as slow-motion, and players and coaches “mic’d up”, remember that Sabol was the mastermind of this, and that is why he earns his spot in Canton.
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