As a kid, sports was often the backdrop to my daily routines and fondest memories. One of those routines was watching anything that had was a production of NFL Films. The main shows would be NFL Yearbook, NFL Films Presents and Super Bowl Memories, and as I became an adult, the series America's Game. Particularly with NFL Films Presents and Super Bowl Memories, Steve Sabol would always appear in the forefront, never taking away from the action, but adding substance to what we were about to watch or had just finished seeing. Of course, as a kid, I didn't realize how much more of an impact Sabol had on NFL Films and the way I viewed sports in general.
Today, Sabol lost his fight with brain cancer and died at the age of 69. He was more than a visionary in terms of how sports are televised in this country, he is probably the main reason the NFL is as big a sport as it is today. And I don't think it's hyperbolic for me to make this claim, or just an emotional reaction to his tragic passing. The main reason I believe this to be true: it's because if anyone who loves football is like me, then he's the reason why we love it.
Anytime you watch a random football game, you notice all the problems with any particular game. Every false start, every illegal contact, every incomplete pass, every injury (which has one thinking the worst as TV goes to commercial, then the player is back in two plays) and every undeserved flag (a lot that happened last night). Whenever you watch NFL Films, all that is gone and what you're left with is what makes the NFL great. Yes, I know that a lot of the violent hits in the past isn't something to be celebrated with the same zeal as in years past, but the cinematography of each production tends to have you overlook the worst elements and draws you into their world and bask in the glory of victories and allows one to feel regret when one loses.
Steve Sabol is the one who created that cinematography. He's the one that knew which music should be played during a particular play or sequence of plays. He's the one who knew what needed to be said to tell the story that he's trying to tell. So much about sports these days is about trying to create false narratives about the games we love. Sabol didn't do that. A narrative of an NFL Films piece always seemed like something that told us something that we don't know and/or something that was distinctly true.
It's too bad that Sabol was taken from us so soon. We still need to learn from him on how to put to film why a sport should be loved by the masses. However, just as we never forgot the Voice of God John Facenda, as we never forgot the Autumn Wind, we will never forget the impact of Steve Sabol to take his father Ed Sabol's idea of creating NFL Films and made it into a model for everyone else to copy.