Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films, dies at age of 98

Ed Sabol, innovative founder of NFL Films, died Monday in his Scottsdale, Arizona, home at the age of 98.

A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2011, Sabol was the visionary force who revolutionized sports on camera and mythologized football at its highest level of competition.

"Through his determination and innovative spirit, Ed Sabol transformed how America watched football and all sports," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday. "Ed ignited the fire at NFL Films and was the Keeper of the Flame with a remarkable vision and dedication to telling the stories of the people who played, coached and loved the game.

"He earned the ultimate recognition by being selected in 2011 to the Pro Football Hall of Fame where he will forever be remembered alongside the men he so greatly cared about. Ed's memory will live forever in the hearts and minds of fans around the world whenever they see the work of NFL Films and of the many people he inspired."

Sabol's impact on the NFL's ascendance to the summit of America's professional sports landscape cannot be overstated.

Pro Football's Longest Day, Sabol's film of the 1962 NFL Championship Game between the Giants and Packers at Yankee Stadium, helped convince the NFL of the need for its own motion picture company to promote the game and preserve its history.

When he was a frustrated overcoat salesman in the early 1960s, the 14-team NFL was overshadowed by Major League Baseball and ranked behind college football and boxing in popularity. Propelled by Sabol's work with NFL Films, pro football vaulted to the top in television ratings and revenue by the end of the decade, embedding itself in the national consciousness.

Before Sabol, the NFL's fanbase consisted of a small but devoted segment of connoisseurs. As the television age introduced the game to a wider audience, Sabol taught America how to watch football.

Under his artful direction, the camera captured the game's intimacy, brutality, drama and graceful athleticism. Sabol took viewers inside the huddle, providing an opportunity to hear the high-speed collisions while following along with the coaches' strategies.

"NFL Films was born of a desire to be a part of the game," Sabol explained. "The techniques we used were born out of the passion for football, and the desire to bring the game to life in film."

His impact was so important to pro football's preeminence that Sports Illustrated once deemed NFL Films "perhaps the most effective propaganda organ in the history of corporate America."

Sports fans growing up in the 1970s and 1980s were indoctrinated by Vince Lombardi's "What the hell is going on out here?", Hank Stram's "matriculate the ball down the field" and narrator John Facenda, the Voice of God, telling us in stentorian tones that "the autumn wind is a Raider."

Sabol and his more artistic son, Steve, "sold the beauty of the game," former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell once said.

"Big Ed" became the official historian of the NFL. He spent 32 years as NFL Films president and then chairman before retiring in 1995, collecting 52 Emmy Awards during his tenure. Among his innovations were the first use of a microphone on coaches, referees and players, adding popular music to footage, and of course, the blooper video. He also brought us slow motion, the extreme close-up and the omniscient voice-over.

Bolstered by Sabol's romanticism of football as a heroic and beautiful gridiron battle, the NFL has grown into a $10 billion entertainment juggernaut featuring 1,800 players and 32 teams. The Sabols rank with Pete Rozelle and Tex Schramm as the most valuable pioneers of the modern NFL.

"My dad has a great expression," Steve Sabol said when his father's 2011 Hall of Fame induction was announced. "Tell me a fact, and I'll learn. Tell me a truth, and I'll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever. And now my Dad's story will be in Canton and hopefully that will live forever, too."

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