Ed Sabol, NFL Films founder and one of the most influential people in transitioning football into a more video and documentary friendly game for its fans, died at 98 on Monday due to brain cancer.
Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Sabol was a multi-sport star in high school, but he excelled the most in football and swimming, setting records in the process. He quickly went from earning a living selling overcoats for his father-in-law’s clothing company in Philadelphia to trying his hand at more theatrical endeavors. When those failed, Sabol turned to one of his first loves — football.
To many, Sabol is a revolutionary in world of the NFL. They were the first company to mic players, have access to exclusive sideline interactions with players, coaches, referees and other league crew, and would become known for packaging and editing live in-game footage with narrative documentary to add drama and suspense to the game, which added production value. NFL Films won 52 Emmy Awards under his tenure.
1. Sabol Founded NFL Films in 1964
Along with the infamous AFL_NFL merger, Sabol was an essential part to the monumental spike in popularity that the NFL saw in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He revolutionized the way the modern fan views the product.
Sabol’s work with the NFL began in 1962 when he doubled the standing bid to film the NFL title game between the Giants and Packers and his company quickly became a hothouse of innovations that have changed the way we watch all sports. They were at the forefront of putting microphones on players and coaches to capture the sound of the game and matching footage to music and the inimitable tones of John Facenda made NFL Films productions stand out in a way no one had seen before.
In 1962, Sabol persuaded then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to accept his bid for the rights to the 1962 NFL Championship Game. After the game’s broadcast, the NFL purchased Sabol’s company and Rozelle responded:
You’re going to make the NFL the biggest spectator sport in America.
2. His Son Steve Was Also Heavily Involved in Working With NFL Films
Steve was the president and one of the founders of NFL Films, along with his father.
Sabol serving mainly as a cameraman, editor and writer in the 1960s and 1970s. After ESPN was founded in 1979, NFL Films was signed as a production company and he later became an on-air personality in the 1980s. He won 35 Emmy Awards.
Steve Sabol died on September 18, 2012 at the age of 69.
3. Ed Also Had Success As an Actor and Writer Early in His Life
Sabol had success as an actor and writer, specifically, the Scarlet Mask Drama, which he later transitioned to Broadway. He appeared in Oscar & Hammerstein’s musical “Where Do We Go From Here.”
In addition to his acting chops, Sabol served the United States during World War II. He spent over a year with the 4th Infantry Division as a rifleman in the European Theater.
4. Sabol Was Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame
In 1991, Sabol was honored with the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio and Television Award, which recognizes: “long-time exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.”
For Sabol’s accomplishments and revolutionary work in his role as the head man and producing the most synonymous television product associated with the NFL during the late 20th century, he was inducted into Canton, Ohio in 2011.
His son Steve inducted him.
5. He Is Survived By his Wife, Daughter and Grandson
He was married to his wife Audrey, with a daughter, Blair; and grandson, Casey, Steve’s son. Ed was an extended member of the NFL family as well, and his company — in a metaphoric sense — was like an adopted child that the NFL took in and helped raise just as much as he did. Ed and Steve dedicated their lives to growing the game of football and making it enjoyable for fans. Steve was proud the day his father was inducted:
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.