NFL Films founder changed the way we see the game

Keepers of the FlameWithout Ed Sabol, the Dallas Cowboys might not be known as “America’s Team” and those goofy sports bloopers would not be a staple of rainy weekends.

More importantly, the way Americans remember and watch the NFL might be totally different. With imaginative language and gripping narratives, NFL Films created the modern image of professional football and bolstered the drama of the gridiron.

Sabol, who founded NFL Films, passed away this week at age 98.

In Travis Vogan’s Keepers of the Flame: NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media, the author writes how Sabol’s influential documentary career started:

The story begins with Ed Sabol—an outsized personality who wore loud suits and boasted the fittingly conspicuous nickname Big Ed. Sabol had long maintained a fascination with the connections between sport and drama. . . . Though the handsome, charismatic, and fast-talking Big Ed was an excellent salesperson, he loathed his job—an experience he likened to “going to see the dentist every day.” One of his favorite hobbies during his fulfilling working life was making home movies and amateur films with an 8mm windup Bell & Howell camera he and his wife received as a wedding present.

Son Steve’s football games were the favorite subject of Ed Sabol’s hobby film making. After 5 years Sabol turned his hobby into a career by founding an independent production company.

The company bid on an contract to make documentaries for the NFL and the rest, as depicted in Keepers of the Flame, is history. The dramatic storytelling of NFL Films built a mythology around the game that influenced all of sports.

Ed Sabol was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

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