Tributes are pouring in today for the elder Sabol, who passed away yesterday at the age of 98. Just imagine what football would be like without NFL Films.
Perhaps the most remarkable part of Sabol’s story is that he had no professional film experience when he launched NFL Films in 1962. From Mike Kupper’s story in the Los Angeles Times:
An amateur cinematographer and former actor who longed to escape his job as a sales representative for his father-in-law’s menswear factory in Philadelphia, a 45-year-old Sabol took a bold gamble. He contacted NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, offering to double the previous bid of $1,500 for the rights to film the 1962 championship game, which turned out to be between Allie Sherman’s New York Giants and Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers in Yankee Stadium.
Rozelle went for the deal and Sabol, whose previous experience consisted of making home movies of his family — son Steve playing peewee and high school football was a frequent star — suddenly had to come up with a production company. Sabol called Steve home from Colorado College and father and son quickly formed Blair Motion Pictures, named after Sabol’s daughter, and hired a film crew.
The gamble paid off for all involved. In 2011, Sabol was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The honor was long overdue and why his son, Steve, isn’t in Canton with him is inexplicable. Steve, though, couldn’t have been prouder for his father. He summed up the essence of Ed Sabol.
“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.”