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Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, who made pro football look like “a Hollywood movie,” died Monday at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., the National Football League announced. He was 98.
Sabol founded NFL Films in 1962 after filming his son Steve Sabol’s high school football games. Steve went on to serve as president of NFL Films, taking over for his father in 1985; he died in September 2012 of brain cancer at age 69.
In August 2011, Ed Sabol was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio — one of the few people to be inducted who never played or coached — and introduced by his son. During his tenure, which spanned 1964 through 1995, NFL Films won 52 Emmy Awards.
“We began making the game personal for the fans, like a Hollywood movie,” Sabol told the Associated Press before his Hall of Fame induction. “Violent tackles, the long slow spiral of the ball, following alongside the players as they sidestepped and sprinted down the field. The movie camera was the perfect medium at the time to present the game the way the fans wanted to see it.”
Both Sabols were awarded a Lifetime Emmy in 2003.
“He was a loving father. He was a generous boss. He was a leader. He was a dreamer, but most of all, he was the funniest man I’ve ever known,” Steve Sabol said shortly before the Hall of Fame ceremony.
NFL Films start its life in New Jersey as Blair Motion Pictures. The company began its path to greatness when Sabol negotiated for the film rights to the 1962 NFL Championship Game (in the days before the Super Bowl) between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers at a frigid Yankee Stadium.
Blair paid $4,000 for the rights, double the bid for the 1961 title game.
In 1965, the league acquired Blair for $20,000 and put the newly named NFL Films to work as its PR machine. It produced video content replete with orchestral music, ground-level slow motion, montage editing and narrators such as John Facenda and Harry Kalas with deep, baritone voices.
Sabol, a native of Atlantic City who attended Ohio State University, also put microphones on coaches, referees and players to bring the fans closer to the game.
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