Steve Sabol, NFL Films president, dies at 69

AP

Steve Sabol, the longtime NFL Films president who along with his father Ed Sabol helped define the way the American public saw professional football, has died at the age of 69.

Sabol confirmed last year, shortly before he introduced his dad at his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, that he was suffering from brain cancer.

Few people are able to turn their passions into a great professional legacy like the Sabols, who loved football, filmmaking and family and managed to combine them all into one when Ed and Steve started NFL Films together. Ed was just a guy with a movie camera and a vision when he convinced the NFL to let him and his 20-year-old son be the official videographers of the 1962 NFL Championship Game, but before long the two-man video crew had become a part of the NFL. And over the next half century NFL Films became a major part of how America viewed both sports and television.

If you’ve enjoyed seeing super slow-motion replays, or hearing the sounds of players wearing microphones during games, or laughing at the blooper reels that began with “Football Follies,” you can thank NFL Films.

“Steve Sabol was the creative genius behind the remarkable work of NFL Films,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “Steve’s passion for football was matched by his incredible talent and energy. Steve’s legacy will be part of the NFL forever. He was a major contributor to the success of the NFL, a man who changed the way we look at football and sports, and a great friend.”

He was never a player, coach, commissioner or team owner, but for his contributions to the game from behind the camera and in the editing room, Steve Sabol will be remembered as one of the NFL’s great visionaries.

131 responses to “Steve Sabol, NFL Films president, dies at 69

  1. What a shame. He and his father created something truly unique, and in many ways, better than the NFL itself.

    For certain, the NFL would be a mere shadow of itself today without NFL films.

    Rest in peace.

  2. wow. thank you so much steve sabol for all the hard work you put in to create a better experience for the fans. ive looked up to you when searching for what i wanted to do with my life and you have inspired me to do what i work for every day. thank you and RIP

  3. In many ways, NFL Films invented the way modern sports are covered. Those old “Inside the NFL” highlight reels were groundbreaking.
    And mic’d up players. And on and on and on.

    It’s a hell of a legacy to leave behind.

    Rest in peace, Mr. Sabol.

  4. Steve will surely be missed. He was a great person who will be remembered not only for his work but because he was a great man whose family and friends were as important to him as his work

  5. Been a NFL fan since 1998 ,go vikes, but there ia no way that I would have known anything,not just the the history od my team but the history of the league if it wasnt for him RIP big Steve!

  6. If it wasn’t for Mr. Sabol, we wouldn’t be watching the NFL the same if it wasn’t for you and your creation of NFL Films. Thank you and RIP!

  7. ketelwon says: Sep 18, 2012 1:40 PM

    Big loss for the NFL. He helped build what Commissioner Goodell is now trying to destroy.

    ——————————–

    This.

  8. True fans will understand his importance (along with his fathers’) to the game of football. The NFL wouldn’t be anywhere close to what it is if it wasn’t for him.

    Part of the reason that I like the NFL so much is how it is presented. It’s just not about the 60-minutes on the field. The videos, the documentals, the production. It’s all thanks to the Sabols.

    Thanks for your great contribution, Steve Sabol. Rest in Peace.

  9. RIP Steve and thank you for everything you’ve done for NFL fans, and by extension fans of all sports since you raised the bar so high. So many things we take for granted today we have because of the vision of you and your father.

    -QG

  10. I was shocked and saddened when I seen Rich announce it on NFL Network. Thank you Steve, and may you RIP. Thoughts go out to Ed and the rest of his family.

  11. Brought the NFL into our homes and helped educate all of us into the league,without the films ,etc. interest would not be what it is today. He enjoyed his job!!!!!!
    THANKS,peace to his family…

  12. Not a player, coach, commissioner, or owner … but Steve Sabol probably had more impact on my memories of the game than any other individual associated with the NFL. All of us who love the game owe him an immeasurable debt. May God be with his family, and may he rest in peace.

  13. Steve Sabol was a national treasure and, along with his dad, had a major hand in making the NFL the national phenomenon it is today. More importantly, he always just seemed like a really good dude. My condolences to his family and friends. He will truly be missed.

  14. wow atleast he got to see his father Ed get into the hall of fame its unbelievable how those two built nfl films from just them and a camera

  15. Thanks for all the great football memories you and your father gave us; you’ll always be with us Steve: RIP

  16. The NFL would not be what it is today without the contribution of the Sabols.

    Steve was the face of the NFL and the creative genius that helped market the league into the powerhouse that it is.

    It took other leagues YEARS before they caught on and he was a true innovator.

    RIP Steve Sabol……

  17. John Facenda and the Autumn Wind are a part of the Raider Mystique. I cannot imagine a world where such is not true.

    Thank you, Steve Sabol. Thank you, Ed Sabol. Thank you, NFL films. The world lost a great man today.

  18. Steve and his father built NFL Films into something very substantial. One could make the argument that those NFL Films greatly heightened the status of the NFL around the country and the world. They beautifully (remember those great color films?) brought us NFL football during the time when the game was not yet featured regularly on TV.

    And as a Philadelphian, one could always point with pride to the Sabols and NFL Films (and the baritone voiceovers of John Facenda) as a local product.

    RIP, Steve. You will definitely be missed…

  19. RIP Mr. Sabol many a time on a rainy afternoon your voice would narrate a football piece and you felt like a friend was educating you on the game of FB. Who ever put thumbs down on any of these comments SHAME ON YOU.

  20. Those images captured by NFL Films in the 1970’s are my childhood. Thank you Steve and Ed Sabol.

    God bless you Steve Sabol. My condolences to the entire Sabol family.

  21. Steve, it is not hyperbole to say that you made this League into what it is today. No way the NFL surpasses MLB as the national pastime without NFL Films leading the charge. You were a visionary and an icon. You will be missed.

  22. i think his videos came with an SI subscription I got way back in the day and it’s hard to overstate how much those videos made an impression on me as a young teen. This guy had a lot to do with me being a football fan for life.

  23. I wldnt be a nfl fan if it wasnt for him. He made nfl games seem like movies. Rest in peace you and your work will always be remembered.

  24. Steve Sabol, well done. You have left an incredible legacy for the world to continue to enjoy. Thank you and your dad for such great vision!

    Long before the plethora of highlight shows, there was NFL Films and the Bloopers show I grew up watching and loving. They are still, unmatched. Thanks for the memories.

    Rest well with the other NFL veterans including Walter Payton, Harvey Martin, Johnny Unitas, Sam Mills, Junior Seau, Tom Landry, Hank Stram, Don Coryell and the list goes on…

  25. Born in 1970, I can probably give you, word-for-word, many of the scripts that John Facenda read for NFL Films’ highlights of the first 15 Super Bowls. I watched those every time they came on. The Sabols made football a mythology and those films were true art. Lynn Swann probably owes his Hall of Fame enshrinement off of Sabol’s shots of his catches in Super Bowls 10 and 13.

    I truly believed for decades now that Steve Sabol deserved a lifetime achievement Oscar – – his accomplishments were as much about film and documentary as it was football. He was a visionary and a pioneer (he and his father were making it up as they went along in those early years when you hear their story). It is a sad, sad day for anyone who came to love the sport in part because of what Steve Sabol did.

  26. That’s sad news. The NFL has lost a great one.

    How many fans do you think he and his dad not only enhanced the overall experience for, but actually brought to the game?

    I may be biased towards football, but nothing any of the other major sports has done over the years even comes close to what we got from NFL Films. The sights, the sounds, the music – just thinking about some of it gives me chills.

  27. He was part of the fabric that made up the NFL, and I’ll always remember his work with great appreciation.

    RIP Steve.

  28. RIP

    What a loss. He was nothing but a class act, and the work which he (and has father) accomplished is simply unparalleled in any other sport. Period. I guarantee that their films introduced countless neophytes to the game which we all love.

  29. Those ’70s weekly highlight shows with the Sam Spence orchestra and John Facenda narration… Howard Cosell’s Halftime Highlights on MNF… cable’s Inside the NFL… then all the great home video… that will be the legacy of Steve Sabol. Thank you for making the game larger than life.

  30. RIP indeed.

    I lifted weights with him back in 2002 in a Mount Laurel, NJ gym and was amazed how nice of a guy he was. He had the patience of a saint talking about my Bengals. They really sucked back then.

  31. Who remembers the follies with Bugs Bunny type voices as being the narrator? Truly a genius that will be missed. Rest in Peace.

  32. Steve belongs next to his father in Canton, OH. These two men are more responsible for the popularity of the NFL than they have ever been given credit for. I can recall watching This Week in Pro Football in the early 70’s and then going outside in the dark and tossing the football to myself and singing the music I’d heard early watching the highlights. To Ed, I’m so sorry for your lose. My deepest sorrow and gratitude to the entire Sabol family.
    RIP Steve.

  33. This is so sad. Many of us never knew him except if we saw him in any of his pieces he looked like a guy that had an infectious and lovable personality and smile. His father Ed is ailing too except it is sadder when we have to see the son leave first; especially when parents want their children to outlive them.

    I never knew Steve or worked at NFL Films, but I have always heard that it is a positive place to work at. He was a big reason for it.

    Steve, we’ll miss you. 😦

    RIP.

  34. well, that sucks. gone too soon for sure. RIP Mr. Sabol. I am sure you father was delighted you came to join him.

  35. I was also born in ’70, and got hooked on the Football Follies and the perfect narration of John Facenda. I thought that the NFL Films product lost a lot when Facenda passed, and it lost a lot today.

    For me, nothing on film will ever top the follies video with the Luney Tunes characters (especially Foghorn Leghorn), and the Super Bowl XVIII highlights. The single greatest line in an NFL Films production was Facenda’s description of the Redskins last chance to make a game of it – the 4th & 1 with the Raiders up 24-9 in the 3rd or 4th quarter: “Riggins was the only choice. Might as well die with your boots on.”

    RIP Steve. Your work will be remembered forever.

  36. I have always been a huge fan of NFL Films.The pictures,writing, sound, and humor were and still are first class.A few years back I called NFL Films and asked to speak with Steve Sabol so I could tell him how much I loved his work.In a heartbeat he was on the phone, and I expressed my admiration for everything that is NFL Films, and he couldn’t have been more gracious.We talked for 10 minutes about the NFL and I asked him if he would do an interview on my local radio sports talk show.Not only did he do 15 minutes that time,he did it every year whenever I asked him to.The NFL wouldn’t be what it is today if not for Steve and his father.A total class act who belongs in the H.O.F.Thanks Steve,may you rest in peace.

  37. Grew up in the 80s watching NFL Films on ESPN after school nearly every day. If I had grown up in the 70s, I would have been a Raider fan because of John Madden, and that SONG. RIP STEVE SABOL.

  38. Horribly sad news!!

    Steve and his Dad virtually made the NFL popular thru their film work, RIP Mr. Sabol you will be missed!

  39. Rest in Peace, Steve. You will be missed. You have left the fans of the NFL countless treasures.

    Hopefully, the one good thing that may come out of his passing is that the NFL Network will wake up and start using more of his material, as well as start showing more archived footage of classic NFL games from the past.

    Sabol’s material would be a vast improve in the NFL network’s offseason programming, which seems to be nothing but endless reruns of NFL Access.

  40. This is inherently tragic and he will be missed incredibly.

    Thank you, Steve, for all you’ve done to getting us closer to the game that we all love so much. You are going to be missed by millions more than you will ever know.

    Hopefully you rest peacefully for all eternity.

    Kevin

  41. RIP Steve Sabol. One of the great story tellers a person who redefined the NFL on TV & took nfl films to new height has passed.
    Steve Sabol now has the greatest view of all.

  42. I once had to call NFL Films for work about 5 years ago. The receptionist answered and I asked for Steve Sabol’s office because I expected to speak with a secretary or assistant in order to try and set up a conference call for my boss.

    but Steve Sabol answered the phone himself. no pretence. no attitude, just the most open, generous, shockingly nice person for someone at the head of a mega company.

    when I get too big for my own britches these days I try to remember that Steve Sabol answered his own phone and stayed grounded and kind throughout all of his success.

  43. I learned more than half of what I know about football from his “This is the NFL” shows that used to air before everyone had a pre-game show. Being only 35, I can speak in depth about the point-a-minute Rams of the 50’s with Crazylegs Hirsch, Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, Art “Fatso” Donovan and many other players and teams that existed long before my birth. Watching him talk about football was must-see TV when I was growing up.

    “but still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone.”

    Rest in Peace, Steve Sabol.

  44. Those of us who developed our love of the NFL during the 60’s (say ’64 – ’65) can remember when NFL Films were new. We couldn’t get enough of them. We couldn’t see anything but local games and if you were a fan of a team from another city, you didn’t see much of the team you liked even on the news. There was no ESPN – guys my age remember watching the TV networks show a test pattern at 1am. NFL Films – the Sablols changed that. Football is an inherently American game – teamwork, individual performance, achievement, failure, & greatness. Ed & Steve (and John Facenda) gave us our fix; our rush; that feeling when you could finally see your team make that notable play…in slow…friggin’…motion. And up close. Like we’d never seen before. I sure hope that when my day comes; and I’m having to watch my life with the big gatekeeper in the sky; that we’ll be watching it as filmed by the Sabols. That way, if I’m allowed in the good club; or I’m getting ready to face another option – it’ll be clear why…

  45. Growing up Steve Sabol instilled a love for football in us through the use of film, choreographing it with slow motion plays, the use of John Facenda’s voice, miking up the coaches and players, he made us appreciate what these athletes could do. A true pioneer in his field. Steve, peace.

  46. WHAT a loss, so so sad. Grew up with all that was mentioned above, for a lot of us, Steve taught us what was to love about the game. for the thumbs down, don’t let them bother you, they are just adult children who were not raised properly, be happy you are not one of them, they truly need pity. PLEASE RIP STEVE

  47. I’m not sure any of us realize what we lost in
    Steve Sabol. I am 48. I remember NFL Films back to when I was a child watching “This Week Pro Football”. This guy WAS NFL Films.
    NFL Films has helped make the league what it
    is today. This guy was a giant. Between he and
    and Sam Spence and David Robidoux, they
    brought poignancy and pageantry and drama to
    the sport.

    Damn, what a loss.

  48. There are a lot of people that do great camera work. Sabol took it one step further by telling a great story to go with the great images. I hope NFL Films is able to carry on this legacy.

  49. They are the primary reason the NFL is the biggest sport out there. Their films made football what it is today.

  50. This article should stay a headline for at least the entire day. What Sabol and his father accomplished was nothing less than greatness.

    As a little kid, I first got into football watching Football Follies. NFL films taught me much of the history of the game. I pray that legacy moves forward.

    The NFL and it’s fans loses a great man today.

  51. RIP, Steve. I spent a year working at NFL Films and the place was like an extension of him and his dad. I look back on it fondly.

  52. Numbing news.
    Chilling.
    Courtesy of Steve Sabol and NFL Films, my 29-year-old son knows more about the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s than most 60-year-olds.
    The NFL landscape will never be the same.
    Mr. Steve Sabol, thank you.
    And RIP.

  53. I feel incredibly sad today. One of the iconic figures of my youth has passed. Anyone who grew up before the onslaught of ESPN and cable TV knows how we yearned each week for the Monday Night Football “halftime highlights” package and “This Week in Pro Football.” NFL Films shaped the way we watched football and grew to love the artistry and skill of the players. I feel like a member of the family has died. So long, old friend.

  54. Grew up watchin his work and playin in yard with brothers re enacting what we saw in backyard. He was a fan and it came thru when he introduced films, he and nfl films r the best part of league. He felt like extended family thanks for everything you did

  55. A very sad day for all of us who are a fan of the NFL.

    Everyone who ever watches a game owes something to this family they taught the networks how to shot a game.

    I hope that there are people stepping in to fill some big shoes so that the legend of the family can go on.

    My prayers go out to his family RIP Steve and thank you for work.

  56. A truly sad loss for anyone who loves this great game. Steve and Ed are legends and always will be. I will never forget the impact he had on my life. I send my deepest sympathy to the Sabol family.

  57. Amazing, with all the snarky idiots that leave comments none dare defile the memory of Steve Sabol. His work is so universally loved and respected his behind the camera presence is as appreciated as Much as Speilberg, Lucas, and Cameron. An epic filmmaker who chronicled and made the NFL the billion dollar behemoth it is. RIP ! I’ll say a Kaddish for you.

  58. Some really great thoughts and memories above.
    I too was “raised” on his fathers and his work. I can still see clips of his films in my mind even if I haven’t seen them in a long time. True innovators who never let themselves and their work get watered down or “corporate”. He was a very talented interviewer as well. I hadn’t realized that he was such a talented artist. RIP Steve Sabol, and I am very happy you lived to see your father get into the HOF.

  59. thank you Steve rip ill be looking forward to your induction anybody should respect a man that dedicated his life to a passion that brought so many others joy

  60. I know when I see one of Steve Sabol’s films with my team as the subject, I get chills down my spine. Sabol turned the game of football into a movie, a movie with Action, Drama, Comedy and most of all Suspense. His films made you feel as if you were sitting right there on the sideline the whole time. The films were something that connected me with my Father as he sat and told me the stories about how the NFL was back in the day. My Brother and I, along with my Father sitting on the couch watching amazing plays from the past. The Sabol’s films are something that brings Fathers and their Sons closer. Not only did they bring the sport into the light, they made it special. RIP Steve.

  61. Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a PFT comment thread that was 100% positive towards the person who was the subject of the post.

    That alone tells you how important Steve Sabol was to football fans everywhere!

    Rest in peace, Steve. You will be missed!

  62. When people see hi-lights of today’s NFL games I don’t think they realize how much Mr. Sabol did to make pro football America’s game.

    St. Peter would be wise to seek some advice on how to best capture the action at the Pearly Gates.

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