NFL Films founder Ed Sabol dies at 98

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The massive popularity of the NFL can be attributed to several sources, but any list of them is incomplete without mention of what Ed Sabol did at NFL Films after starting the company in 1964.

Sabol’s movies about the NFL became part of the fabric of the game to the point that he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011 and they will be celebrated along with the rest of his life after the sad news Monday of his death at the age of 98.

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.

Those production values and Sabol’s sharp eye, later matched by his late son Steve, for ways to make the films gripping portrayals of NFL action proved invaluable as the sport grew over the next five decades. For many of us writing and reading this website, the Sabols’ work is a major part of the reason we love the game of football and we send our deepest condolences to the Sabol family and friends in their moment of grief.

80 responses to “NFL Films founder Ed Sabol dies at 98

  1. R.I.P. Ed! I hope people realize how important Ed was to making the NFL as popular as it is. His company’s videos brought a lot of happiness to me through the years.

  2. Thank you for NFL Films, you helped expand the NFL so much and made the fan experience amazing! From Detroit I would like to say thank you for making all the awesome NFL footage possible, thank you for your hard work Ed, RIP.

  3. Thanks Mr. Sabol. Rest in Peace. This man did more to popularize the NFL than a room full of Hall of Fame players, any coach and all the commissioners, this side of Pete Rozelle.

  4. Ed Sabol is the pioneer of pointed sports video journalism. NFL Films set the bar for every other pro sport. The Sabol’s along with John Facenda are a very BIG reason for todays NFL success. They deserve to be revered & admired for what they started. RIP Ed.

  5. The Sabols are every bit as important to the NFL as Halas, Brown, Lombardi, etc. It’s a shame that Ed outlived his son. Two giants of the NFL.

  6. fitting that he went out on the heels of one of the best Super Bowls ever.. a great bookend to a legendary career

  7. He was a huge factor in my becoming a football fan. Without his work, it is entirely possible that NFL football would still languish behind college football and several other sports.

  8. What a visionary. He set the standard for what happens today with the presentation and documentation of the NFL on video. He was an amazingly gifted guy. RIP and condolences to the family. He was one of a kind.

  9. I got to meet the Sabols and John Facenda in the 80s. NFL Films would hire itself out to do non football projects and we used them to shoot footage for clients. They were in this little town of Mt. Holly NJ, I think.

    Facenda was a then retired Philly TV anchorman and thus free to do voiceover work. His phone number in the spring, summer and fall was the pro shop at his country club because that’s where he hung out. Many times he’d respond after a round there.

    My first experience in writing for John came with a lesson. For a 60 second spot, write 45 seconds of copy. That way he could enunciate. Otherwise it didn’t sound like him.

    I can remember him saying…….”cut it (the copy) , cut it….you have to give me a chaaaannce
    with the spot……..a chaaannce.”

    RPI Mr Sabol.

  10. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s there was nothing I like better than nfl films. It’s part of my childhood. I will miss both father and son. Here’s to the Sabols.

  11. The NFL Films version of the last 2 minutes of SB 49 is their company in a nutshell. No other sports post game films (or really works of art) compare to the emotion that the Sabols bring to their work. There were more emotional shifts in that film of the final 2 minutes than in any Oscar winning film. They could take a preseason game with players and coaches mic’d up and edit it in such a way as to make it look like it was the most critical and important game of the season. Thank you for what you and your son gave to fans over all these years.

  12. Ed Sabol, Steve Sabol, John Facenda and Sam Spence did more for the popularity of pro football than ANY player, coach or Commissioner. There is NO argument.

  13. RIP Mr. Sabol and thank you for your legacy!!!
    For those either too young, or just do not know….Mr. Sabol and NFL Films are responsible for the Dallas Cowboys having the nickname, “America’s Team”. The ‘Boys did not annoint themselves! Coach Landry was approached and finally approved this nickname….just fyi

    Godspeed…

  14. Ed Sabol! All the best. I had thought you already passed. You were a sweet man and your son to this day is still a sweet boy. Rest in utter peace.

  15. As a kid back in the ’80s the closeup shot of the spiraling deep ball is still one of my favorite shots. You can literally smell the leather.. RIP

  16. Legend , visionary…. A man with a vision & he made it come to life. Somehow found the ultimate voice in John Facenda to do that part…forever a part of sports history

  17. Its to bad he won’t be around to document the rise of the NY Jets and there first Superbowl victory since color tvs were invented….We are warming up the parade trucks here in NY …

  18. Sad day. He and his son Steve helped make the NFLwhat it is today. Look at the Super bowl last week. All the recorded stuff. Intense. The
    music…all of it. The specials they do.

    What a loss for the the NFL.

  19. R.I.P. Mr. Sabol, you’ve been a blessing to the fans and the game that we all love. NFL Films is the only thing about the NFL that I can’t make one negative statement about.

  20. RIP Ed and Steve Sabol.

    Two men who were not only known for innovation, but were the best father-son tandem I ever saw in sports.

    Both are missed and will always be.

  21. l rank Ed and Steve Sabol extreeeeeeemely high on the reasons why the NFL is what it is.

    NFL Films was so unconventional, so creative, so innovative … and were SPOT-ON time and time and time again.

    ESPN takes some chances, and man — they miss a LOT. Crappy music and misguided emphasis on what was/wasn’t important. We are so lucky ESPN wasn’t around when the plucky Ed Sabol was able to get his foot in the door.

    In stark contrast to ESPN, NFL Films didn’t miss. They were AWESOME!!! In so many many ways!!!

    How fortunate and blessed we all were that Ed and Steve Sabol (plus Sam Spence and so many more) were holding the keys to the car when the NFL skyrocketed from third or fourth rate (behind MLB, horse-racing, boxing) to the unquestioned numb one sport in the heart of America. Ed did it, and he did it HIS way — and how freaking cool it was!!!

    R.I.P. Ed Sabol.

    P.S. Steve Sabol should have already been enshrined. But that’s another story.

  22. Dum da da dum dum dum dum dum da da dum da da dum dum ……. On a Sunday no one will remember, behind the lens of a camera, one of the greatest football minds the gridiron ever knew was zooming in on the bloodied knuckles of an unknown lineman…. and we loved it.

    Thanks, Ed.

  23. What I’d like to know is who the ignorant person is that’s voting thumbs down on the comments here about the great work that Ed and Steve Sabol did with NFL Films…..which is at least partially responsible for the success that the NFL is enjoying today and will continue to enjoy for the forseeable future. I have to laugh out loud everytime I watch those blooper films….all of which include my Philadelphia Eagles making bonehead plays.

  24. One of the great builders of the game. It’s so refreshing to remember the men that truly loved the sport and sacrificed so much to make it successful.

  25. Thank you for all the goosebumps and chills from the sights and sounds of NFL Films! Rest in peace Ed…may G-d bless your entire family!

  26. Remember as a kid growing up in Nigeria, back in the 80s, not a football fan at the time, but loved watching NFL films documentaries on VHS, became a football fan as a result of the work of the Sabols, that voice, John Facenda, was beautiful stuff.

  27. The most underrated studio in history; comparable to the great Hollywood studios. When’s the last time they put out a bad product? Thank you, Ed and Steve.

  28. This is an end of an era. Words can’t express my sadness. NFL films set the standard. My prayers go out to the Sabol family. Today EVERY NFL fan lost one of the most influential people in NFL history. First Steve and now Ed. It’s a sad sad day.

  29. So now are we going to get a documentary on his life with plenty of slo-mo shots and a booming voice over?

  30. No disrespect intended.
    I guess I like his work but I get excited watching the play and the replay of it just on the TV when it happens.
    Yeah, NFL films are fun to watch, I guess, but so is football no matter what the media is.

  31. Without a doubt part of why I love football came from watching NFL Films. I think NFL Films did for my generation what Madden Football games do to this younger generation, taught a love of all things football.

    Its the first place I learned about Slingin’ Sammy Baugh which is now my screen name. It gave me a launching pad to know more about the football of the 60s and 70s than the people who were alive and watching.

  32. As important to the NFL as any player, coach, GM or commissioner. And in my opinion, more so.

    If a tribute to Ed Sabol is not part of this years NFL kickoff event it will be a serious oversight.

    Rest in peace, Ed. And thank you for all the great NFL films over the years.

  33. This man changed the horizon not only for the NFL but the whole sports entertainment industry. Absolutely deserves to be mentioned with Rozelle, Lombardi, etc. It’s possible we wouldn’t even remember some of these names without Ed and Steve Sabol.

  34. I still get chills hearing the timpani drums and John Facenda’s deep voice narrate:

    The Autumn Wind is a pirate
    Blustering in from sea,

    Loved the films, the music, the slow motion catches. It’s just a darned shame that the vicious hits that defined those films are illegal and banned in Goodell’s NFL.

  35. True innovator – helped turn the NFL into what it is today by establishing the larger than life mythology that the NFL grew upon. He saw that potential to mold this game through film and he nailed it in spades. Along with him, Facenda and his son Steve were equal parts of the package that was NFL films, and the debt the NFL owes those guys is practically immeasurable.

    As to those wondering about the “thumbs down,” I honestly don’t think they are intentional thumbs downs here (save for a couple of idiotic and obvious posts that clearly deserved a majority of “thumbs down” and got them). Many respond on their phones with tiny screens, and an attempt to hit “thumbs up” can go wrong.

  36. “Treat each man you meet as a gentleman.
    Not because they are – but because you are.”
    – Ed Sabol

    As classy as he was influential.

    RIP Ed, and RIP Steve. Two of the best men the NFL has ever had.

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