Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

18 Sep 2012

Steve Sabol Dead at 69

The great communicator of the joy of football died after an 18-month battle with brain cancer. Share your NFL Films memories here.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 18 Sep 2012

24 comments, Last at 20 Sep 2012, 1:00pm by Barry Nash


by Will Allen :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 1:41pm

NFL Highlights on Saturday mornings, from '69, until, I dunno, maybe '74 or so. John Facenda narration, and that music.

Steve Sabol seemed to be a very nice man. I'm sorry to hear of this.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 1:43pm

Brings literal tears to my eyes. The guy helped shape the way I grew to love the game, and he's always been on a short list of people I always wanted to meet just so I could thank them. Incredibly sad.

by Zilla (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 1:49pm

Oh my god, this is terrible. NFL Films single handedly got me, a kid living in Northern Canada, into the sport of American Football. He was the high priest of football as art and myth. This is such a goddamn bummer. At least he lived such a wonderful and productive life and gave so much to everybody. Hopefully he understood that.

by dbt :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 2:08pm

My thoughts are with the Sabol family today; no parent should ever have to bury a child, even at 96.

Ed was the progenitor, obviously, but Steve's love for football and his joy in sharing it were unmatched. He will be missed.

by dmstorm22 :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 2:33pm

This is just awful, awful news. Hopefully the fight with brain cancer wasn't too painful.

NFL Films really, to me, is part of the reason why the game is so popular. So many incredible moments in football history are more well known from their NFL Films footage than the real game footage, like THe Immaculate Reception, or The Catch or teh Tuck Rule. The most memorable, known view of that play is the version caught by an NFL Films camera.

For years a highlight on Super Bowl Sunday for me has always been NFL Films' yearly Road to the Super Bowl, a much better pregame 'show' than teh 6-hour monstrosity that follows it. How the blend beautiful orchestral music (David Robidoux, and Sam Spence before him, are geniuses) and layer them perfectly with footage that tells a great story of each season in 45 minutes.

Rest in Peace to the man that took over a business and made it better. NFL Films isn't as essential now as it was when there was no NFL Network, and ESPN was in its infancy, but if I want to see a beautiful game along with beautiful music, I need NFL Films.

Hopefully there is another Sabol to take over his father and grandfather's legacy.

by PatsFan :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 2:47pm

Can RaiderJoe give us a reading of The Autumn Wind in Steve's memory?

by Raiderjoe :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 4:57pm

Can do that later tongitb along with some other gerst memories.

Steve Sabol among favorite NFL people all time.

by Nathan :: Wed, 09/19/2012 - 12:41am

I'm really waiting, RJ. We lost a great one yesterday.

by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 09/19/2012 - 10:08am

Did not have to post becjausse guy below did it

by Subrata Sircar :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 4:13pm

High Priest of Football as Myth. That opening shot of the lineman digging in, exhaling steam in preparation for a gladitorial combat of epic proportions - or so the narration and production would have you believe - will stay with me for a long time.

by Drunkmonkey :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 4:27pm

As a kid who didn't have any idea what football really was until high school, NFL films brought me up to speed about as quickly as anything could have ever done. I know I'm not nearly the history buff about football that most people on this site seem to be, especially the staff, but I do think I know more than the average fan who is about twice my age. Thanks Steve, you will be greatly missed. As it's my birthday, my second drink tonight will be for you.

by Lebo :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 4:27pm

NFL Films probably has as much, if not more, to do with my love of the NFL than the actual game broadcasts. As a New Zealander, I was much more frequently able to watch episodes of NFL Films than the games. I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case for many other non-Americans.

R.I.P. Steve.

by Nathan :: Wed, 09/19/2012 - 12:43am

Americans as well.

by AxeToGrind (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 4:31pm

Steve and his father Ed were responsible for the incredible success of NFL Films. Their portrail of the game as a dramatic story changed how all sports are now presented. There are quotes in which they indicated that their purpose was to capture on film the history of the NFL. So many innovation like miking the players and coaches, highlight films, blooper films, and more exist because it was introdued by NFL Films. It is sad such an innovator is gone. I hope they are able to continue the company's success without him.

by BroncosGuyAgain :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 4:56pm

As a child, when our grade school teacher needed to be out of the classroom - to meet with the principal or whatever - the kids where left with some form of adult supervision and a movie to keep us entertained. I'm sure our parents would have preferred something more scholarly, but it was often NFL Films. John Facenda, slo-mo plays set to orchestration, steam emanating from mouths, nostrils, and bald guys' domes.

Steve fought hard to see his father's induction. Surely he understood the role he played in the success of NFL Films and the league itself. Surely the magnitude of the honor radiated to his seat on the dais.

The Autumn wind is a pirate
Blustering in from sea
With a rollicking song he sweeps along
Swaggering boisterously.
His face is weatherbeaten
He wears a hooded sash
With a silver hat about his head
And a bristling black mustache
He growls as he storms the country
A villain big and bold
And the trees all shake and quiver and quake
As he robs them of their gold.
The Autumn wind is a Raider
Pillaging just for fun
He'll knock you 'round and upside down
And laugh when he's conquered and won.

The NFL and its coverage has changed so much; in the Seventies, NFL films was a huge part of the NFL's image, marketing, and product, and Steve Sabol was a huge part of that.

by langsty :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 5:06pm

Ah Christ, I didnt even know he had cancer. RIP

by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 5:17pm

It's worth rewatching Ed Sabol's HOF induction film; the first 6:30 or so perfectly encapsulate the glorious historical mythology they created for the NFL. I have probably watched this thing 15 times since the HOF ceremony, and it never fails to give me chills.


by James-London :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 6:38pm

Thanks for that link. Great piece of film.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 5:50pm

So what would you do with a drunken sailor?

by Danny (not verified) :: Tue, 09/18/2012 - 7:25pm

My prayers and condolences to the Sabol family. My everlasting gratitude to Steve and Ed for sharing with me sights and sounds of a sport that I have completely and truly loved from early childhood.

I will never forget as a 7 year old seeing for the first time the slo-mo closeup of the ball as it gracefully and smoothly spiraled through the air and thinking "beautiful". As a teenager whenever I saw a similar shot "cool" was the first thing that came to mind. Now at 55, those shots are still some of the most beautiful and coolest things I have ever seen.

John Facenda with orchestral accompaniment reciting "The Autumn Wind" never fails to produce goosebumps and remind me of games, teammates, and fall seasons long gone.

The Sabols and their crew captured not only the players literally from head to toe but everything encompassing the game including weather, stadium, fans, mascots, vendors etc. Not a cliche to say those films never fail to make me feel like I am actually at the game.

"Football Follies" still makes me laugh out loud and will never grow old. Don't care if you're 7 or 77 do yourself a favor and watch it again. Pretty sure Steve would like that.

Didn't know he was sick and just last year I was thinking about visiting the Sabols just to shake their hands and say thanks. This will have to suffice.

Thanks Steve and God Bless,


by DP (not verified) :: Wed, 09/19/2012 - 2:31pm

I just wish that he had been inducted along with his father into the HOF.

by jpg30@earthlink.net :: Tue, 09/25/2012 - 7:31pm

I feel as if a member of my own family has passed away. The enormous effect NFL Films has had on my life cannot be overstated. From watching This Week in Pro Football & the NFL Game of the Week as a kid, all the way to America's Game & the Hard Knocks presentations of today, Steve Sabol's vision of professional football has become my vision. For that amazing gift, I can't thank him & his Dad enough.

by TomC :: Thu, 09/20/2012 - 12:51am

I have nothing original to say, so I'll just add my voice to the chorus: RIP, Steve, you should be damn proud of your life's work, and you will be missed.

by Barry Nash (not verified) :: Thu, 09/20/2012 - 1:00pm

So nice to hear I'm not the only one who almost shed a tear over Steve Sabol passing. I used to watch nfl films programs over and over, especially the lost treasures series that went by decade. Also I would have given anything to have a father like Ed Sabol. Thanks for the hours of entertainment, you will be missed. The NFL is where it is today because of NFL Films, unfortunately the guys running it now are former espn morons. watch what happens without Steve there.