NFL Network is celebrating one of its own, NFL Films founder Ed Sabol.
Premiering Monday at 8 p.m., Ed Sabol, King of Football Movies screens just five days before the man, now 94, is inducted into the Pro Football of Fame.
Long before the proliferation of 24/7 sports talk radio, ESPN’s constant NFL rumination and promotion and the kickoff of NFL Network, it was NFL Films with its low-angle, slow-motion artistry that hooked countless fans on the drama and violence of the game. Many credit Sabol and his son Steve, now president of NFL Films and their company, with pushing Sundays to the forefront of American sports fanaticism and culture.
Even with the defining moment of the Baltimore Colts’ overtime win over the New York Giants at Yankee Stadium in the 1958 NFL title game, pro football still ranked third behind college football and baseball among the nation’s sports tastes in the early 1960s. It traded up quickly with the help of Sabol.
This tale tracks the evolution of Big Ed– a man with comedic leanings and a short-lived career on Broadway in the “K-mart version of the Marx Brothers” — from the son-in-law of an overcoat manufacturer to the film mogul of NFL. It looks at a man with an out-sized ego and talent playing among out-sized men and how he transformed his home movie hobby and filming of Steve’s football contests and practices at the Haverford School into a struggling business named after his daughter, Blair Motion Pictures.
This film also focuses on the prices Sabol had to pay to gain entry to the NFL playing fields, and how he was able to convince Pete Rozelle, the late commissioner, whose various calls elevated the game from its minor league roots, to greenlight NFL Films. It zooms in on They Call If Pro Football, “the Citizen Kane” of the genre, which came to serve as marketing model for the NFL.
King of Football Movies also enjoyably traces Sabol’s sales pitch to the NFL’s “John Wayne,” one Vince Lombardi, and the manipulation that led to micless matriculation of Kansas City Chiefs coach Hank Stramm during Super Bowl IV.
It also pays due respect to the signature NFL Films shot, the single frame trained on a passed pigskin spiraling toward an unseen target. Sam Spence, a specialist in Hollywood-style soundtracks echoing military films, and the “voice of God,” belonging to Philadelphia newscaster, John Facenda, are also hailed for their primary roles in the ascendancy of NFL Films. As Sabol says: “John Facenda could read a laundry list and make it sound like the Constitution of the United States.”
Finally, there are fun and emotional segments with Steve, as an adoring and appreciative son, and his relationship with his best friend, Big Ed.
Ed Sabol, King of Pro Football Movies, is a fast and fun watch, paying credit to a man and his mission that certainly merit enshrinement in Canton. What can’t be fun, though, are the reports about current business game plans at NFL Films.