Ed Sabol, who as cofounder of NFL Films is credited with transforming sports in TV and film, died today at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz, the NFL announced. He was 98.
Sabol launched NFL Films as Blair Motion Pictures in 1962 with his son Steve, following a "passion to preserve football history," as he put it at the beginning of a video the NFL posted today entitled "Ed Sabol's Last Film." In his pursuit to capture history being made on the field, Sabol was the force behind putting mics on coaches, referees and players, capturing the personalities driving the game in real time. On the post-production side, he added popular music soundtracks to game footage, elevating plays to mythic proportions. From all the footage also came the blooper reel. Before the ascendancy of ESPN, many believe that NFL Films was the marketing gambit that helped push pro football to the top of the American sports mountain.
Before NFL Films, Sabol was a salesman, and in 1962 he sold the NFL on himself as a filmmaker. He spent $3,000 of his own money and secured the rights to film the NFL championship game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers. With a Bell & Howell 16-mm camera and no more experience than shooting high school football games, Sabol got the title game on film and launched the career in which he would change the way football and other sports are presented.
Two years later, Blair Motion Pictures became NFL Films. In 1967 came the iconic film that set the standard for how the NFL's story would be told, They Call it Pro Football. Since 1979, NFL Films has won 107 Emmys for Cinematography, Writing, Editing, Sound, Sports Series & Specials and a Lifetime Achievement Award (for then company president Steve Sabol in 2003), according to its website. Its first came in 1979 for Road To The Super Bowl.
The elder Sabol, an alumnus of Ohio State University, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. He helmed NFL Films until 1985, when he turned it over to his son Steve, who passed away in 2012.