Steve Sabol, 1942-2012

The sports media world is reacting with sadness to the news of the passing of NFL Films President Steve Sabol.  The 69 year-old Sabol passed away today following a long battle with brain cancer.

Sabol rode along with his father Ed in creating NFL Films in the early 1960’s.  Together the pair devised many of the innovations we see in coverage of sports today…including the implementation of super slow motion footage and the use of extreme close-ups.

Like many, being a child of the ’70’s my football education came through the lens of the NFL Films’ cameras.  Sabol was always someone I wanted to interview for SMJ.  There was a time earlier this year when Ken Fang of Fangs Bites was close to booking Sabol for our Sports Media Weekly program.  Even though Sabol may not have been actively involved in the operation of NFL Films over the last few months, his void will be difficult to fill.

Here are some of the reactions to Sabol’s death from the league and the sports media world:

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell: “Steve Sabol was the creative genius behind the remarkable work of NFL Films. 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.”

ESPN President John Skipper: “Steve was a legend in this business – a dynamic, innovative leader who made NFL Films the creative force it is today. The work he and his dedicated and talented team create every day is one of the many reasons why so many more fans love the game of football today. On behalf of everyone at ESPN, I offer our deepest condolences to his wife, Penny, and the rest of the Sabol family.”

ESPN Sunday NFL Countdown host Chris Berman : “I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend Steve Sabol. Every time I saw him, he brought a quick smile to my face. He was happy everyday on the job for a simple reason – Steve was a man who loved pro football and loved making movies about it. He and NFL Films have long been unparalleled in their craft and for that reason millions of us will forever owe Steve a huge thank you.”

ESPN NFL analyst and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski: “Steve had amazing passion for the game of football and everything he did at NFL Films reflected positively on the coaches, players and administrators of the National Football League. For the last 22 years, Steve has been a great inspiration to me and was instrumental in my development as an NFL analyst. I will never forget how positively he impacted every person he came in contact with, not just in the football world. You would be hard pressed to find a single person that would have a negative word about Steve.”

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter: “The NFL lost one of its most influential figures and the world lost a great man.”

FOX Sports Chairman, and current News Corp. Senior Executive Vice President, David Hill: “It is with tremendous sadness that we learned of the legendary Steve Sabol’s passing.  He was a terrific man and a skilled and talented artist.  Steve and his father Ed built NFL Films from nothing and were pioneers in sports television and filmmaking, and after taking the reins from his father, Steve put his own stamp on NFL Films, and its ability to capture football’s nuance and subtlety.  When we started FOX Sports, no one was more helpful than Steve, and in a short time he became a great, great friend.  He was always there to listen to one of my idiotic ideas. Nothing was ever too much trouble for Steve, and no one, absolutely no one could rock a pink shirt while talking about the NFL as well as he could.  He was greatly respected and will be missed by everyone at FOX and the entire NFL community.”

NFL Network Analyst Michael Lombardi-  “When you walk around the NFL Films library, I call it a working museum because each picture on the wall has a Steve Sabol symbolic memory to it. He put each picture there and everyday you’re reminded of his genius, his talent, his unbelievable passion for football. I would love passing him in the halls and we would stop and have a five minute conversation about the history of the league, comparing an old player to a new player. He was just an amazing mind in terms of football and a creative genius. Every day when I walk into that office, I take a picture and try to post it on Twitter because they’re unique; they’re situated in a setting that he wanted them to be situated in. It’s a huge loss for all of us in the NFL family because he was truly part of the creative process that made this league so great.”

NFL Network Analyst Sterling Sharpe- “We’re talking about a guy who loved football more than the players. He couldn’t wait to sit down and talk to all of us who were in the building about what was going on in the NFL and what it was like in the early days when his dad started NFL Films. It definitely is a sad day. I enjoyed going into his office and visiting with him, I enjoyed him coming out on the set when we were getting started to doPlaybook. We use the term and phrase ‘they will be missed’ an awful lot. It’s going to be really hard to replace Steve Sabol. He truly will be missed. I know all of us who worked in that building week in and week out during the season, and those people who knew him way before I did, he is truly, truly going to be missed.”

NFL Network Analyst Steve Mariucci- “I think I could speak for a lot of coaches, and we all sort of went through the same thing with Steve. It took some time – a short period of time – before you could really understand what Steve was all about. I’ll never forget the first time that I got asked by Steve to be wired as the head coach of the 49ers. I was very reluctant to do that; I had never been wired before. I said, ‘OK I’ll do it but I don’t want the team to know that I’m wired, let’s keep this secret.’ He said we have you covered. I was wired up before the game in a private room, the cameras were never close to me; they were on the other side of the field. He said to me just be yourself; don’t even think about us, coach the game and then we’ll take the wires off when it’s all over with. You know how emotions fly during the game and I probably did some things or said some things that I didn’t want aired. I remember calling him the next day and said you have to do me a favor, I think I might have cursed or something like that on the sideline; can you not air that please? He said, ‘Coach, remember we are not here to make you look bad, you’re going to have to trust us; we’re here to promote your team, to promote the National Football League and you can trust that we will always, always be on your side and make you look as good as possible. We’ll have some fun with this.’…He became like a brother that way; you trusted him so much. Every coach trusts him and NFL Films and that’s a general statement around the league. Players and coaches trusted that they would always do the right thing and make you look good.”

Dallas Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones- “I want to very much to give my thoughts, my condolences to his father and his family. I really believe Steve was put on this earth to do this job, and be a part of what he contributed to the NFL. I honestly don’t know of anyone who loved, understood or appreciated the NFL more than Steve did. He was one the greatest storytellers of our time – not just in sports but in any part of the American society. I have often said that they only throw ticker tape parades for war heroes, astronauts and people that win games or championships – sports figures – because they are larger than life. Someone has to take these accomplishments, these people and make them larger than life. Someone had to take a moment and turn it into a [legendary moment] and that is what Steve Sabol did for the NFL better then everyone. He could take four seconds of film and create a story that is remembered for a lifetime. He knew how to amplify the moment and make it bigger than it really was. He was a precious asset, his life and work to football and the NFL because it does become bigger than life in presentation. It may not really be that way, but that is the presentation of it. He could combine words, technology, music, snow, elements, human emotion, competition, and say something that left an imprint on people. The other thing he did, he liked to take fans [and] people where they normally couldn’t go: behind the scenes, in the locker room, in the huddle and in our case, he liked to come into a draft room and show some things that go on in a draft room and make it in a way that created more interest in the game. He created those memories for generations of fans. On a personal basis, he inspired me. Just the things I am talking about here, he inspired me to put the biggest digital board right down the middle of the field because we wanted to, in a way, share the theater of stage with our fans. We wanted [fans] to come inside the huddle, instead of a face that is a foot high, we can put it right in the middle of the field as it is going on and put it 70 feet high. That style was Steve’s style and influence. He will be missed but he will always be remembered because of his great contributions to what we do every day and that is show the great nuances of our game.”

Bob Costas- “I am sure many people have noted this already but in addition to all his accomplishments and his dad’s accomplishments with NFL Films, those of us who know him really just feel a personal loss because he was such a good guy. Everybody loved this guy; they loved being in his company. He was a tremendous story teller. He had a vibrancy about him. He had a real enjoyment of the life he lived, being around his friends and the work he did and that enthusiasm never waned. I think we will miss him as a person. What he and his dad built stands for itself. I think he would be the first guy to tell you because he was modest, it wasn’t exactly art, but it was high craft. They developed this in such a way that football fans look forward to every week. It didn’t just document the league, but it mythologized the league, it glorified the league. It was a huge part – especially in the 1960s and 1970s – a huge part of the emergence of the NFL as the most popular sport in America.”

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