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Steve Sabol, R.I.P.

By Rich Heldenfels Published: September 18, 2012

With his father, Ed, Sabol was key to defining the NFL through their film productions, and was an amiable face for NFL Films presentations. From NFL NetworK:

NFL Films President Steve Sabol, for five decades the creative force behind the unique brand of storytelling and cinematography that brought America closer to the game of football, died today at the age of 69 after an 18-month battle with brain cancer.

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

A bio of Steve is below, followed by a timeline of NFL Films..

As president of the most honored filmmaker in sports, Steve Sabol drove the artistic vision behind the studio that revolutionized the way America watches football.
Sabol and his father, Ed, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on February 5, 2011, were honored in 2003 with the Lifetime Achievement Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for “revolutionizing the way America watches football and setting the standard in sports filmmaking.” The Emmy was presented by the late Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press.
While NFL Films has won more than 100 Emmys, Sabol himself received 35 of those Emmys for writing, cinematography, editing, directing, and producing. No one else in all of television has earned as many Emmys in as many different categories.
Building on the entrepreneurial spirit of his father and founder of NFL Films, Sabol was named the 2002 Sports Executive of the Year by Sporting News magazine.
Sabol also received the prestigious Pete Rozelle Award, which is presented each year to someone who has made an outstanding contribution to the National Football League and to professional football. He joined a select group of honorees including: Vince Lombardi, Dan Rooney, Lamar Hunt, Tom Landry and Don Shula.
In 2007, the Pro Football Hall of Fame honored Sabol with the Dan Reeves Pioneer Award recognizing his innovative ideas that have contributed to the game of professional football.
Steve was the recipient of the 2010 Sports Leadership Award presented to him at the March of Dimes 27th Annual Sports Luncheon which is one of the highest profile events of the year for the sports and sports media business in New York.
In March of 2011, NFL Films was recognized with the Lamar Hunt Award for Professional Football which is given in recognition of visionary leadership that has helped the NFL become the preeminent pro sports league in America. Steve and his father, Ed, were inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in November of 2011 which was followed by Steve’s induction into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in December.
Steve received the Sports Business Journal’s “Champions - Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business” award in March of 2012 for shaping the business of sports through his career of distinguished success.
Steve began his career in 1964 as a cinematographer working for his father and founder of NFL Films, Ed Sabol. As an All-Rocky Mountain Conference running back at Colorado College majoring in Art History, as well as an avid movie fan, Steve was, as his father put it, “uniquely qualified to make football movies.”
A natural outgrowth of his cinematic vision, Steve was an accomplished collage artist. As President of NFL Films, Steve spent his entire career thinking about football and the positive values the game represents. In the process football became for Steve a prism for looking at American society. Using symbolic imagery from both the sports world and popular culture, Steve created a unique visual language that hearkens to times past and reminds us of the best in ourselves.
Steve has exhibited at the ArtExpo in New York, the Avant Gallery in Miami, Florida, the Govinda Gallery in Washington, DC, the Milan Gallery in Ft. Worth, Texas and the Garth Davidson Gallery in Moorestown, New Jersey.

The timeline:

 1962 Ed Sabol, founder of Blair Motion Pictures (6 employees), bids $3,000 for the film rights to the 1962 NFL Championship Game
1963 Pro Football’s Longest Day: The 1962 NFL Championship Game premieres at New York’s Toots Shor’s to critical acclaim
1964 NFL buys Blair Motion Pictures after Ed Sabol convinces Commissioner Pete Rozelle that NFL needs its own film company to “not only to promote the NFL, but to preserve its history.”
1965 NFL FILMS begins first season of filming every NFL game
1966 NFL FILMS employs graphics in How to Watch Pro Football to explain strategy and tactics NFL FILMS wires Philadelphia’s Joe Kuharich for sound during an NFL game
1967 They Call It Pro Football unveils NFL FILMS’ revolutionary filmmaking style with its use of ground-level, slow-motion NFL action and sideline sound NFL FILMS produces football’s 1st magazine show – hosted by Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier NFL FILMS premieres its 1st network pre-game feature on CBS Countdown to Kickoff
1968 NFL FILMS produces sports’ 1st blooper film, Football Follies NFL FILMS 1st to film pre-game locker room action (Coach Saban & the Denver Broncos)
1969 NFL FILMS 1st to use 600mm telephoto lens to capture what Steve Sabol describes as “the raw intensity of the NFL – the bloody hands, the eyes bulging, the snot spraying and the sweat flying.”
1970 Premiere of ABC’s Monday Night Football Halftime Highlights produced by NFL FILMS
1971 NFL FILMS introduces reverse-angle replay
1973 NFL FILMS introduces popular music – “The Way We Were” – scored to NFL footage featuring Bart Starr
1978 NFL FILMS produces 1st Road To The Super Bowl special
1979 NFL FILMS moves from a 19,000-sq. ft. production studio in Philadelphia, PA, to a 40,000-sq. ft. multi-million dollar production lot in Mt. Laurel, NJ NFL FILMS wins first Emmys for Road To The Super Bowl at inaugural Sports Emmys
1980 NFL FILMS introduces 1st sports home videos – 28 team highlights & special releases Big Game America and Football Follies
1986 NFL FILMS expands production studio to include state-of-the-art post production wing, fiber-optic services and a high security film archive
1987 NFL FILMS designs software for digital-footage logging system
1989 NFL FILMS produces NFL DREAM SEASON for ESPN: a computer effects project that alters game footage to realistically pit the NFL’s 20 greatest teams against one another – the 1986 New York Giants vs. the 1951 Los Angeles Rams – in a mythical eight-week series
1990 NFL FILMS celebrates Silver Anniversary NFL FILMS annexes building to expand its production studio to 100,000 sq. ft.
1994 NFL FILMS celebrates 30th Anniversary
1995 NFL FILMS produces filmmaking’s 1st live-action sports short ever shot in Cinemascope, the critically acclaimed, 100 Yard Universe
1997 NFL commissions NFL FILMS’ Tom Hedden to compose Super Bowl XXXI theme NFL FILMS highlights appears in Cyberspace in the NFL Theater on NFL.COM
1998 NFL FILMS PRESENTS leaves syndication after 30 years and moves to ESPN NFL FILMS produces the 1st interactive sports program on Digital Versatile Disk (DVD) – The Official Super Bowl XXXII Championship DVD NFL FILMS PRESENTS wins third consecutive Emmy award for Outstanding Sports Series NFL FILMS shoots its 7000th NFL game
1999 NFL FILMS breaks ground on 200,000sq. ft. motion-picture studio schedule to open in Spring 2001
2000 NFL FILMS increases Emmy award total to 78 after receiving awards for Outstanding Music Composition/Direction and Outstanding Features – its third consecutive award in that category
2001 NFL FILMS increases Emmy award total to 80 after receiving awards for Outstanding Feature and Outstanding Editing HARD KNOCKS: Training Camp with the Baltimore Ravens, a reality sports documentary television series produced by NFL FILMS and HBO premiered in July
2002 NFL FILMS opens a new 200,000 square-foot television and motion picture studio fully equipped for Hi-Def production NFL FILMS adds two more Emmys to its collection taking home the trophies for Outstanding Music Composition and Outstanding Audio
2003 NFL FILMS plays pivotal role in launch of NFL NETWORK – the first television network fully dedicated to the NFL and the sport of football NFL FILMS founder Ed Sabol and President Steve Sabol are presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2003 Sports Emmy Awards NFL NETWORK wins its first Emmy Award for NFL FILMS Presents: Big Charlie’s Place becoming the youngest network in history to garner the prestigious award
2004 NFL FILMS earns four more Emmy Awards increasing its total to 91
2005 NFL FILMS increases Emmy award total to 92 after receiving awards for Outstanding Studio Show Weekly – Inside the NFL NFL FILMS releases Autumn Thunder; a ten disc box set of current and classic music from NFL FILMS’ award winning composers.
2006 NFL FILMS launches what Steve Sabol calls “the biggest series in company history” in America’s Game: The Super Bowl Champions. The series features one-hour documentaries profiling each Super Bowl-winning team.
2007 NFL FILMS wins 3 Emmy Awards for America’s Game: The Super Bowl Champions, NFL FILMS Presents: Finding Your Butkus, and Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Kansas City Chiefs, bringing the grand total to 95 Emmys since 1979.
2008 NFL FILMS wins 2 Emmy Awards for Studio Show Weekly -Inside the NFL and Post-produced Audio-Sound for Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Dallas Cowboys, bringing the grand total to 97 Emmys since 1979.
2009 NFL FILMS produced the five-part miniseries Full Color Football: The History of the American Football League for Showtime which aired in fall 2009 as part of the American Football League 50th anniversary celebration. NFL FILMS was honored by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission with the dedication of a Pennsylvania State Historical Marker at 230 North 13th Street in Philadelphia recognizing the location as the “Birthplace of NFL FILMS.”
2010 NFL FILMS wins 3 Emmy Awards for Edited Sports Series/Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals, Post Produced Audio Sound/Hard Knocks Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals and Inside the NFL: Sounds of the Year bringing the grand total to 100 Emmys since 1979
2011 NFL FILMS wins 5 Emmy Awards for Edited Sports Series/Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals, Documentary/Lombardi, Camera Work/Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals, Post Produced Audio-Sound/Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Cincinnati Bengals and Live Event Turnaround/Sound FX: Cincinnati Bengals @ New York Jets, bringing the grand total to 105 Emmys since 1979 Ed Sabol was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on August 6, 2011 Steve and Ed Sabol were inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in November of 2011 which was followed by Steve’s induction into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in December The premiere season of both A Football Life (NFL Network) and NFL Turning Point (NBC Sports Network), produced by NFL FILMS, earned Emmy Award nominations in the category of Outstanding Edited Sports Series/Anthology.
2012 NFL FILMS wins 2 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Music Composition/Direction/Lyrics for Ed Sabol’s Last Football Movie: Men of Mettle, and Outstanding Post Produced Audio/Sound for Sound FX: All Access bringing the grand total to 107 Emmys since 1979 Hard Knocks: Training Camp at the Miami Dolphins went completely digital, becoming the first series in NFL Films history where no footage was shot on film or tape.

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