He may not be the reason you are a National Football League fan, but he’s got to be part of the reason why you love it to the extent that you do.
He was for me.
Steve Sabol, co-founder (along with his dad) of NFL Films, romanticized football on television the way writers and play-by-play broadcasters did baseball in print and on the radio.
Growing up, despite baseball being my favorite sport, my favorite sports show was not “This Week in Baseball.” It was “This Week in the NFL” with Pat Summerall and Tom Brookshier, a weekly, one-hour program that aired Saturday during the season at 7 p.m.
At the time I was too young to stay up and watch Howard Cosell’s highlights at halftime of Monday Night Football (roughly 10:30 p.m. in the East). So my introduction to the NFL was this show. I got to see all the teams in the league and learn all the players.
As I got a little older, the show of choice became HBO’s “Inside the NFL.” In the early days of ESPN, all the Football Follies, Super Bowl highlight shows and each team’s season recap shows made the game so exciting that by high school, no sport had the emotional connection with me that the NFL had.
All of this was produced and conceptualized by the Sabols, Ed and Steve.
Ed took his rightful place in the Hall of Fame last year. Steve should be there, too.
The first voice of NFL Films was John Facenda, a baritone that could read the phone book with soothing authority. Steve Sabol once joked, “If God has a voice, I imagine he sounds an awful lot like John Facenda.” Steve won 40 Emmys and helped revolutionize sports on television.
Nearly 50 years ago the combination of his words, Facenda’s voice, the showing of the game, all accentuated by music from a symphony orchestra, grabbed hold of millions of us.
And we have not let go since.
With the violins playing at first slowly only to have the trumpets build to a fever pitch, in 1974 “the Voice of God” read this:
The Autumn wind is a pirate
Blistering in from sea
With a rollicking song he sweeps along
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.
Steve Sabol wrote those words. And no one will ever do it as well as he again.
It’s a strange sadness many of us felt when we heard the news of his passing. I felt this way when former U.S. Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks died in a car accident in 2003.
Most of us never met him, yet felt as if we knew him. More than that, he contributed to a part of our lives that we hold dear.
So here’s a toast to Steve Sabol: Thanks for making the NFL more than a game. You made it a passion.