Ed Sabol became the nineteenth contributor to be elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame when he was inducted in 2011.
The courage gained when Sabol, then a 46-year-old family man, took the risk and walked away from comfortable living as a coat salesman to form Blair Productions in 1962.
He went out on a long limb and doubled the offer that the NFL accepted in 1961 to film the 1962 NFL Championship game. Sure, the $3,000 offer caught the attention of NFL Commissioner Pete Rosell, but that doesn’t mean that Sabol and his production company They will get the job immediately.
Rozelle summoned Sabol to the league office to see if he was legit.
Sabol promised to double the number of cameras used in the field from four to eight. He also planned to use various forms of slow motion photography. Finally, he undertook to use color film, which at that time was rather modern and was definitely more expensive.
Two days later, Sabol received a telegram from Rozelle stating “Congratulations…”
In 1964, two years after successfully filming the NFL games, Sabol convinced the NFL and its 14 team owners that the league should own its own motion picture company in order to promote and capture the game’s historical values.
The league bought Sabol’s Blair Motion Pictures and renamed it NFL Films, with Ed serving as president.
Not only has this changed the professional football landscape, but it has also changed the way people view all sports.
Sabol filmed football using three camera methods he called “trees”, “moles” and “weasels”.
Tree had a fixed camera high on the 50-yard line.
Mole had a field-mounted camera for shooting close-ups of faces, hands, and tight spiraling footballs.
The weasel also carried a portable camera but scoured the field, on all levels, looking for anything unique.
Once the three film rolls were released together, NFL Films created a style of their own.
“NFL movies have had a real impact on the way movies are made, especially the montage, lots of different visuals, photo on top, using slow motion combined with live action, and powerful sound effects. It’s so powerful,” said Academy Award winning director Ron Howard. You compare that to the amazing music, and it creates a really emotional experience for the viewer. They made us even better fans because they let us appreciate that. You start to see the amazing athletic ability of the players. It blows me away.”
Many of the first events in the NFL Films took place under the leadership of Ed Sabol. These include the first company to put a microphone on a player and coach during a regular-season NFL game, in 1965.
In 1966, they used graphics to explain football strategy, and the following season spawned “NFL Films Presents,” today the longest-running sports series on television.
NFL Films won its first Emmy in 1978 for “Road to the Super Bowl.” During the Sabol era, from 1964-1995, NFL Films won 52 Emmy Awards.
In 1995, NFL Films produced the first live sports movie filmed in Cinemascope, the critically acclaimed “100 Yard Universe”, which premiered exclusively at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“My dad has an amazing expression,” said Ed’s son, Steve Sabol (2020 Hall of Fame inductee). “He always says: Tell me a truth and I will learn. Tell me the truth and I will believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever. Interestingly, now, my father’s story will be in Canton, and I hope that continues forever too.”
John Kendall is Vice President of Archives, Education and Football Information for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Its columns tell unique and interesting stories from the founding of the association in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.