Steve Sabol, the president of NFL Films, died on Tuesday of brain cancer that had been discovered in 2011. He was a few weeks shy of turning 70.
It’s hard to overstate just how good NFL Films has been over the years. It’s so good, I sometimes think the NFL doesn’t deserve it. Kind of how I used to feel about Pixar and Disney before Pixar kind of started sucking.
Part of the greatness of all those NFL Film specials was the hosting by Steve Sabol. He obviously had a role in creating them far beyond just introducing a clip, but his hosting alone was an important contribution. Sabol was a great foil for the thundering music and the dramatic John Facenda narration. He was this avuncular guy hanging around in the film archives. If there were an elementary school class on NFL fandom, he’d be the gooddamn Mr. Bergstrom.
Before the NFL became a 24-hour news cycle, those NFL Films clips were filler for an entire day’s programming, especially during the run-up to the Super Bowl. Hell, ESPN used to play them in eight-hour chunks. I can remember more than a few winter afternoons with those running in the background. In a way, it felt like we were hanging out.