NFL Films Gives Football History a Coat of Mythology Camera Work Transforms Violent Chaos into a Ballet

By Patton, Charlie | The Florida Times Union, August 17, 1997 | Go to article overview

NFL Films Gives Football History a Coat of Mythology Camera Work Transforms Violent Chaos into a Ballet


Patton, Charlie, The Florida Times Union


In 1962, Pete Rozelle, the man who would transform professional

football from relative obscurity to national pastime, was

approached by a 48-year-old overcoat salesman with a passion for

movie-making.

Ed Sabol, amateur cameraman, had learned that film rights to

the 1961 National Football League championship game had been

sold by the league to an independent producer for $1,500. So

Sabol bid $3,000 for the rights to the 1962 title game.

Rozelle's decision to award Sabol those rights was one of the

shrewdest moves during his long tenure as league commissioner.

During the last 35 years, NFL Films, the company founded by Ed

Sabol and operated today by his, son Steve Sabol, has functioned

as the NFL's official myth-maker.

As narrator Keith David says in Inside NFL Films: The Idol

Makers, a documentary that debuts tonight on TBS, "Their job is

to make movies that transform players into warriors and the game

into a battle of epic proportions."

For January's Super Bowl XXX, which matched the Green Bay

Packers and the New England Patriots in New Orleans' Superdome,

Sabol presided over a small army of 17 camera operators.

During the game, they shot 245 rolls of film, almost 41 hours,

which was edited into a 25-minute account of the game.

Meanwhile, National Geographic sent a team of three camera

operators to follow the NFL Films cameras. The result is Inside

NFL Films: The Idol Makers, presented from 7 to 9 p.m. on TBS'

National Geographic Explorer.

Sabol admits the role of NFL Films is not journalism. His

camera operators, he said, are "romanticists."

That doesn't exactly jibe with his vivid description of his

cameras' goal: "We wanted to show the game the way the players

experienced it. The eyeballs bulging and the snot spraying and

the sweat flying."

Yet, with its slow-motion close-ups and rapid-fire editing (not

to mention the music and the overheated narration, delivered for

many years by John Facenda in what The Washington Post's Michael

Wilbon calls "the voice of God"), the typical NFL Films

production presents not reality but hyper-reality. …

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