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
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. …