There have been and will be many tributes to Steve Sabol this week. His passing on Monday night is one that affects so many people. The greatest tribute to a person's life is that they not only affected the people who they knew, but positively affected so many people who they never met.
As many before me, I came into the NFL having been influenced by Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, and his son, Steve, the producer, director, writer and cinematographer, the two masterminds who created the indelible images, the memorable sounds, and of course, the provocative symphonic music. Their romantic portrayals of the professional football got me attached to the game. With the narration of John Facenda, a former Philadelphia TV news anchor dubbed “the voice of God,” the Sabols cativated my heart. My rookie year with the Miami Dolphins was the first in five years that the team did not make the playoffs. In the late spring of 1976, I could not wait to see how NFL Films would portray our 10-4 season. As if the Dolphins were still in the glory of the Super Bowl years, he found stories in the disappointment. I still have those reel to reel films from my Dolphin years.
When I arrived at NFL Headquarters in 1979 as the new Director of Special Events, there was a construction plan for my office. I learned that walls were being taken down, and I was going to move into an office that Ed Sabol had used...Wow. I had the third biggest office, a balcony, wood paneling and a red shag carpet. Even Commissioner Pete Rozelle did not have that kind of carpeting. From that point on whenever Steve came to New York, I got a visit. I am sure it was not about me, but a memory of his Dad, but I took full advantage of the conversations.
Steve Sabol made had an immeasurable impact on the game of football.
Among all the words Steve wrote over the years for NFL Films, there came one piece of wisdom that always stuck with me ... "Never let temporary people make permanent decisions." It was so fitting, as we of the NFL’s "old guard" lived through so many changes in the 1990's. Steve must have had eight or so new bosses in twenty years. But truthfully, no one could have ever been Steve's “boss”. His vision, his enthusiasm, his creativity, his perspective on the past, his innovation were what made him unique.Since Steve's illness, our contact was not as frequent, but he never stopped making me smile. One day, my favorite annual gift arrived on the front door step: the Steve Sabol calendar - twelve months of original art by Steve. If anything, it always gave a glimpse into his soul. It was a colorful, humorous and exciting, full of love, full of life, full of Steve memento. It typifed a Steve comment, “I look at football with an irreverent form of reverence.” I will miss those calendars, but I will cherish the ones I have. The Steve Sabol calendars were only topped by what you got on the envelope or inside the envelope – a letter from Steve.
We did disagree at times...I always wanted him to cover the entertainment elements around the Super Bowl, but he told me he was completely locked into the football. However, that may have changed when I succumbed to his continual persistence, and booked Tina Turner for Super Bowl XXXIV pregame show. Every Super Bowl Sunday morning, Steve and I would meet to go over the “Dos and Don'ts,” and discuss the opportunities for shooting the game. He always wanted a private one-person booth near or in the press box where he could direct the NFL Films production.
My closets are filled with video tapes of NFL Films productions. I know there will be a time in my near future that I will spend some days looking at all those memories chronicling the history of the NFL and thinking how Steve helped us remember.
So few of us ever get to live our dreams. Steve loved his job and loved his relationships with those in the business and, most importantly, he was loved by all of those who got to know him. As a good friend said to me, he was the latter day Peter Pan, he never grew up. Sports Illustrated senior NFL writer Peter King quoted Steve, "I don't know what is waiting for me up there (heaven), but I can tell you this: nothing can happen up there that can duplicate my life down here."
Well , I can say that no one will ever duplicate Steve. He was truly one of a kind. He made us all richer, and we are all better for having known him.
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