NFL Films is cool

As we rapidly approach another highly anticipated match up in the big game, pitting Brazillian supermodel dating, two-time Super Bowl MVP, GQ cover boy, “I’m really just an average guy” (yeah, right) quarterback Tom Brady versus Peyton’s little brother who looks like he still gets beat up by bullies, I can’t help but be in awe of NFL Films.

I make it a habit to try to learn about greatness in things I find otherwise interesting on its own (hence the multitude of Disney relate posts I make) and since I’m a son of a high school football coach, I’ve seen my share of NFL archive footage over the course of my lifetime. Last year, I was extremely impressed with the America’s Game series (I particularly liked the one on the 1994 San Francisco 49ers), but just about everything this little arm of the NFL does is impressive.

Like a lot of interesting stories, this one starts simply. Ed Sabol was a coat salesman who, in the late 1950s got into home movies as a hobby, including filming the high school football games his son Steve played in. He thought he got pretty good at it and scraped together $3000 to be the exclusive video recorder of the 1961 NFL Championship game, figuring that he could put together a highlight reel he could then show at movie theaters around the country for a profit. The NFL was so happy with the result and his subsequent efforts, that 2 years later, they bought his then video production company, asked him to run it, and christened it NFL Films. He started producing year in review highlight reels for each team and the company has been going strong ever since.

Steve Sabol now runs the company that has become known for its distinctive style. NFL Films highlights, with their timely use of slow motion and closeups combined with dramatic music and voice overs, have a way of making a 5 yard touchdown run seem like a key component to establishing world peace. They came up with innovations like caputring massive numbers of camera angles so that editors could be more creative, general field microphone dishes to harness the roar of the crowd and the crack of the violent collisions, and wiring both players and coaches for an insight into the dialog behind the action that was absent before.

The results have been great promotional material for the league over the years and have earned NFL Films 92 Emmy’s to date.

A few months ago, Wired ran an article about how NFL Films is digitizing its entire library. Not only do they have plans to stream parts of the archive for a fee to fan, keyword tagging of the footage allows editors to assemble new shows from recycled footage more quickly than former manual indexing methods could. This is a huge win for the NFL Network, the cable channel the league operates that rotates shows that includes old footage on a regular basis.

And it all started because a guy had a hobby that he loved, he took a chance, and let his creativity lead his company to innovations. Cool.

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One Response to “NFL Films is cool”

  1. Wendee Says:

    Well, now, that’s a dream job for ya’ (Sabol, not Brady. Well, okay, maybe Brady, too). Nice story, Pete. Here’s to taking chances and pursuing hobbies and work that you love. *clink!*

    And one more day of football! Woo!

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