Ed Sabol was a hero of mine — on many levels. He was a solopreneur, an artist, a football fan. He helped make the NFL what it is today. Sabol passed away Monday, February 9, at age 98. Below is a post I wrote about Sabol in 2011. At the end of the post is a documentary about his life. RIP.
As a sports-crazy boy growing up in America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, my daydreams looked like an NFL Films movie — my heroic deeds on the gridiron were in slow motion, with a soaring orchestral score, and the Voice of God (John Facenda) narrating.
Eight years before I saw my first NFL Films movie, the man responsible for those images, Ed Sabol, was a struggling solopreneur looking for a break.
Ed had worked previously in his father-in-law’s coat-manufacturing company. It wasn’t a good match for Ed, who was a born entertainer, a showman who at one time had been part of a Marx Brothers-style act in New Jersey. When Ed’s father-in-law retired, he sold the company because he knew that Ed wasn’t qualified to run the family business.
A Hobby Becomes a Business
Without a job but with a stake from the sale of the company, Ed bought a movie camera — a very good one.
Ed was crazy about film. It was his hobby and his passion. He had spent the previous decade shooting nearly everything that moved in the Sabol household — son Steve’s first pony ride, first haircut, family trips to the mountains, a Sunday visit to the seashore, and Steve’s football games from the time Steve was a little boy.
So Ed took his movie camera and launched his own movie company. His early jobs kept him busy, but he was looking for something that appealed to his sense of adventure and showmanship.
From Home Movies to the Hall of Fame
That opportunity came in 1962 when he learned that the National Football League was accepting bids for the filming of the 1962 Championship Game.
Ed did his research and learned the amount of the winning bid from the previous year. He was determined to get the business and submitted a bid that he knew would win. Ed got the job, and it began a remarkable relationship between the Sabol family and the NFL that continues to this day. Last summer at the age of 94, Ed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Think about that for a second. Ed Sabol went from filming backyard birthday parties and family vacations to being a legendary figure in the game of football — a sport he’d never played competitively. The NFL in 1962 isn’t nearly as big of a business as it is today, but it’s still amazing Ed had the audacity to even try to get their business.
Where did he get the guts to attempt such a stunt?
Ed Sabol Was Ready, Really Ready
Consider this: Ed had been filming his son’s football games for 15 years. He shot from interesting angles and got unique perspectives on the game — one of his favorite filming locations was from the roof of a school building that towered over the field.
In fact, Ed might have had more experience filming football than anyone else in the country at that time. So when the NFL opportunity arrived, Ed’s 10,000 hours behind a camera gave him all the confidence and skills he needed.
During Ed’s tenure, he brought Hollywood sensibilities to the filming of NFL football. He used slow motion, tight shots of the players’ faces, original orchestral music, a gift for storytelling, and John Facenda’s remarkable narration.
Ed moved the NFL from highlight reels to movie-quality filmmaking and in the process created a new genre. His vision helped make the NFL what it is today — arguably the most successful professional sports league in the world.
Would You Be Ready?
Ed’s story inspires me to look at the world differently. I’m asking myself these questions:
• What’s the equivalent in my life of Ed’s NFL gambit?
• What can I do today to be prepared for that life-changing opportunity?
• What would I be willing to bid to get that contract?
What’s Your Ed Sabol Opportunity?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.