Sabol, NFL Films president and innovator, dies from brain cancer

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NEW YORK — NFL Films President Steve Sabol, half of the father-son team that revolutionized sports broadcasting and mythologized pro football into the country’s favorite sport, died Tuesday from brain cancer. He was 69.

In March 2011, Sabol was diagnosed with a tumor on the left side of his brain after being hospitalized for a seizure.

He started working with his father, Ed — NFL Films’ founder — in 1964, and they introduced a series of innovations now taken for granted today, from slow-motion replays to sticking microphones on coaches and players.

“Steve Sabol was the creative genius behind the remarkable work of NFL Films,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement from the league confirming Sabol’s death. “Steve’s passion for football was matched by his incredible talent and energy. Steve’s legacy will be part of the NFL forever. He was a major contributor to the success of the NFL, a man who changed the way we look at football and sports, and a great friend.”

Ed Sabol was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year. The two received the Lifetime Achievement Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2003.

“We see the game as art as much as sport,” Steve Sabol told The Associated Press before his father’s Hall induction. “That helped us nurture not only the game’s traditions but to develop its mythology: America’s Team, The Catch, The Frozen Tundra.”

Sabol received 35 Emmys for writing, cinematography, editing, directing and producing. No one else had ever earned that many Emmys in as many different categories.

He began his career as a cinematographer under his father. He was the perfect fit for the job: an all-Rocky Mountain Conference running back at Colorado College majoring in art history.

The Sabols treated sport as film and changed the way Americans watched and perceived games. Their advances included everything from reverse angle replays to setting highlights to pop music.

“Today of course those techniques are so common it’s hard to imagine just how radical they once were,” the younger Sabol told the AP last year. “Believe me, it wasn’t always easy getting people to accept them, but I think it was worth the effort.”

An accomplished collage artist, Sabol exhibited at the ArtExpo in New York, the Avant Gallery in Miami, the Govinda Gallery in Washington, the Milan Gallery in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Garth Davidson Gallery in Moorestown, N.J.

It was Steve’s high school football games in Philadelphia that gave Ed his only experience filming sports before he won the rights to chronicle the 1962 NFL championship game.


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