Necessity is the mother of all invention. For years, Steve Sabol of NFL Films came up with some of the best highlight packages to document the always growing and changing game of football and nearly all of its unique personalties.
Sadly, Sabol passed away on Tuesday at age 69 after battling brain cancer. As tough and devastating as his loss is for the football community as a whole, thankfully, everybody who's left behind will still get to enjoy a virtual library of his work for decades to come.
For me, Sabol's attention to detail and creativity is best personified in a Detroit Lions themed video from the early 1990s. On a "This is the NFL" segment, Sabol explains that players and teams often times have distinct musical styles where video editing is concerned. Jerry Rice, he says, is best represented by a symphony. The Atlanta Falcons are rap. But what to do with Barry Sanders and his unique style? Sabol and his composers set out to answer that question.
The result was pure 90s. A blend of several different melodies—each of which personified Sanders' juke and jive style on the field. Interspersed were quotes about Sanders being one of the great running backs in football. Also mashed in are play by play calls, each of which contain perfect Barry buzzwords. "Broke a tackle," "unbelievable," "cuts it outside" and "cuts it inside" were the right descriptors to go along with the funky music. It was a small piece of artistic genius.
Just like Sanders, Sabol's career was defined by always coming up with something new and exciting to wow the audience. It was all about music, presentation and drama. Without Sabol's touch, the game would never have become what it is today. Stars like Sanders and Rice would never have the perfect sound tracks to define them, and teams like the Oakland Raiders would lack extra personality. Harry Kalas and John Facenda would sound like ordinary voices instead of something so much more dramatic and chilling.
In 1994, Sabol made Sanders his NFL Films player of the year, despite the fact the Lions had endured yet another heartbreaking playoff loss. Sanders himself was bottled up that day, gaining only -1 yards. To Sabol and company, that didn't matter. Sanders was still the perfect highlight reel to marvel at, and wonderful entertainment no matter the score or ineptness of his team.
That's what football is all about. For decades, Sabol and his team have embraced that notion, presenting some of the best and funniest highlights, videos and commentary on the game. Unfortunately, Sabol is gone. His style, however, is not. His influence will continue to shape the game forever.
In a final twist of fate, Sabol ended up being right years ago when he wrote The Autumn Wind, his much beloved poem. The autumn wind was a pirate blistering in from sea, and it ended up taking Sabol too soon. Despite that, the autumn wind is not laughing today. It's mournful.
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