It was a pleasant surprise to read that 94 year old Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films is being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH this weekend as a contributor. Sabol only turbocharged the success of the NFL with his artful, loving, slo mo recreations of the game’s greatest plays each week — in so doing, he built his own successful NFL franchise, one of the region’s top film production companies (including corporate videos and tv commercials), while boosting the game’s popularity over all other professional sports. The NFL owes Ed Sabol a huge debt of gratitude. Not sure what took them so long to recognize his achievement, but it’s great that they finally have.
Unfortunately, a different kind of repayment has been coming in the form of NFL Networks, which has been trading on the NFL Films brand, while letting its style and content languish over the past few years. Two recent articles at Philly.com highlight Sabol’s long overdue honor and the current sad state of affairs at both NFL Films and NFL Network.
Compound the bad NFL Networks business decisions with the fact that Ed’s son, Steve Sabol, who has run NFL Films since 1995, has been recently diagnosed with brain cancer and you have a company and brand that is battling to regain its glory days. Best wishes to Steve Sabol who doesn’t deserve this fight on top of battling cancer — working with others at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society who have loved ones or co-workers currently battling blood cancers has taught me how tough it is to focus on much else.
But NFL Films have had other losses in recent years. Great voiceover work has always distinguished them, starting with the golden pipes of John Facenda, who became synonymous with the Sunday week-in-review replay presentations. When John passed away, NFL Films was astute enough to enlist Phillies broadcaster Harry Kalas, also no slouch in the magical vocal chords and flawless delivery department. With Harry’s passing, there has been no obvious voiceover legend to create “theater of the mind” moments. With such signature talent, NFL Films has lost large blocks of other employees, dropping from over 300 to 215. Among them, the great writer and commentator. Ray Didinger, whose encyclopedic knowledge and analytical skills of NFL player personnel, history, rules, news, and trends is a gaping hole that NFL Films is hard pressed to fill.
Reading about NFL Films made me sad — Ed Sabol deserved this Canton honor long before now, his company is struggling, his son is battling cancer, and it sounds like a Philadelphia area treasure is in danger of getting further marginalized. We need NFL Films now more than ever — the Eagles appear to be poised to make another SuperBowl run (and hopefully win a championship this time). It would be a shame if NFL Films was not operating at peak performance to chronicle the coming season.