There are a lot of people with better insight than I about Steve Sabol, who passed away at age 69.
People who knew him better, talked to him regularly, were more involved with the incredible legacy he left along with his father at NFL Films.
I spoke to him a handful of times over the years, working on one story or another. The one I remember most was in around 2000, when Jon Gruden was all the rage and NFL Films had done some great work showing “Chucky” to the masses.
I told him I would only take a few minutes of his time, and it turned out to be closer to half-an-hour _ an eternity for most newspaper interviews where you’re basically looking for a few quotes to fill out a story.
The story had to do with how big Gruden had become with all the facial expressions and sideline theatrics. Talked to players, people in the advertising business about Gruden’s marketability, the whole deal.
Sabol was easily the most fun to talk to and the most illuminating. “The way I see Jon Gruden is like he’s a lion tamer, and he snaps his whip and the cats are on the stools.”
He told me Gruden was the most telegenic and one of the most charismatic coaches he’d ever filmed.
Remember thinking at the time I could easily envision the “cats are on the stools” line being being included in an NFL Films piece.“ Sure enough, at one point, it happened.
Sabol was surprised how easy it was to put Gruden on a microphone and get virtually unlimited access. A lot of that had to do with Gruden, who loved the attention, but I’m sure Al Davis knew it was happening and signed off because of who was handling it.
It was Sabol, after all, who penned “The Autumn Wind is a Raider,” which essentially became a club anthem and is played with regularity at the Coliseum.
Nobody cared more about the legacy of the Raiders and the NFL than Davis, and so many of the works of NFL Films were priceless in glorifying the brand.
During our phone coversation, and one or two that followed, Sabol was always curious about Davis, the organization, how it was functioning. It was his job to chronicle the NFL and the work he and his father did through NFL Films in promoting their sport is unmatched in the annals of sport.
With highlights, results and everything about the NFL essentially available with the touch of a keystroke, NFL Films still gets great access and does good work but it can’t possibly have the kind of impact it had while the Sabols were introducing what would become the quintessential American sport to the public.
Any historical perspective on the NFL includes Steve Sabol as major player.