NFL Films President Steve Sabol, the artistic vision behind the studio that revolutionized the way professional football games are chronicled, has died after an 18-month battle with brain cancer. He was 69.
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said that for the past five decades, Sabol was the creative force behind the “unique brand of storytelling and cinematography that brought America closer to the game of football.”
The death was announced today by the league on its website. It didn’t say where Sabol died.
“His vision and innovation helped make him a pioneer the likes of which the NFL has never seen before and won’t see again,” NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said. “The players of the NFL are indebted to Steve for his immense contributions to advancing our game and helping make the fan experience as great as it is.”
Sabol learned in March 2011 that he had an inoperable brain tumor. Five months later, he was the introductory speaker when his father Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at the age of 95.
NFL Films, based in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, has won more than 100 Emmy Awards, with Steve Sabol receiving 40 of those for writing, cinematography, editing, directing and producing. In 2003, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
“Steve’s passion for football was matched by his incredible talent and energy,” Goodell said in a statement. “Steve’s legacy will be part of the NFL forever.”
Stephen Douglas Sabol was born in Philadelphia on Oct. 2, 1942.
As an All-Rocky Mountain Conference running back at Colorado College and a movie buff who majored in art history, Sabol was “uniquely qualified to make football movies,” his father once said, according to the NFL Network. He started his career in 1964 as a cameraman working for his father’s company.
Steve Sabol spent the next 50 years working for the NFL and transformed the way NFL Films chronicled games, incorporating super-slow motion, wireless microphones on players, reverse-angle replays, so-called follies films of bizarre plays and custom-composed musical scores.
In 2007, the Pro Football Hall of Fame honored Sabol with the Dan Reeves Pioneer Award, which recognizes innovative ideas that have contributed to the game of professional football.
“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,” Goodell said.
An accomplished collage artist, Sabol had exhibitions at galleries in New York; Washington; Miami; Fort Worth, Texas; and Moorestown, New Jersey.
Sabol is survived by his wife, Penny; a son, Casey; his sister, Blair; and his parents. The league statement didn’t contain any mention of services.