As NFL fever grips us with the start of another season, it’s hard to believe that 50 years ago, professional football was so insignificant that Ed Sabol, an overcoat salesman who filmed his son’s high school games as a hobby, won the rights to film the 1962 NFL Championship game for only $5,000.
It took a three-martini lunch with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to seal the deal, and less than three years later this humble little video shop became NFL Films.
The NFL Films formula of slow motion collisions, multiple camera angles, soaring musical backdrops, and crisp, alliterative narrations turned a mere sporting event into a choreographed piece of riveting theatre. As Ed’s son, Steve, said in a 2008 interview online, “I think what we have done is we brought a mythology to the game. When we started, football had a tradition but we gave it a visual mythology.”
NFL Films discovered a new and powerful way to tell a story, which allowed the NFL to introduce itself to a broader audience, differentiate itself from other major sports and serve as a key catalyst for its surging popularity.