Starkey: NFL Films followed brilliant script
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Cue voice of God, aka John Facenda): Cliff Harris celebrated the kicker's misfortunes with glee, but No. 58, Jack Lambert, quickly came to the rescue.
If that NFL Films classic — the documentary of Super Bowl X — came on right now, tell me you wouldn't watch to the end, even if you'd seen it 37 times before.
I'd watch it, too. That and dozens of others, from bloopers to “The Magic Bean” to just about anything produced in the 1960s and '70s by NFL Films, which lost its creative light Tuesday when Steve Sabol died of brain cancer at age 69.
Sabol wrote the brilliant scripts, and in that way, his legacy compares to Myron Cope's: Both will be remembered for so many things, including their gregarious personalities, but their true talent was writing.
(Cue voice of God, as camera pans to Johnny Unitas running onto the field) … With his famous passing arm no more than a tattered memory, he could offer only a fighting heart and a will to win.
I've spent a tragic portion of my existence watching those shows. NFL Films was the first enterprise to take sports fans where we all wanted to go: down where the players and coaches roam.
As I wrote this at a South Hills coffee shop, I asked a random 50-something man if he remembered watching NFL Films.
“I grew up in an Italian neighborhood in Greensburg, where football was huge,” said Vince Rause of Mt. Lebanon. “You watched NFL Films, and it became more than sports. It was like mythology, like a hero story. It's not a game you try to win; it's part of a saga.”
Sabol wrote elegantly, sparsely, humorously ...
Far, far away, in a kingdom on the coast, there was a little prince who made a mighty boast. I'll throw that bean he said, and straight I'll make it go. There's no doubt about it, said the boy named Broadway Joe.
Most importantly, Sabol knew he wasn't the show.
“He reminded me of a great songwriter,” said Greg Cosell, executive producer at NFL Films. “He was able to say something profound in as few words as possible. He understood that in a visual medium, you want visuals to truly tell the story. The words still mean a lot, but they shouldn't overwhelm the visuals.”
Could somebody please hand that quote to everybody working in sports television these days?
Sabol's father, Ed, founded NFL Films. Facenda, a Philadelphia newsman, became the voice many of us periodically will summon until the day we die. So it's easy to forget the quality of the lyrics ...
If Miami's offense was dead, its defense, like Edgar Allan Poe's tell-tale heart, was still beating, keeping the Dolphins' hopes for victory alive.
Cosell, a respected NFL analyst and nephew of iconic broadcaster Howard Cosell, was at his NFL Films office Wednesday dealing with heartbreak but forging ahead. The way Steve Sabol always did. Steve was his mentor. They worked together for 30 years.
“It's a tough time around here,” Cosell said. “But knowing Steve, he'd think it was great this happened during football season because people could focus on football instead of worrying about him.”
My lone interaction with Steve Sabol occurred in 2005, upon the death of ex-Kansas City Chiefs coach Hank Stram. I wondered if Sabol would take my call. Turned out I couldn't get him off the phone. He told of how he and his father had visited Stram at the Chiefs' hotel in New Orleans, the day before Super Bowl IV, to ask if he'd wear a mic during the game.
“If The Mentor is going to wear a microphone for NFL Films,” Stram told them, referring to himself, “some coin of realm is going to have to change hands. The Mentor wants some dead presidents.”
Ed Sabol offered $250, to which the always-dapper Stram responded, “Two hundred and fifty dollars won't even pay for The Mentor's dry cleaning.”
The sides agreed on $750. Stram delivered an Academy Award-worthy performance.
I told Cosell of my conversation with Steve Sabol and how Sabol recounted with boyish enthusiasm a story he must have told 500 times prior.
“And you know what?” Cosell said. “He probably enjoyed that conversation more than you did.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Miami (Fla.) gets prepared to take on ‘physical’ Pitt team
- Four helicopters respond to Route 51 crash in Rostraver
- Alpine touring skiing movement faces uphill climb in Western Pa.
- Steelers notebook: Linebacker Timmons hoping for contract extension
- Leechburg boys set to go up-tempo
- Donegal VFW to host Hunters Breakfast on opening day
- Penguins 4th line is showing promise
- District Game of the Week: Assumption at Slippery Rock
- Newsmaker: Kostas Pelechrinis
- EPA works on algae rules to protect from toxins found in lakes, rivers
- Leechburg girls set out to build on breakout season