Remembering Steve Sabol, NFL Films President

When someone you admire passes away, it gives you a chance to reflect. When it’s someone that millions of other people also admire, it’s hard not to feel a certain kinship with those also in reflection.

NFL Films President Steve Sabol passed away yesterday at the age of 69 from brain cancer. He was one of the greater Philadelphia area’s proudest sons. His accomplishments in NFL Films cannot be understated; along with the legendary voice of John Facenda, his artistry in film was instrumental in romanticizing, stylizing and ultimately elevating the National Football League to what it is today, far and away the most popular sport in the United States.

I was fortunate enough to meet Steve on a few occasions at NFL Films headquarters: Once while working with former Eagle wide receiver Irving Fryar, who was taking part in the inaugural NFL 101; with Jon Runyan, where he interviewed Jon and Michael Strahan on an NFL Network project; once at Threads Clothing Boutique while working with legendary running back Herschel Walker; and again at the Manayunk Arts Festival. His fabulous artwork—especially his collages—was another aspect of his multi-faceted artistic talent. He saw and used the NFL as an allegory for broader popular culture in America, and was never not thinking from an artist’s perspective, whether he was collaging or creating iconic films.

Steve couldn’t have been more gracious on that day in Manayunk, speaking with me for nearly an hour about a plethora of topics. I bought two of his collages that day and they’ll always be hanging in my house as a reminder of Steve’s unparallelled talent, vision and intelligence, not to mention his tireless work ethic, even in the face of cancer—Sabol continued to work after his March 2011 diagnosis up until his death. Inspiring.

—Craig Kaplan