Michael MacCambridge's 2004 America's Game: The Epic Story of How Pro Football Captured a Nation:
So when his father called him at Colorado College with the news of the formation of NFL Films -- "I can tell by your grades that all you've been doing with your time is watching movies and playing football; that makes you perfectly qualified for this new venture" -- it wasn't just nepotism. Steve Sabol turned out to be more of a natural than anyone could have imagined.
After the early success of NFL Films, the Sabols shot This is Pro Football, a documentary that would attempt to capture the broad appeal of the sport and the power of NFL Films. The film began with a montage of close-in football action, made more vivid by the sounds of contact, and interspersed with close-ups of men sweating, bleeding, resting exhausted on the sidelines. Over these pictures came a rich, resonant voice, saying, in deep, measured cadences, "It starts with a whistle . . . and ends with a bang." The words, crisp, staccato, more evocative than expository, were from the pen of Steve Sabol. The voice, the deep, stentorian tones that to Steve Sabol sound like "the fall of Dunkirk," belonged to a veteran Philadelphia newsman named John Facenda.
"He was an old, craggy-faced, weather-beaten guy," recalled Steve Sabol, "who had this great, oaken delivery. I had grown up with that voice as a kid, and I remembered him doing the news. Whenever he spoke, anybody that was in the room watching the news just listened." Facenda was a casual football fan who knew little of the game's ins and outs. But Steve Sabol, who usually wrote the scripts from which he read, was frequently coaching him. "He was an opera fan," recalled Sabol. "When we'd get to portions of the script that we really wanted to sound dramatic, he would write the word 'profundo.' ". . .
When the film premiered in 1967, pro football was still far behind baseball in the matter of myth, nostalgia, and lore. The "small ball" theory of literature, oft joked about but held in some respect, maintained that golf and baseball were the true literary, intellectual pursuits. But with This is Pro Football the league began to manufacture its own myth. . . .
"We are not journalists but romanticists," Steve Sabol would say later, and that distinction would make all the difference. As he would explain, "Even if we weren't owned by the NFL, we wouldn't be doing exposes about drugs and illegal betting. That's for Mike Wallace. Renoir would never have painted an execution. He left that to Goya."
Tags: Steve Sabol, John Facenda, NFL Films, America's Game, Michael MacCambridge