SCOTT SIMON, host: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Next week, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, will induct its newest members. Ed Sabol is among them. He's the man who helped turn football into high drama and the NFL into the most watched pro sports league in the nation. Amanda Rabinowitz of member station WKSU has more on Ed Sabol's NFL films.


AMANDA RABINOWITZ: The theme music, the images of Vince Lombardi's frozen breath as he calls out plays, Joe Namath raising his hand in victory after winning the Super Bowl - NFL films brought Hollywood to pro football and football to America's living rooms.

The Hall of Fame's Joe Horrigan says games watched in black-and-white with dull commentary became vibrant dramas, mimicking opera and ballet.

JOE HORRIGAN: Seeing the athletes in this slow going up and grabbing a ball out of the air, their knees flying high as they're running through the line of scrimmage, and then the spiral - the ball spiraling through the air, that was something that became a trademark.

RABINOWITZ: That technique was Ed Sabol's vision. He was an overcoat salesman whose small company first filmed the NFL championship in 1962. Two years later, the NFL bought the company and renamed it NFL Films. Sabol then began recording every game and producing highlight movies marked by dramatic music, narration and close-up shots.

Sabol, now 94, is hard of hearing and doesn't give interviews. But he gave plenty of direction in the early days. One of his first producers, Bob Ryan, says Sabol told the crew to film everything that moved.

BOB RYAN: You saw the eyes, you saw the hands, you saw the feet. We took people places that they'd never been through our camerawork and our sound work.

RABINOWITZ: Those people included fans like Sterling Wheeler, who recently watched a film at the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

STERLING WHEELER: Particularly for a wild-eyed, eager kid from the hood, looking, wow, that's what I want to do or at least idolized those guys, because see, we didn't have tickets. So through the films, it brought football into a whole new spotlight.

RABINOWITZ: Even the narration of Sabol's films had a Hollywood flair with the so-called Voice of God, Philadelphia newscaster John Facenda.

JOHN FACENDA: It starts with a whistle and ends with a gun - 60 minutes of close-in action from kickoff to touchdown. This is pro football.

RABINOWITZ: And that distinctive sound extended to the sidelines. NFL Films was the first to mike the players and coaches.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Everybody grabbing out there. Nobody tackles. Just grabbing, everybody. Grab, grab, grab. Nobody tackles. Take your shoulders (Unintelligible) out there.

RABINOWITZ: A thousand miles of film are stored at NFL Films Studios in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and it keeps growing, because even in the digital age, NFL Films insists on shooting on film.

For NPR News, I'm Amanda Rabinowitz.


SIMON: This is NPR News.

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