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Ed Sabol is highlight of the 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame class

Sabol founded NFL Films and forever changed the way the world watches football. He will be inducted along with Shannon Sharpe, Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Richard Dent, Chris Hanburger and the late Les Richter.

August 05, 2011|Sam Farmer
  • Steve and Ed Sabol, founders of NFL Films, in Tampa, Fla., for Super Bowl XXV, which the New York Giants won by defeating the Buffalo Bills, 20 - 19.
Steve and Ed Sabol, founders of NFL Films, in Tampa, Fla., for Super Bowl… (Al Messerschmidt / Getty…)

Reporting from Canton, Ohio — It isn't Shannon Sharpe striking an Incredible Hulk pose after scoring a touchdown.

Not Marshall Faulk picking up an exhausted teammate and dragging him to the line of scrimmage to keep a two-minute drill going.

Not Deion Sanders high-stepping into the end zone, or Richard Dent crushing another quarterback.

The true human highlight film in this Pro Football Hall of Fame class is 94-year-old Ed Sabol, the onetime overcoat salesman who shaped the NFL as we know it.

Sabol, who founded NFL Films and forever changed the way the world watches football, will complete his decades-overdue journey to Canton on Saturday, when he'll be inducted with a class that includes Sharpe, Faulk, Sanders, Dent, Chris Hanburger and the late Les Richter.

Perhaps it's fitting that the formal recognition of Sabol's contribution was in slow motion, just the way his crews have shot game action since the early 1960s.

Sabol will be presented by his son, Steve, president of NFL Films, who is battling a brain tumor.

Every year, a new crop of players enters the Hall. But Sabol's enshrinement is as much about the people on the outside as those who actually played the game.

"He's a legend, what he brought to the table, what he brought to the game," Sanders said of Sabol. "Still to this day, NFL Films plays a major role in shaping our thought process of the game of football, and allowing you to get a closer glimpse of each player and team, coaches."

Not everyone in this class has that same perspective. Dent, for instance, thinks NFL Films could have done more to recognize his contribution to the game. Hanburger doesn't even watch pro football anymore. And Richter retired after the 1962 season, the same year Sabol bought the rights to film the 1962 NFL championship game between the New York Giants and Green Bay Packers — a $3,000 expense that launched his film empire.

But other Hall of Famers have come to embrace NFL Films, which was the first to put microphones on coaches, players and officials; the first to use reverse-angle replay; the first to score footage with music (much of it original), and the first to create blooper reels, which have been wildly popular with generations of fans.

Jack Youngblood, Hall of Fame defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams, said what he once viewed as intrusive — cameras on the sidelines, in locker rooms and hovering over huddles — he now sees as invaluable, the essential chronicling of an era gone by.

"It was bothersome, because that was a distraction," Youngblood said. "They came to me a couple times and said, 'We're going to wire you and film you.' And I said, 'Well, stay out of my way. Because there's a routine here and things I've got to prepare for, and I don't need any outside interference.' It used to be a burden, a necessity I guess that you were required to do it and be compliant."

And, yes, he did trample some of those film crews.

"Oh, yeah," he said, "Especially the nut case holding the sound equipment. He was the least athletic of them all. He'd go, 'Ahhhh!' and you'd just run over him.

"You don't want to hurt somebody, because they're totally unprepared for this. They're all little-bitty fat people who can't get out of their own way in the first place, and you're running about 35 mph."

A charging Youngblood might have tried to sidestep a cameraman in his path as much as he could. As for the microphone under his jersey, though, he didn't let that alter his path in the least. That's one of the things that made him so entertaining.

"They had to bleep it a bunch," he said. "There were probably more bleeps than there were legitimate words."

Now, through the long lens of time, Youngblood has a new appreciation of what NFL Films means to the league, what it means to untold millions of fans.

"What a contribution," he said. "What a vision."

So Saturday, he and countless others will relish seeing a true visionary — a human highlight film — who never pulled on a helmet for an NFL game, pull on a gold jacket anyway.

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