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Steve Sabol: Five Ways the NFL Films Guru Influenced Pop Culture

Steve Sabol Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Steve Sabol, who died Tuesday of brain cancer at age 69, wasn't the founder of NFL Films, but he was its heart and soul. 

Here's a look at some of the ways Sabol helped his father, Ed Sabol, turn a $240,000 deal into a force that changed TV sports, the movies—and especially Sundays:

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1. The Mythology: The 1965 deal struck between the league and the Sabols, who committed to documenting every NFL game of every NFL team, helped transform a game into a religion, and highlight reels into drama, complete with tantalizing slow motion and, in the early years, "the voice of God," narrator John Facenda. The touch of the younger Sabol, who was a film buff as much as a football fan, was evident. "We've always tried to stir your emotions more than your mind," he once said. (Sabol, by the way, himself became the voice of NFL Films following Facenda's death in 1984.)

2. The Intimacy: Even as Sabol made the NFL larger-than-life, he brought viewers closer than ever to the game, enlisting coaches and players to wear in-game mics, a once-unprecedented practice. Years later, Hard Knocks, the popular NFL Films- and HBO-produced reality series that tracks a single team from training camp on, would give fans even more access. 

3.  The Wild Bunch—and More: As Sabol told it, director Sam Peckinpah based the epic, slow-motion carnage from The Wild Bunch's finale on NFL Films' Super Bowl II film. And, according to the New York Times, Ron Howard credited NFL Films with showing Hollywood how a montage was done.

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4.  The Bloopers: Yes, NFL Films is best known for his artful shots of mud-caked men huffing and puffing, but its light-hearted Football Follies "became the biggest-selling sports film ever and spawned an entire bloopers industry,'' Sabol said.

5. The Everything: Today, there is no bigger live-TV draw than the NFL. It dominates Sundays (and figures prominently in Mondays and Thursdays, too). This epic success story, Gregg Rosenthal wrote on the NFL's official Website today, "can't be told without Steve Sabol."

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