MINNEAPOLIS -- It's easy now, in an era of postgame locker room videos, sideline microphones and round-the-clock sound bites, to take for granted how profound an idea it once was to let fans get close to the NFL, to present the game as a mythic drama largely by humanizing it.
The work of Ed Sabol and his son Steve, through a fledgling enterprise called NFL Films, had a major hand in turning the NFL into the country's most popular league. The company's production of the 1962 NFL Championship Game at Yankee Stadium was its first, and its films helped deepen the love that brothers Mark and Zygi Wilf, now owners of the Minnesota Vikings, had for the New York Giants and the NFL.
The decision to put a microphone on Kansas City coach Hank Stram during Super Bowl IV, in which the Chiefs defeated the Vikings, produced some of the most famous sound bites in NFL history. And the iconic shots of Bud Grant's stoic visage, unmoved by the bitter cold at Met Stadium, helped build the lore of the greatest teams in Vikings history.
When Ed Sabol died Monday at the age of 98, his place in NFL history was clear. He and Steve Sabol had been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011, and his passing brought about a fresh round of tributes from figures like the Wilfs, who saluted Sabol for what his work meant to them.
"Ed had a vision for bringing NFL content to fans in unique ways, and his innovative ideas helped grow the passion and support for this game," Mark and Zygi Wilf said in a statement. "On a personal level, his creativity also strongly contributed to our family’s love for the NFL. On behalf of the Minnesota Vikings, our condolences go out to the Sabol family.”
NFL Films' work on Grant's teams of the 1960s and 1970s is harder to find now, but the company maintains a catalog of its old programs for purchase on its website.
There is a charming simplicity in the old clips, like this famous footage of Stram from Super Bowl IV, but it's important to remember how groundbreaking NFL Films' methods were at the time. Everything we watch now, from "Monday Night Football" to modern Olympics coverage and highlight shows, owes something to the Sabols' approach, and their legacy is unmistakable.
We'll close with one funny Vikings story, as it relates to NFL Films. As the Canton Repository wrote in 2011, NFL Films approached Grant before Super Bowl IV about putting a microphone on him for the game. Grant, recalled Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson, told the Sabols in so many words "where they can put the wire." The next fall, after Stram's footage had made the rounds, the Chiefs opened the season with the Vikings and lost 27-10.
"I don’t think their feet hit the ground when they came onto the field,” Dawson told the newspaper. “I got the story that Bud Grant showed the team the highlight the day of the game.”