Jim Williams: NFL Films' Steve Sabol dies of cancer at age 69

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Sports,NFL,Jim Williams

Steve Sabol died at age 69 from brain cancer on Tuesday. The NFL Films president was diagnosed with a tumor in March 2011, and it was a battle he knew he was not going to beat. Until the end, Sabol never lost his signature sense of humor or his passion as a brilliant storyteller.

Back in 1962 at the age of 20, Sabol and his father, Ed, bid $4,000 for the rights to film the NFL championship game. They impressed commissioner Pete Rozelle so much that he convinced the NFL owners to buy into the company. That was the beginning of NFL Films. More than 100 Emmys later, the Mount Laurel, New Jersey, company remains the most creative and innovative in the sports production business.

In 2011, Ed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was a terrible mistake that Steve did not join his dad. Ed was the businessman who understood how to make films, and Steve was the creative force behind NFL Films.

I met Steve in the early 1980s and had the honor of calling him a friend. I will greatly miss his stories -- like when he had dinner at Vince Lombardi's house the night after the Green Bay Packers beat the Dallas Cowboys for the 1967 NFL championship. The Packers coach was more interested in telling Steve and Ed about his new putter he got for Christmas than talking about winning the title.

Then there was the time he and his father toured Europe, listening to symphonies to find just the right classical music for their films.

Over the years I worked on five projects with Steve and his team at NFL Films, including on a highlight film in 1984. I recall going into the editing booth with a 40-page script to start work with the "voice of God," John Facenda.

Steve laughed at me and said, "Remember with John, less is more so be ready to edit that script big time."

The script was cut in half, but the film was perfect in the end. Steve said to me: "Jimmy, drama is less about the words and more about the action with the right music. Let it build don't force it."

He was a great teacher, friend and a brilliant filmmaker who will be missed.

Examiner columnist Jim Williams is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning TV producer, director and writer. Check out his blog, Watch this!, on washingtonexaminer.com.

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