Football is carrying Sabol through tough times; more draft education
Steve Sabol, battling a brain tumor, wants to attend his father's HOF induction
Ten things I learned about the draft this week; Jon Gruden's latest project
Quotes of the Week, Stat of the Week, 10 Things I Think I Think and more
MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. -- Very quiet in Laborville, isn't it? And aren't we all happy about that? Ten days before the draft begins, I've got a draft-education MMQB, and you're going to get to know about players you might not know now (Jimmy Smith, Ricky Stanzi, Ryan Williams) but must get schooled on before the big weekend.
I've got Bill Belichick with Mark Ingram in his back pocket, Jon Gruden lecturing Jake Locker, Houston lusting after Patrick Peterson, Seattle lusting to trade down, Jeff Fisher lusting to climb four miles into the sky, Boomer Esiason slap-shooting the Flying Squirrels, Phil Simms tirading against numbers, and a polite Marcell Dareus returning a phone call three times.
Quite an action-packed column for the middle of April.
But I begin down the New Jersey Turnpike in an office park 40 minutes outside of Philly, with a man about to get very emotional.
Steve Sabol is about as upbeat as anyone in his shoes could ever be.
I walked into Steve Sabol's office at NFL Films the other day, stuck my hand out to shake his, and he said, "No. Come here.''
He gave me a bear hug.
"What you and your readers have done,'' he said, refusing to let go, his voice halting. "Nine thousand letters they've sent me! Nine thousand! From everywhere! Fathers and sons. I never knew ... Now I'm gonna start to cry.'' And then he couldn't speak for a moment.
Take a bow, MMQB readers and Twitter followers, and accept a huge thank you from Sabol, the 68-year-old czar of NFL Films who has a brain tumor that caused a seizure and a case of voice-altering aphasia.
Now don't think that Sabol can't talk well. He can. The voice is strong and unmistakably Sabol. He sounds 90 percent of the time precisely like the voice of NFL Films that you have all grown to know and respect so much. But there are times, when he gets tired or emotional or spent, when his speech is garbled. He sounded great to me in our 45 minutes together, but he said two or three times, "You should have heard me yesterday. Almost perfect.''
At one point during our talk, Mike Mayock walked into the office and the two men hugged the way Sabol had hugged me. Years ago, Sabol urged him to move from commercial real estate, a job that made Mayock unhappy, to analyzing football, which made him deliriously happy. Now Mayock reminded him, and Sabol sat down at the chair behind his desk, and the garbled words came in droves. Too emotional.
What I found most amazing about Sabol is his desire to talk about everything. I mean, anything I wanted to bring up, he welcomed. He's undergoing chemotherapy and radiation at a Philadelphia hospital to try to shrink the very dangerous tumor in his brain.
"I've got to ask you something morbid,'' I said.
"Good!'' he said. "Ask me anything!''
"What's the prognosis?'' I said. "Are you going to make it?''
"I don't know,'' he said. "I haven't asked. I don't want to know.''
But he did tell one of his doctors he had to make it until August, when the Pro Football Hall of Fame will induct his father, Ed, the founder of NFL Films. "You'll make it,'' the doc said. Talk about buoying Steve Sabol's spirits.
Steve Sabol's always been a great storyteller, obviously. And when he got the news about the tumor, and realized he'd had a serious seizure last month, the storyteller in him began to percolate. His dad had been elected to the Hall of Fame in February; for son Steve, who took over the family business and made it even greater, it was a life highlight.
And now that's what he wanted to talk about. The story.
"For a company that prides itself on telling good stories,'' Sabol said, "This is one hell of a story. I mean, isn't it? Dad makes the Hall of Fame. Son's going to be his presenter. Son gets a brain tumor. Now the story is, Is the son going to be there? Will the son make it? What a great story this is going to be, however it turns out.''
I think we both had goosebumps right about then.
Out of the blue he said, "Who knows? I could be around until the Super Bowl in New York. But I've had a lot of time to think. People talk about heaven now. When things like this happen, you think about things like heaven. But the amount of years I've had on earth -- ''
Sabol has trouble saying most numbers. So now he writes his age on a yellow Post-It note, "68,'' and shows it to me.
"So they talk about heaven,'' he said, "and I don't know what is waiting for me up there. But I can tell you this: Nothing will happen up there that can duplicate my life down here. Nothing. That life cannot be better than the one I've lived down here, the football life. It's been perfect.
"The people who've written,'' he said. "They're amazing. It just shows you what football means to people. The coaches who've used our films to inspire their kids. The fathers, the sons, the people from all over the world, the people who've grown up wanting to make movies because they've watched our films. The letters, we've got them all stacked up. And from everyone in football. It's just so emotional.''
All Sabol can do now is take his treatments and hope the tumor shrinks enough to give him his normal life back. He held up a CD case, "The Power and the Glory: The Original Music and Voices of NFL Films.''
When Sabol goes to his hospital for radiation and chemo, he's allowed to pick his music for the time he's alone in the room. He handed the nurse this CD, with the famous NFL Films music, with John Facenda sometimes ominously and sometimes hopefully intoning the scripts that made Films famous. When Sabol starts the CD in the radiation chamber, this is what he hears from Facenda: "Professional football in America is a special game, a unique game, played nowhere else on earth. It is a rare game. The men who play it make it so.'' And so on.
"You know when Sabol's being radiated!'' Sabol said with a big smile. "You can hear this through the walls!''
Oh, we'll hear it through the walls for a long, long time.
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