Sabol made straight for the Philadelphia Athletic Club and began huffing over the weights. He huffed so hard he boosted his weight from 180 back to 212 pounds, all with the encouragement of fellow club members Buddy Rogers and the then reigning Mr. America, Val Vasilieff. Both were impressed by the way Sabol's muscles began to bulge in the appropriate places. They urged him to enter the local body-beautiful contest. Sabol was game. He strutted and flexed and "Damned if I didn't win it. Do you know I'm actually Mr. Philadelphia now?"
Being named Mr. Philadelphia is not an honor Sabol is likely to exploit lightly, and what followed was 8-by-10 photographs showing himself all aripple and holding a spear. Underneath were his name and these modest words: "Acclaimed as the greatest new adventure hero of the year." The adventure hero was an inspiration derived from his enormous comic-book collection, featuring such alltime favorites as Mr. America and Batman. The pictures were immediately dispatched to editors, press agents and fans. (He has the mailing addresses of influential people well cataloged.)
Sabol considered this not a bad start on the year, but the nagging suspicion that some people back in Colorado were forgetting him gave Sudden Death a slight ulcer and fresh determination to do something about it. He dashed off to a printer and had stationery made with "Universal International" engraved on the letterhead and wrote: "You have been placed on Steve Sabol's mailing list and thus will be able to follow his movie career." Next came the information that Steve Sabol had been cast as a supporting actor in Universal's forthcoming film. Black Horse Troop ("I got the name from a march by John Philip Sousa"), starring William Holden, Steve McQueen and Eva Marie Saint—no less. The letter was stamped "Approved for immediate release by order of Central Casting." Sabol just happened to have such a stamp handy.
Using the instincts of a good press agent, Sabol did not send the letters to Colorado newsmen, who were developing the ability to smell synthetics. Instead they went to friends in Colorado Springs who were most likely to leak the news in the right places. It worked. Local columnists fell over themselves informing their readers that Sudden Death Sabol was Hollywood's newest star. "I must have had a hundred calls from people wanting to know if it's true Steve McQueen is really a fink," said Sabol. "I told them, 'Naw, he's really a great guy.'"
Last summer Sabol made another grand tour of Europe, and it was in Madrid that he was inspired anew. El Cordob�s, the current rage in bull fighting circles, had picture postcards of himself placed all over Spain. Thought Sabol: "Now, that's class." First thing he did when he returned home was to shell out $55 (financial support comes from his father) for a couple of crates of color postcards with himself in football togs. On the top at the back is:
STEVE "SUDDEN DEATH" SABOL
All-Time, All-Rocky Mountain football great
On the bottom it says simply: "The Prince of Pigskin Pageantry."
In September, Sabol came back to Colorado Springs in style—driving a flashy maroon convertible—and took up residence in a modest five-room apartment that goes for $200 a month and that he shares with no one. "I have this imagination, you see," says Sabol, "and it works better when I'm alone." Not that he is lonely. On the walls are huge pop art paintings of The Phantom, Flash Gordon and Mandrake the Magician, compliments of his mother. There is also a picture of Sudden Death signing with the Cleveland Browns for $375,000.
One of Sabol's favorite pictures has him surrounded by Alex Webster, Frank Clifford and Del Shofner with the inscription: "We need Sudden Death." The fact is, pro football may get him after he graduates next June if he can swing a job with his father, who produces the official color films of the National Football League's championship games.
"Football is such a great game," says Sabol, "but football players are so dull. I remember this one pregame film showing Mike Ditka demolishing some guy. Now, this is a great player. He's brutal. So do you know what he says when the commentator asks him to say something about the play? He sort of paws the ground, drops his head and says, 'Ah, I was lucky.' Now, surely after a guy makes a great play like Ditka did he can come up with something more colorful than that. Maybe they'll let me write stuff for the players and get them to say it on the shows. You know what I'd have Ditka say? 'Look at him. He's still breathing!' or something real colorful like that."