It did not immediately occur to Ed—or Audrey—that all this whirring might have commercial value. In fact, for the next 20 years Sabol settled down to what some have called "making a respectable living." Sabol hated it. He bought a house in Philadelphia and worked for his father-in-law, at the time one of the biggest makers of men's topcoats in the country. It was honest work, and lucrative, but Sabol, impulsive as ever and still eager for action, was frustrated. "Can you imagine looking forward to a trip to the dentist?" he asked. "Every day? For 20 years?"
One day in 1956 Sabol looked in a mirror. He saw that his red hair was growing gray, and that his trim athlete's body was getting flabby. "What am I doing?" he asked himself and answered immediately, "Going in circles." Like that, at the age of 40, he retired—but not to rest. Sabol had retired to speed up. He set out to see all the things there were to see, do all the things there were to do, to stuff himself—to excess—with all the action and excitement he could find.
Step one was learning to fly. Sabol swooped down on a Texas flight school, flew five hours aloft every day for two weeks and roared out at the controls of his own brand-new Cessna. Next came travel. Off went the Sabols to Japan and back they came with plans for an Oriental house, to be built in the middle of the Tudor grandeur of Philadelphia's Main Line. Sabol gave his architect a free hand but did specify that the house had to have a 12-foot bar and a bathtub eight feet long, eight feet wide and two feet deep.
Of all the postretirement indulgences, puttering around with his movie camera, which he had never really given up during his so-called working days, was the one that gave Sabol the biggest kick. On an impulse he flew to Nassau and buzzed the Bahamas for a week, piloting with one hand and firing the camera with the other. Now, everybody knows how ridiculous a home movie can be, even under ordinary circumstances. Imagine a movie shot single-handed from a plane: upside-down sand spits, horizontal palm trees, blurred instrument panel. Sabol's film not only was free of such piffle, it was so well conceived and beautifully done that it was bought by the Bahama Development Board for use as a tourist come-on.
Another time Sabol set his tripod up beside a Howard Johnson motel that was abuilding. Every day, at the same time, he filmed developments until the motel was finished. Then Sabol got the division manager in front of his home screen. To the latter's astonishment, an entire Howard Johnson motel sprang out of the ground in full color, blossoming blue and orange two minutes after construction was begun. Sabol sold that film, too.
Like fathers everywhere, Sabol was enthralled with the antics of his son, and the first recorded adventures of Steve Sabol—who was later to gain notoriety himself as Sudden Death Sabol, the self-proclaimed "Fearless Tot from Possum Trot" (SI, Nov. 22, 1965)—were of him making a bubble. Eventually, when Steve began playing football in prep school, his father was right there with his camera. But what interested him most was not the play of his son, which was good enough to eventually earn him all-conference honors as a fullback at Colorado College, but the game itself. Even on a prep school level, the violence and the color of football became irresistible to Sabol. He had always enjoyed watching the game; now, to get a better angle of the action, Sabol had a rickety tower built 25 feet above the field at Haverford School and, ignoring its tendency to sway in alarming arcs during high winds, spent hours grinding away.
At precisely this time—1959—Ed Sabol came to another fateful decision: to unretire. "I was dropping out of things," he said. "I was getting frantic. If you're not part of something, I mean a business, or you're not creating, you are forever an onlooker—never a participant. Meanwhile I had this wild scheme..."
The scheme had been brewing for several months. Sabol had met Dan Endy, who was then working for an undernourished company making NFL game films, solemn reruns of the week's plays to the accompaniment of Sousa marches. Sabol and Endy had talked for hours, mulling over what had been done in football and what had not been tried. Sabol thought all the football films he had ever seen had been unimaginative and terrible. "My God, what you could do with color," he told Endy. "And that music. Why not get the Tijuana Brass...?"
"Wait a minute," Endy would say. "I agree, I agree. But do you realize how much all that would cost?" To that Sabol, who had never been known to scrimp on anything, would reply "Bah. You remember the quality long after you forget the price."
Equipped with nothing more than ideas and his amateur standing, Sabol had the gall to bid for the right to film the 1962 championship game of the National Football League. The morning before the sealed bids were to be opened in New York, Sabol walked up and down Broadway desperately anxious over the outcome. As usual, he had committed himself completely to the project. The 1961 championship game had gone for the grand total of $5,000. Sabol had sounded out Endy, who agreed it was a good idea to offer $7,000. Sabol had thought an instant and said: "Dan, let's not blow it. We'll go whole hog. We'll try $12,500."