SI Vault
 
C. B. DeMille of the Pros
Tom C. Brody
November 20, 1967
Ed Sabol has what any football nut would consider the perfect job: filming games and picking the most exciting for weekly TV highlights
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 20, 1967

C. B. Demille Of The Pros

Ed Sabol has what any football nut would consider the perfect job: filming games and picking the most exciting for weekly TV highlights

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

Sabol and Endy, who by this time had become Blair Productions, had the high bid, by $2,500, and now it was NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle's turn to take a deep breath, or so Sabol thought. "I came to Pete with all these big, wild ideas," he said, "and a whole closetful of home movies to show as credits. He didn't know anything about me, my background, my drinking habits, anything. And high bid or not, he didn't have to give the game to Blair Productions."

Rozelle was not flustered. The filming of NFL games was considered small stuff next to TV. Movies of the championship game were something that owners amused their friends with and that booster clubs showed at Thursday night smokers. It was not the money in Sabol's offer that attracted Rozelle. Sabol proposed to use eight cameras—four more than were focused on the previous year's game. All were to employ color and varying degrees of slow motion and the best, most modern music Sabol could find. Two days later Sabol and Endy opened a letter bearing the NFL letterhead and beginning: "Congratulations."

"I let out a whoop," said Sabol, "grabbed Endy and waltzed him around the desk. For 10 minutes we were delirious. Then it hit us. Now that we had it, what did we do with it?" Sabol had wonderful ideas, all right, but what he had in fact was no photographers, no cameras, no sponsors, precious little capital and only the vaguest notion of how to get into Yankee Stadium, where the Giants would play the Packers.

This was November. By December, Sabol somehow had rounded up equipment, a staff, sponsors and a story line. His theme, though obvious, was unassailable: little Green Bay versus great big New York. To backstop himself against the possibility of a dull game or bad weather, he decided to take lots of pregame color in the Giant and Packer camps. Sabol even buzzed Manhattan in his Cessna for a shot of the skyline to open the film. Not even Vince Lombardi was better prepared for the showdown.

Then came Sunday, Dec. 30, one of the bitterest days the pros have ever faced. By game time the temperature was 15�, the wind was blowing in gusts up to 30 mph and the field was cement. If the weather was bad for the players, it was murder on Sabol's cameramen. They froze, the cameras froze and the film broke. The elaborate walkie-talkie communication system between Endy—high in the stadium—and the cameramen managed to contact four cab companies, three construction sites and a fishing boat out of Fall River, Mass., but not the photographers.

Sabol started bonfires in a dugout to thaw out the cameras—and the cameramen—as they froze. When the game was over, the men of Blair Productions were so numb they did not even bother to sort and label the film. It was just dumped into a laundry hamper and all principals fled for warmth.

Sabol was certain he had a disaster on his hands. "By golly," he said, "when Ed Sabol goofs, he doesn't fool around. All that time, all that hard work, all that money spent and what do we have? A laundry hamper full of frozen spaghetti."

But Sabol was wrong. The film was tangled, all right. It took two days to sort it out and a week to edit it and put it together, but when it was done Blair Productions had a primitive masterpiece. "Best football film I ever saw," said Pete Rozelle.

Blair Productions got the rights to film the next year's championship, too, but the company had to go up to $17,000 for the privilege. And right then Sabol said to himself, "Oh-oh. Here it comes. Next year it will be $25,000, and when those hotshot outfits with the inexhaustible bankrolls see what can be done with the film and that it can be marketed, they'll snow us under." So Sabol went to Rozelle and said: "Pete, it's time for the NFL to go into the film business. You buy us out and then make your own championship films. You can even do weekly regular-season stuff."

Rozelle immediately saw the merit in the idea. He ran into difficulty with some of the NFL owners when he tried to convince them that a subsidiary company could be rewarding financially as well as artistically, but eventually the word went out that the league would absorb Blair Productions and its staff.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6