Such devotion has made Sabol's employees irrefutable authorities on who's doing what to whom in the NFL. Press-agentry and a few carefully selected examples of a big play may wow the All-Pro selection committee, but they are liable to produce only a sneer at NFL Films. With a flick of a switch you will see the current rage missing blocks, leaping on pileups after the play is over or standing stark still when the quarterback has not called his number. How, for instance, do you select the best offensive lineman for a season? "Name an offensive lineman All-Pro once," says Sabol, "and he is an automatic selection every year until they give him his gold watch and a season's ticket. Who watches offensive tackles, for crying out loud?"
Sabol's people do, hours and hours of them. An NFL Films version of the All-Pro team would shock a lot of experts. But it would be absolutely legitimate.
For the championship game in Dallas last year, Sabol used 18 cameras, three sound crews and every editor on the staff. Out came 50,000 feet of film that was eventually edited down to 990 feet. It was a neat package, full of unique montage effects, but more, it revealed why—and how—the Cowboys blew the championship.
Early in the game Tackle Jim Boeke jumped offside for an apparently insignificant five-yard penalty. It did not mean anything then, but later, when Dallas was driving for the tying touchdown, Boeke jumped offside again. This time he killed the drive—and the Cowboys.
It was a touchy situation for Sabol. One man does not lose a championship, and singling out the Cowboys' tackle for special censure was not going to make Dallas ecstatic.
"Our first instinct was to squelch it," said Endy, "but the more we studied the film, the more obvious it became that this was the key to the game—an overeager lineman, who has played well all year and who played well for most of the game, makes the same mistake twice. The first time it was trivial. It didn't hurt, but it was indicative. The second time, it was costly. Now, then, do we ignore it?"
"You do not," decided Sabol. The film was built around the two plays and the reaction from Dallas was immediate and violent. "Unfair," the fans cried.
"Well," said Sabol, "it was honest and, besides, they loved it in Green Bay."
The championship game over, NFL Films went to work on the 25-week series. Making the installments was a lot less hectic than the weekly schedule the crew had been used to and the results were considerably more sophisticated. It was in the series that those audacious young ideas first got full play. Steve Sabol, for instance, fresh out of Colorado College, walked in and talked his father into using long focal lenses for special closeup shots. Sabol Senior was not convinced anything would come of it, but he did not want to put thumbs down on a new idea. Steve had the cameraman zero in on the hands of the defensive linemen in the game. "Hands?" said the cameraman. "You want hands?"
"Hands," said Steve, and the results were startling. All those hands in a row suddenly became fists just before the ball was snapped. The long focal closeups are now a regular feature of NFL Films.