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Ed Sabol was the founder of NFL storytelling

Buzzwords in the publicity, public relations, marketing and advertising industries seem to pop into our vocabularies and change by the day.

Within the last two years, those of us that work to get messages heard glommed onto what many of our pitches already were: stories. A short time after that word simplified our lives and job descriptions, it seemed like “storytelling” had to morph into something more corporate sounding for whitepapers, so as a result, I have Twitter lists not just for “storytelling,” but “content marketing” and “content creation.”

The original sports storyteller

In case you wondered, these are not new ways to market, especially in sports. I’ve long said that a televised sport is the ONLY reality TV show. The storytelling part, however, was seemingly created by NFL Films’ founder, Ed Sabol, who passed away Monday at the age of 98. He and his son Steve took football games and made them on-screen masterpiece thrillers. Professional football, which was played by guys in pads and their faces covered with helmets became human because the Sabols boldly adorned them with microphones and showed us otherwise forgotten cutaways of them talking to teammates, coaches and opponents. They showed players sweaty and muddy, sometimes bloody. Their NFL Films also communicated coaches’ intense demeanors during tight games and shared their levity when celebratory coolers of Gatorade were dumped on them in victory. It didn’t hurt that those early productions were narrated by a second-to-none voice of John Facenda who certainly captured the dramatic atmosphere that Ed Sabol set out to create.

Sabol started like many of us

In 1962, Ed Sabol was the early version of many of us that shoot video with our iPhones. According to Los Angeles Times reporter Mike Kupper, Sabol knew little about photographing moving pictures and editing them. His first entrée into video was shooting kids-play, in his case, Steve’s peewee and high school football games. From there he dreamed and developed not just stories, but what many of us see as feature films that today remain one of the NFL’s best generational selling tools. For that, and his undeniable contribution to National Football League history, Sabol was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. (Something that eludes and should posthumously include Steve.)

Call it what it is

So “storytelling” … “content marketing” … Sabol did it long before these promotional tools had textbook names. And he did it because he loved football and wanted to share every speck of dirt, torn jersey and sound of toe meeting leather in hopes that we would appreciate the detailed drama of the game, too.

Based on worldwide outpouring of remembrances during the last two days, he accomplished what he set out to do. He also cemented a legacy for football that will continue, but go unmatched when it comes perfecting the basics of well, storytelling.

“Tell me a fact, and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth, and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever. And now my Dad’s story will be in Canton and hopefully that will live forever, too.” Steve Sabol, upon the announcement of his father’s 2011 Hall of Fame induction



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