September 21, 2012 - 12:00 PM
I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Sabol once in my career. It was in February of 1991, one week after NFL Films released a video of the Bills' first Super Bowl season. Sabol, who died on Tuesday, had a special affinity for Buffalo and its football fans. He loved shooting Bills games in bad weather, because it made for more dramatic and colorful footage.
Here's some highlights from the interview with one of the sport's true legends. I don't have my questions, just Sabol's responses:
"We shot more footage on them than any team in the league. We shot 31 miles of film on the Bills. They really had an exciting team. That's where NFL Films are notorious frontrunners. Teams like the Bears and 49ers, we start loading up. They're very photo-dramatic, you could say. So many interesting personalities, exciting to watch. The fans in Buffalo are great, like old-fashioned fans of the Fifties ... people in the cold with hairy chests, there's a terrific synergy up there, with the fans and the teams, and it makes for good movies."
"I think the Bills will probably break the all-time record for Super Bowl sales, because they lost the greatest one ever played, and with honor. In many ways, they outplayed the Giants ... it was such a fascinating Super Bowl ...
"It's sort of like the old Packers there, the town and the team.
He talked about shooting the famous Packers-Cowboys championship game in 1967, the famous "Ice Bowl"
"That was before you could winterize the cameras. I was a camerman then and my lens froze. We loved it. You see, the most insidious plague on NFL Films is domes. Oh, it's horrible shooting inside those aquariums., Players look like freeze-dried peas. It's awful. So Buffalo, Green Bay, that's where people love to go shoot. Our biggest disappointment with the Bills this year (1990) was we never got a great snowstorm. We figured we'll get an alltime storm where we have to be Admiral Peary and it never happened. When you shoot that with a camera and slow motion, it's fantastic, it's what you live for."
"Bruce Smith will always turn around and has these little remarks to our guys. You'd think with a guy like that, how can he concentrate? There are players who are athletes and entertainers. To me, he has a great sense of humor. He's a hell of a player. No doubt in my mind, he was the defensive player of the year. He's really great for sound bites. Leonard Smith, Kelly. Thurman Thomas is not a real expressive guy, but when you can run like he does ... he really should have been MVP of the Super Bowl."
"We have 12 cameras at the Super Bowl, which is not much when you figure TV uses 22. But our guys are mostly on the ground and mobile. All our equipment is designed here at NFL FIlms. It's like Daytona hot rod cars, where the motor is from Germany. The lenses are French. The bodies are American. The view systems are German. They're very sophisticated designs especially for football. A lot were taken from World War Two combat cameras."
"This is the only job I've ever had. I started when I was 21 or 22. In 1962, we did our first film. My father (Ed) started it in '62 and I was in college. He said, 'All you've been doing your whole college career is playing football and going to movies. I have a profession for you here for which you'd be eminently qualified.' I would write scripts, do photos and music. He was the businessman. My dad had an entrepreneurial vision and I guess you could say I had a creative vision. I played football at Colorado College in the Rocky Mountain Conference."
"TV had copied so much of what we've done. It's not so much a creative vehicle as a collector's item. We really want to cover every game and every play and want to do it so fast we can't be as concerned ... it's important to get it out (the Super Bowl video) quickly, while everyone is interested ... all the other sports, they just take highlights off network feeds. But everything you see is original, just shot for us."