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Steve Sabol of NFL Films – one of the true innovators in professional sports – joins the show to talk about his career and company in the ever-changing sports landscape.
The one job I always wanted was to work at NFL Films so I ask if having a job there is as much fun as I’ve always imagined it to be.
We talk about how football has passed baseball as the national pastime and if there was one moment that helped that switch or it was just a natural progression. He talks about the importance of both television for football and football for television.
We talk about the Ice Bowl, and get a great story about how it was so cold it broke Sabol’s zoom lens, meaning he had to carry his tripod down the field to follow the action from exactly 30 yards away in what was one of the most memorable moments in NFL history. We spin that to talk about the hyperbole in today’s sports landscape and I ask if we can ever know if something is really the best ever when EVERYTHING nowadays is the best ever. He agrees in general that it’s hard to have perspective on things, but referenced the Manning-Tyree catch in last year’s Super Bowl and how he and many others knew they were witnessing history.
“I think when you’ve been to all the games and you get to a certain age you get very reluctant to say that anything that’s current or modern is better that anything that was in the ‘good old days…”I’m one of eight people who have been to every Super Bowl. There is no doubt in my mind that play is the greatest play in Super Bowl history.”
We talk more about the Ice Bowl and get the truth about the ‘Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field.’ Listen to the clip, but basically Sabol wrote that line for the Packers highlight film and Vince Lombardi took it out.
“When I said on the Frozen Tundra, he put a big red line through it and said ‘take this out. I’m not going to have my stock holders believe that their $250,000 investment doesn’t work.’ So I changed the phrase to “in the ice-bucket chill of a Wisconsin winter.”
“How the phrase Frozen Tundra came into being was the Dallas Cowboys, in their highlights, they felt the reason they lost the game was because of the conditions of the field. So Tex Schram loved the line and said, ‘put it in. On the Frozen Tundra, because dammit, that’s how we lost the game.’ So that phrase appeared in the Dallas Cowboy highlight film and as long as Lombardi was alive it was never allowed in the Green Bay Packer film and was banned from any of their press releases. When Lombardi went to Washington we brought it back and it caught on.”
So every time the Packers fans call it the Frozen Tundra, they’re spitting on the grave of Vince Lombardi. Eh, maybe the spit will freeze before it hits his tombstone.
NFL Films has ‘100 million feet of unforgettable football moments’ so I ask how many of those film reels are now hard drives. We talk about the transformation to digital media and if the 24-hour news cycle and on-demand world we live in has changed the focus of the work NFL Films does. I also ask if with all the innovations he’s instituted in sports that are now being used by everyone (multiple camera angles on replays, microphones on players, etc) if he ever feels like he’s competing against himself.
We discuss the layoffs at NFL Films a few months ago, and yesterday’s announcement that the NBA is doing the same. If pro sports aren’t recession proof, what is? Are fans being priced out of the market and in a few years sports as we know it will be watched at home on TV, produced by people like Sabol on an elaborate sound stage?
Is the Autumn Wind a pirate or just a crazy old man? We chat about Al Davis and if the Raiders are just going through a tough time or if Davis has totally lost it. We also talk about why I’m a Broncos fan (it’s actually because of Sabol).
Last, I get the scoop on the old electric chair he had in his apartment (he called it a ‘Jesus Christ’ piece) and if the 1972 Dolphins football I have is real, or a bunch of his forgeries. It’s on the record, so if it’s real, let the bidding war begin.
We just passed one year on this show, and this was a hell of a way to start year two.