The NFL's Ultimate Highlight Reel
Pittsburgh RB Franco Harris returns "The Immaculate Reception" for a TD in 1972.
Credit: Harry Cabluck / AP
Over the next five years, the Sabols honed their now-legendary style. That work culminated in their first promotional film, 1967's They Call It Pro Football, which Steve would later call "the Citizen Kane of football movies." It solidified the grammar for which NFL productions would become known: the use of montage, highlights run in superslow motion, miked-up coaches and players, and a soundtrack heavy on classical instruments like cellos, timpani, and – Steve's personal favorite – French horns.

It was on this film, too, that the Sabols brought in John Facenda, a Philadelphia news anchor whose booming timbre could make a grocery list sound important, to narrate. Football fans would come to call Facenda "the Voice of God," though amazingly, according to Steve, "he had no interest at all in football and never looked at the footage before reading the script." (Facenda would keep his most famous gig until his death, in 1984.)

The Sabols premiered They Call It Pro Football for team owners at a New York nightspot. The members of the league's old guard were notoriously averse to new methods of promotion, but their resistance crumbled when they heard Facenda's words, written by Steve: "It starts with a whistle and ends with a gun." Steelers owner Art Rooney would later describe how he got goose bumps when he heard Facenda bellow, "This is pro football, the sport of our time." The mythology of the NFL had begun. Today, NFL Films' 200,000-square-foot corporate headquarters in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, is a state-of-the-art film and television production facility, complete with a recording studio that can accommodate an 80-piece orchestra. It's also a museum of the game's legacy that rivals the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. In addition to the 107 Emmy awards the company has won, jerseys, photos, and other memorabilia dating back to 1890 line the halls. Climate-controlled vaults contain film of every pro football game played over the past five decades. In total, they house more than 100 million feet of film – enough to stretch three-quarters of the way around the world. "We never used video," says Steve. "We thought of ourselves as filmmakers – romantics and storytellers. Video says 'right now.' Film has texture and context." He notes proudly that his company shoots more film each year than all the Hollywood studios combined.