NFL Films: 5 Decades of Sports Cinema

Scenes from the films that turned football into epic drama

In 1966, the father-son duo of Ed and Steve Sabol created a film that would transform the way Americans experienced sports. They Call It Pro Football was a feature-length motion picture inspired by Hollywood: Its elegant camerawork and rich musical score transformed an ordinary game into an epic story. As Rich Cohen writes in the October Atlantic:

The bloody fingers of the lineman, the clouds of breath on the cold, clear day, the chewed-up turf.... It was all there, crystallized, perfected. If Steve showed it to kids on a Friday, they’d be in their yards early the next morning, the narrator’s voice running through their heads as the receiver ran the hook-and-ladder: “His range carries him into heavy traffic, or through the shifting dangers of a broken field … Men on the run, measuring their survival by the twist of a shoulder.”

Today, NFL Films is a massive production company with hundreds of titles to its name. From a fanciful fable about Joe Namath to a recent portrait of Tim Tebow, here are some highlights from the company's half century of documenting and mythologizing football.


Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

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