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 a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she edits digital features.

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