Saturday, January 25, 2014

NFL Films: Iconic Writing

Even if you’re not a football fan, but you have a true appreciation of remarkable writing, you’d have to be mesmerized by some of the works produced by NFL Films over the years.  Forget the slow motion replays of some of the greatest plays in football for a moment. Forget those tinny and sometimes cheesy musical soundtracks.  Listen to the words, the writing.  It’s art in its own right. 

Over the next week, leading up to the Super Bowl, if you have a somewhat decent cable TV package, you owe it to yourself to sit down and watch some of NFL Films’ telecasts of films about prior championship teams and games.

You’ll hear the legendary voice of John Facenda, also known by NFL Films’ fans as “the voice of God.”  And he’ll tell you such stories.  Stories written by people with a seemingly obvious familiarity with the works of Hemingway and Faulkner.

They won’t just recount game action the way the nightly sportscast does. They’ll tell stories of triumph and defeat, of struggle and desperation.  You’ll watch a Greek tragedy unfold in slow motion.  And you’ll be captivated.

The writers use all sorts of devices, from metaphor and simile, and they will draw from the classic figures of literature to drive home the importance of the toss of a football, or the anticipation of a defensive back.

But it’s the words that will do it.

Nowhere else in sports would you hear such words:

“The Autumn wind is a pirate, blustering in from sea, with a rollicking song he sweeps along, swaggering boisterously.”

The late Steve Sabol, president of NFL Films, wrote that about the Oakland Raiders in 1974.  The next year he penned this for Facenda’s deep voice:

“Super Bowl IX arrived on a frigid rain-soaked January afternoon in the southern city of New Orleans.  An early morning storm left the playing field water-logged. Originally the Super Bowl was scheduled for the rain-proof, air-conditioned comfort of the Louisiana Superdome. But it was unfinished.

So the game was moved, replete with gusty winds and gray flannel skies to ancient Tulane Stadium.   The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Minnesota Vikings would meet in the worst weather yet for a Super Bowl  setting.  But the cutting cold and damp did not deter 81,000 fans, particularly the huge Pittsburgh contingent. For after 42 years their team was at last competing for football’s grandest prize.”

With words like that, you don’t need pictures, let alone NFL Films’ cinematography and masterful editing.  With this in mind, I’d like to share excerpts of two of those NFL Films classics. It’s hard not to watch, but if you are willing try closing your eyes and just listen to how words themselves can paint the picture:

The Autumn Wind:

Pittsburgh Steelers:

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