Keepers of the Flame

Keepers of the Flame: NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media

TRAVIS VOGAN
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt5vk0gx
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  • Book Info
    Keepers of the Flame
    Book Description:

    NFL Films changed the way Americans viewed professional football. In Keepers of the Flame: NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media, Travis Vogan presents NFL Films' rise from a small independent production company to a marketing machine Sports Illustrated called "perhaps the most effective propaganda organ in the history of corporate America." Drawing on research at the NFL Films Archive and the Pro Football Hall of Fame and interviews with media pioneer Steve Sabol and others, Vogan traces how NFL Films constructed a romanticized, remarkably visible mythology for the National Football League by packaging pro football as a heroic sequence of violent and beautiful gridiron battles. John Facenda's honeyed "Voice of God" baritone and Sam Spence's soaring scores merged with the epic poetry in Steve Sabol's scripts to create a hugely successful entertainment formula still used today. Vogan also shows the company's relationship with and vast influence on our culture's representations of sport, the expansion of sports television beyond live game broadcasts, and the emergence of cable television and Internet sports media. His analysis presents sports media as an integral facet of American popular culture, and NFL Films as key to the transformation of pro football into the national obsession known as America's Game.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09627-3
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. VII-XII)
  4. Introduction: NFL Films and Pro Football
    (pp. 1-34)

    While baseball is traditionally recognized as America’s favorite pastime, the National Football League (NFL) has stood as the United States’ most popular and lucrative sports organization since the late 1960s.³ NFL football’s immense cultural and economic power is not simply a product of the games it provides for millions of live and mediated spectators, but also its cultural meanings. Scholars of sport have argued that pro football serves mythic functions in American culture.⁴ More than merely a game, the sport embodies and articulates characteristics, beliefs, attitudes, and values unique to American history, identity, and everyday life. These mythic qualities, of...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Creating and Sustaining America’s Game
    (pp. 35-57)

    Although it is now hard to believe, the National Football League was not always the corporate sport behemoth thatESPN The Magazine’s Peter Keating describes as a “society unto itself” and thatChristian Centuryresignedly deemed “America’s newest indigenous religion.”³ Autumn Sundays were not always overrun with Americans donning their favorite teams’ jerseys and piling into sports bars to watch multiple simultaneous telecasts of league games, often with laptops and mobile devices in tow to monitor their fantasy football scores. The Super Bowl was not always the world’s most popular annual media event, and more Americans did not always watch...

  6. CHAPTER 2 More Movies than News
    (pp. 58-78)

    Sportscaster Bob Costas once wryly commented that NFL Films productions had become more entertaining than the National Football League’s actual games.³ When asked about Costas’s statement Steve Sabol blithely replied, “They should be. . . . When you look at what we were doing—and we still do—is taking a game that requires 3 hours to play but only has 12 minutes of action. We take that 12 minutes and condense it and focus it and distill it and add music to it and sound effects and edit it. What we do should be more exciting.”⁴ NFL Films productions...

  7. CHAPTER 3 The NFL’s Smithsonian
    (pp. 79-98)

    At any given time—day or night, during the season or not—one would be hard pressed to scan through the television channels for long without encountering at least one representation of the National Football League—from the uplifting player profiles featured on network pregame packages to commercials that use footage of muddied players to market laundry detergent. Indeed, since 2003 the NFL Network has ensured the league’s constant presence on cable TV. Much of this footage derives from NFL Films’ cameras. Before it is edited into an NFL Films production or sold to other media outlets, this material passes...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Shakespeares of Sports Films
    (pp. 99-126)

    Pete Rozelle’s major point of praise after viewingThey Call It Pro Football—Steve Sabol’s self-describedCitizen Kaneof football films—was that the production was more sophisticated than run-of-the-mill sports telecasts. The commissioner deemed it a “real movie” comparable in drama, quality, and potential marketability to a Hollywood film.³ Rozelle’s glowing review implies that representations of football up to the point whenThey Call It Pro Footballwas released were not as compelling or artful as “movies.” It also suggests NFL Films’ productions are aesthetically superior to typical sports TV.

    According to the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, art functions as...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Keeping the Flame in the Broadcast Era
    (pp. 127-149)

    The week afterThey Call It Pro Football’s premiere, Pete Rozelle summoned Ed and Steve Sabol to his Manhattan office. The commissioner handed them the most recent Nielsen ratings, which listed pro football in third place among television sports, still trailing professional baseball and college football—though by a narrower margin than when he took office. After explaining the ratings to the Sabols—who had precious little understanding of the TV industry at the time—Rozelle said, “[i]n order for the NFL to grow and flourish, we have to succeed on television. And in order for us to succeed on...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Cable, NFL Media, and NFL Films’ Dinosaur Television
    (pp. 150-174)

    In 1987, NFL Films producedNFL TV Follies, a bloopers film that stars comedian Jonathan Winters. Winters plays J.J. Faircatch, a hapless cable television executive who is desperately attempting to improve the fortunes of his struggling “24 Hour Channel.” The production begins with the channel playing a dull educational documentary on the function, properties, and importance of water. After the tedious documentary—complete with bland music and monotone narration—drags on for several seconds it is interrupted by a special announcement wherein an exasperated Faircatch expresses his frustration with the channel’s uninspired and presumably unprofitable programming. Faircatch’s proposed solution is...

  11. Conclusion: The Persistence and Obsolescence of NFL Films
    (pp. 175-188)

    Despite their increased scarcity on venues like ESPN and NFL Network, NFL Films’ traditional aesthetic practices and the values they convey circulate independently of the company’s depictions of pro football. Throughout NFL Films’ history a diverse range of clients has licensed its content and contracted its narrators to inflect subject matter with the epic drama it famously attaches to the league. Others have commissioned it to create segments and full-length films similar to its moving football documentaries. Hollywood production companies have hired NFL Films to shoot second unit action footage; NBC recruited it to help humanize the network’s coverage of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 189-216)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-232)
  14. Index
    (pp. 233-238)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-244)