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Keepers of the Flame

NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media

Travis Vogan

Publication Year: 2014

NFL Films changed the way Americans view football. Keepers of the Flame: NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media traces the subsidiary's development from a small independent film production company to the marketing machine that Sports Illustrated named "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, Travis Vogan shows how NFL Films has constructed a consistent, romanticized, and remarkably visible mythology for the National Football League. The company packages football as a visceral and dramatic sequence of violent, beautiful, graceful, and heroic gridiron battles. Historically proven formulas for presentation--such as the dramatic voiceovers once provided by John Facenda's baritone, the soaring scores of Sam Spence's rousing background music, and the epic poetry found in Steve Sabol's scripts--are still used today.From the Vincent Price-narrated Strange but True Football Stories to the currently running series Hard Knocks, NFL Films distinguishes the NFL from other sports organizations and from other media and entertainment. Vogan tells the larger story of 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.Keepers of the Flame: NFL Films and the Rise of Sports Media presents sports media as an integral facet of American popular culture and NFL Films as key to the transformation of professional football into the national obsession commonly known as America's Game.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-xii

Over the years I have had the pleasure and good fortune to be in the company of mentors, colleagues, sources, friends, and family who provided the stimulation, inspiration, and support necessary to complete this modest work and the sundry tasks that accompanied its development. First of all, I had the unique privilege of getting to know Steve Sabol while...

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Introduction. NFL Films and Pro Football

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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...

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Chapter 1. Creating and Sustaining America's Game

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pp. 35-57

Although it is now hard to believe, the National Football League was not always the corporate sport behemoth that ESPN The Magazine’s Peter Keating describes as a “society unto itself” and that Christian Century resignedly deemed “America’s newest indigenous religion.”3 Autumn Sundays were not always...

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Chapter 2. More Movies than News

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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...

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Chapter 3. The NFL's Smithsonian

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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...

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Chapter 4. The Shakespeares of Sports Films

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pp. 99-126

Pete Rozelle’s major point of praise after viewing They Call It Pro Football— Steve Sabol’s self-described Citizen Kane of 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...

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Chapter 5. Keeping the Flame in the Broadcast Era

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pp. 127-149

The week after They 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...

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Chapter 6. Cable, NFL, Media, and NFL Films' Dinosaur Television

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pp. 150-174

In 1987, NFL Films produced NFL 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...

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Conclusion. The Persistence and Obsolescence of NFL Films

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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...


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pp. 189-216


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pp. 217-232

Index, About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 233

E-ISBN-13: 9780252096273
E-ISBN-10: 0252096274
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252038389

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2014