We see the game as art as much as sport, Steve Sabol said last year when his father Ed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Their enterprise, NFL Films, imprinted professional football in American mythology, and Steve, who died Sept. 18 at 69, won 35 Emmys along the way. He wrote, shot, produced and directed the documentaries, seen weekly on TV, which were heavily dramatized with slo-mo shots and booming soundtracks. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED called NFL Films “perhaps the most effective propaganda organ in the history of corporate America.” But what captivated fans of Steve’s images for nearly five decades was the appeal to the emotions that lie at the heart of a brutal game.
This text originally appeared in the Oct. 01, 2012 issue of TIME magazine.