Enjoy, and don't forget to REC it up everyone!
(Updated post date/time to get it back to the top of the front page) -barnerburner
Homer isn't quite sure how YOU spent Tuesday, August 7th, but he is reasonably certain that he had a better time than you did. He did a one-day up and back from DC to NFL Films HQ in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. Thanks to BTSC, the folks at NFL Films learned of Homer's whereabouts on December 23, 1972, and wanted to interview him. You see, they have a regular program called "A Football Life," and one of the shows for this fall will mark the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception.
Since fate chose Homer to break the news of the play to Mr Rooney in the TRS elevator, and since Homer interviewed Franco Harris on the sidelines after the play (during the argument over whether the play was legal), one of the staff at NFL Films contacted Mssrs Bean and Coolong, and they put us all in touch. A copy of the 20 second Harris interview - unheard for more than 30 years - was recovered and provided to NFL Films.
They said they'd like to come down to DC to interview me for the show, but weren't sure when they could schedule a crew to come down. The goal was to do several DC interviews for several upcoming projects. Homer offered the alternative of driving to New Jersey, figuring he'd get a tour of the place and the security of knowing that the interview would be done in a studio by the first string.
We left DC at 715am sharp, avoiding rush hour traffic in both DC and Baltimore, and had clear sailing all the way. Several of Homer's football fan buds wanted desperately to come along, but were unable to get out of work commitments. Summer intern and college track star Jackson came along to help with the driving, if needed.
A healthy breakfast of chicken tenders and barbecue sauce at the Popeye's at the Delaware House on I-95 provided sustenance, just before we crossed the twin spans and entered New Jersey, which - as we all know - is currently ruled by a governor who knows a thing or two about maintaining a healthy appetite. Mmm. Popeye's. Breakfast of Champions.
Once you get into New Jersey, you take I-295 and you get off at Exit 40 - Mount Holly and head east. Homer noted that Mount Holly is where Franco Harris grew up. Franco was an Army brat, born at the base hospital at Fort Dix, and he grew up just a few miles from our destination. In fact, the lady who scheduled Homer's interview mentioned that her Dad or uncle played against Franco in high school. She told Homer that everybody around there seemed to know Franco and thought he was a great guy. Homer told her those sentiments can also be found in Pittsburgh and throughout Steeler Nation.
Anyway, you take exit 40 east, make a right on Briggs Road, and go past a giant cornfield, then when the road ends, you hang a right. You go down that country road for about a minute and see half a dozen giant satellite dishes on your right. You make another right and find yourself in the long driveway to 1 NFL Plaza, a huge, ultra-modern film, video, and broadcast facility.
You're only about a half hour from Philly, but here you are in the middle of rural New Jersey, literally out in the cornfields. If you build it, somebody once said, they will come.
You go to the door, and a sign says ring the buzzer and someone will let you in. You do. And they do. And you sign in at the front desk, and your host comes down the steps to welcome you.
Our host is Neal Zender, a tall, slender young guy with glasses, who is the executive producer of the series. His colleagues speak glowingly of him, and we soon see why. He hails from Seattle, and he's a Domer who went to work at NFL Films right after he graduated from Notre Dame. He is kind, considerate, and professional.
Neal takes Homer to the dressing room, where Homer changes from cargo shorts and golf shirt into something more formal - something in black and gold. We're talking a deep yellow Paul Frederick dress shirt with white collar and white french cuffs. The tie is a black silk and gold tie with hypocycloids and the Steelers logo. The cufflinks are silver and white, with hypocycloids and the Steelers logo. The suit is a basic black business suit, so Homer is a vision in black and gold, with a touch of white. The crew says, "you look great," and there's no need for any pancake makeup.
It's a two camera interview, with half a dozen techies. It lasts somewhere between half an hour and 45 minutes. It's genuinely fun. Homer even holds up to the camera the locker room pass from that game - a souvenir that he's kept for 40 years.
Then comes the real fun. Neal takes us on a tour of the facility. It's amazing.
It even includes a concert hall/recording studio big enough to hold an orchestra, where they bring in members of the Philadelphia Symphony to record the music for their productions. When you hear "Waltz of the Elephants" or other pieces of that great stuff that's the music bed under the voices of John Facenda or Harry Kalas, remember that music was written and recorded for NFL Films. It's not something Steve Sabol picked off the shelf at some record store or bought from Amazon.
The library includes complete footage of every single NFL game since 1960, and footage of games going back to the 1920's, including even some stuff from the old AAFC. Just about everything has been digitized, so they can access the stuff by computer and keep the old films intact.
There are exhibits everywhere, and amazing stuff on the walls. There's a game program from an Army-Notre Dame game in 1925, the game where Grantland Rice wrote the famed "Four Horsemen" article. And here's a game program from another Army-Notre Dame game, with pictures of the two coaches. It's the game where Rockne gave his immortal, "win one for the Gipper speech."
Another room is filled with football board games and electric and magnetic football board games from the 40's, 50's, and 60's. At least the boxes are all there.
There are nick-nacks, toys, and doodads everywhere. Here's a wooden dealie with little statues of the Steel Curtain front four. And there's a picture of Charlie Conerly with a bunch of his NY Giant teammates. And there's one of the 1948 Washington Redskins, in front of the U-S Capitol.
If the French ever had any class and culture and decided to turn the Louvre into a football museum, Homer thinks it would look something like this. Who needs the Mona Lisa when you can see the smile of Jack Lambert?
All over the place, there are collages put together by Steve Sabol. Steve and his Dad, Ed, have built a modest family-run film business into the most successful and remarkable corporate marketing arm in America. Ed has retired and has been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Steve, has been battling a brain tumor, but still comes into work and takes part in daily operations and planning.
Steve first came to Homer's attention back in the 60's, when he was playing football for some college in Colorado. Sports Illustrated did a humorous piece on the athlete who called himself Steve "Sudden Death" Sabol, and first claimed he was from Coal Township, PA. The next year, he listed his home town as Possum Trot, Arkansas. And he made up and sold t-shirts for little kids that said "I'm a little tot from Possum Trot." Even since then, Steve Sabol has been entertaining and enlightening millions with his genius and shameless self-promotion.
Steve hasn't come into work today, and that's my one regret. I think he's an absolute genius, and I'd love to meet him and tell him how much I enjoy and appreciate his work.
Neal walks us thorugh the giant complex, and endless mazes of studios, control rooms, edit rooms, offices, displays and a sound studio. There's two giant walls, more than ten feet tall, with nothing but Emmy Awards. Dozens of them. Many dozens. Probably a hundred or more.
I could have spent all day at the place, but Neal and his staff had work today. So at 1245pm, I felt we had worn out our welcome, thanked him, and headed up the door and back into the heat of the August afternoon.
It was an uneventful trip back, with a stop for lunch at the nearby Wawa. The 6 inch meatball sub with provolone on a wheat bun was delicious. Wawa is sort of like Sheetz, but it's not for people like Skippy, people who beat up on towel dispensers after the bars close. It's for people who like latte and cappucino and buy carrot and celery snacks, and it hires people who speak English that you can understand. Of course, you can't buy a Schmiscuit at Wawa. And Sheetz, roaches and Cher will survive the apocalypse, but that's a whole 'nother story.
They filled up Homer's Honda at the Wawa, being that you're not allowed to pump your own gas. New Jersey, a legitimately owned Mafia enterprise, is the state that has virtually outlawed making a left turn from a major road and protects you from the dangers of filling up your own tank. But they still let you bury people in the end zone at Giants Stadium. That's democracy for you.
Homer drove home, thinking about all the wonderful staff he had seen at 1 NFL Plaza, and began daydreaming about that old Twilight Zone episode where the department store mannequins and displays came to life after the store closed. He wondered, if he hid in the NFL Films HQ overnight, maybe all those things might magically come to life. Had that happened, Homer would search out Bobby Layne and John Henry Johnson and Buddy Parker and have a couple of beers with those guys and talk about the Chief and Joey Diven n'at. Or maybe we'd all go over and listen to Rockne give that "win one for the Gipper" speech. If we did, we'd probably laugh and Layne would probably call Rockne an unkind name.
The hour-long show, "A Football Life - Immaculate Reception" will air late this fall on the NFL Network, and Homer doesn't know how much - if any - of his interview will be used on the show. But he does know that they interviewed Les Banos three or four weeks before Les passed away earlier this summer.
The Immaculate Reception was a moment of Transfiguration for the Steelers. It was when the "Same Old Steelers" threw off forty years of defeat and disappointment and bad luck, and became exalted. It made Franco Harris a household name. It set in motion events that led to Homer's thirty year career at a network news operation. But it literally saved Les Banos' life, and gave this good, decent, and heroic man nearly forty more years to be among us.
Had Franco not made that catch, the Steelers would not have remained alive in the playoffs, and they would not have had a game on December 31st. Had they not played on December 31st, Les would have been on that plane with Roberto Clemente. But he had to work that day, and it saved his life.
Neal interviewed Les. For that alone, the show will be worth watching. Homer misses Les, he misses the Chief, and he misses the innocence of those days. 1972. It was a very good year.