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Football wouldn’t be the same without NFL Films and its haunting music

I grew up learning about the game of football thanks to many hours spent watching NFL Films programming. In addition to the great narrators and storytelling, there was just something about those haunting musical scores that brought the game of football to life.

Steve Sabol

Growing up in the '80s, my love for football and the NFL was nurtured by watching countless hours of NFL Films programming.

I didn’t necessarily grow up on X’s and O’s. No, I grew up on Ed Sabol, Steve Sabol, John Facenda and the very-underrated Harry Kalas. NFL Films programming didn’t really teach me about the 4-3 defense or the West Coast offense (although, I know it tried thanks to the film company’s great variety of programming). What NFL Films did teach me, however, was the history of the NFL and the history of football. I learned about the great warriors of the game, the gladiators, the underdogs, and the dynasties. I was schooled on the bombastic personalities and the quirky characters. I studied the menacing middle linebackers and the charismatic cornerbacks.

Of course, it was the passion that the Sabols had for the game of professional football, as well as for filmmaking and storytelling, that fostered such a great product for my young eyes, ears and soul to consume. Speaking of filmmaking and storytelling, a typical NFL Films program—whether it was a production about a team’s highlights from the previous season, an epic postseason battle or one of those menacing middle linebackers—gave the NFL and the sport of football a sense of gravitas and drama. These productions often seemed theatrical and even mythical.

I know that the heroes of the past I grew up learning about--including those Super Steelers from the 1970s—seemed larger than life to me, like they were fictional gladiators from a long-lost era.

Part of it had to do with NFL Films using, well, film instead of video; the grainy quality of those 1960s, ‘70s and even early-’80s features also created a mythical and mystical feel and aura.

Of course, you can’t talk about NFL Films productions from yesteryear without mentioning John Facenda, the voice of God, and Harry Kalas, the voice of the Phillies but also a damn-fine NFL Films narrator in his own right—including on the always popular NFL Game of the week.

Even lesser-known (or at least lesser-appreciated) narrators such as the very-talented Jeff Kaye helped to paint a wonderful picture for a young man who was simply enthralled by the game of football and the National Football League.

But of all the components NFL Films used to bring the game of professional football to life for this young lad, none was more effective than the famous musical scores that accompanied every story and every narration. The stories were great, and the voices were enchanting, but so much of this music was breathtaking. It gave me goosebumps, and it could paint a picture like nothing else.

Just listen to this Sam Spence score titled: Round Up. Don’t you just automatically think of football and those gladiators and teams from the past when you hear that piece? How about this one titled: A New Game? Is that for the playoffs? If so, it’s fitting.

How about Rampage? I don’t know when this was composed, but it could be used as a musical backdrop for any NFL game from the 1960s through the 1980s, and it wouldn’t seem out of place.

One of my favorites is another Sam Spence composition called Blockbuster. This really gives me chills. No offense, but when I hear this score, I immediately think of Super Bowl XII and the Cowboys' Doomsday Defense. Maybe that’s because NFL Films did such a fine job using it to illustrate just how dominant Dallas was while dismantling the underdog Broncos down in the Superdome.

I can go on and on describing so many other NFL Films scores, from the devilish Autumn Wind to the surreal Element of Risk to even the quirky disco theme used in the late-’70s and early-’80s, but I’d be here all day.

Heck, I could write another whole article on Wild Bunch and how it reminds me of all-things Vince Lombardi and the 1960s Green Bay Packers.

There’s just so much to unpack when talking about the countless NFL Films musical compositions.

Instead, I think I’m going to go on YouTube and listen to some more NFL Films music while I dream about the NFL I grew up watching and get pumped up for the football I’m about to watch this fall.