Gridiron column flashback: Who are the best football players of all time?

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in October 2004.

Polling the public about the all-time greats

By Ed Odeven

When you least expect it, the following question comes up at barber shops, barbecue joints, bars, ballgames — name a place, and it’s probably been discussed there.

Who is your favorite football player ever?

This is a question I posed to some three dozen people by e-mail in recent days. But I didn’t just want to know why Joe Jock is someone’s favorite player. Having an inquisitive mind, I also wanted to know why a player became someone’s favorite.

Individuals young and old submitted their answers. Here’s a sampling of the best replies.

“My favorite player (is) Johnny Unitas because he was a talented gambler who had an uncanny sense how the defense was playing him and he took advantage of their lapses. Never saw any other QB do it exactly like him,” writes Bill Gallo, a longtime cartoonist/sports columnist for the New York Daily News.

Sean Bennett, a friend who resides in Texas, also chose a quarterback.

“I know this sounds very convenient, but it used to be (Joe) Montana and now it’s Tom Brady,” Bennett writes. “It’s because he exudes (confidence) naturally and will out-effort all the traits I work so hard to master.

“He’s confident, never rattles under pressure, a consistent performer and extremely bright to the point where the coaches all say he’s like having another coach (on the field).

“I want to be Tom Brady.”

Others, like Lori Haro, an Arizonan who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, put ex-Sun Devil/Cardinal/Army solider Pat Tillman at the top of their list.

“I loved to watch him because he played with such great passion and intensity, leading him to surpass most expectations set of him. In football and in life,” Haro decides.

Montana State radio announcer Kris Atteberry selected the late Walter Payton.

“He always seemed to be having so much fun and he played the game the proper way,” Atteberry insists. “(His was) the only jersey of a real player that I ever wore, even as a kid.”

The man whom many considered the greatest lacrosse player of the 20th century, gets the nod from Cormac Gordon, a columnist for the Staten Island (N.Y.) Advance.

“The most astounding football player I ever saw was Jim Brown, who was 20 pounds heavier and three times faster than the best linebacker of his day, and who literally could not be stopped once he got going.”

Dave Ord, a Tucsonan, put his two cents in for a legendary Native American athlete.

“My selection is Jim Thorpe,” Ord writes. “I never watched him play. In fact, he died nine years before I was born. But believe me, he is the one person I would like to have seen play.

“He won a national college title with Carlisle Indian School. He lead the Canton Bulldogs to unofficial titles three times between 1916 and 1919. He was the first president of the precursor to the NFL, the American Professional Football Association, in 1920.

“It wasn’t the titles nor the astronomical numbers that make him my top gridiron great. It’s the stories that were told about the man who was called everything from ‘the greatest athlete in the world’ to ‘America’s greatest football player of the half-century’ to ‘the most outstanding athlete of the 20th century.’

“For instance, I once read he often demonstrated his kicking prowess during halftimes by place-kicking field goals from the 50-yard line, then turning and drop-kicking the ball through the opposite goal post.

“I was equally impressed by the fact that the chronicles of the day talked of him as a ‘gentleman’ or ‘sportsman.’ Thorpe’s Native-American name was Wa-Tho-Huk, which means ‘Bright Path.’ To me, a bright path is what he left for the endless line of athletes who followed and will follow in his footsteps.”

Another old-timer is George Vecsey’s choice as his favorite footballer.

“When I was nine or 10, my father brought home a book by Sid Luckman, the old QB of the Chicago Bears,” reveals Vecsey, a sports columnist for The New York Times. “It was probably a very ordinary biography but I read it and came to love the Bears, although we lived in NYC. He was a Brooklyn guy who went to Columbia — sounded like a lot of people I knew, except he wore No. 42 and played QB for the Bears.

“One year when Luckman was finishing up as the third-string QB behind (Johnny) Lujack and (Bobby) Layne, the Bears played the Yankees in Yankee Stadium, and my father got me a ticket, and late in the first half George Halas put Luckman in for a series, and the old guy threw some passes and the N.Y. crowd cheered him.

“So he’s my favorite player of all time, and I still get a thrill when I see the Bears’ uniforms, although I couldn’t tell you their QB today.”

Though he never won a Super Bowl — he lost four straight, in fact, as the field general of the Buffalo Bills in the 1990s — Jim Kelly is still a favorite to many, including Bill Walsh, who spends lots of time fishing in Mexico.

“Jim Kelly was smart, resourceful, tough and dedicated to the game,” Walsh writes. “But most of all because he gave back to the community more than he took away.”

My choices:

Wesley Walker, the ex-N.Y. Jet was blind in one eye but that never stopped him from becoming a great wide receiver — he made 438 receptions, two Pro Bowl appearances and 71 career receiving TDs in a distinguished NFL career).

Mike Singletary, the ex-Chicago Bear. The omnipresent middle linebacker made the Pro Bowl in each of the last 10 years of his 12-year career. That’s greatness.


Super Bowl column flashback: on NAU’s strong ties to the NFL coaching fraternity

This column appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Feb. 6, 2005

NAU has strong ties to today’s Super Bowl

By Ed Odeven

Our fine city, a picturesque college town with two interstate freeways passing through it and dozens of tourist destinations in close proximity, is a place with a young, shifting population. You know your neighbors today, but tomorrow they might load up the U-Haul and say adios.

But you might be surprised to learn Flagstaff has another distinct characteristic: It’s a steppingstone for NFL-bound coaches.

Five ex-Lumberjack assistants will be working today at Super Bowl XXXIX: Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid, Eagle assistants Brad Childress (offensive coordinator), Tom Melvin (tight ends) and Marty Mornhinweg (senior assistant) and Dante Scarnecchia, the assistant head/offensive line coach of New England Patriots.

“(NAU) is just a place where a lot of good, young coaches go through,” Scarnecchia told a Daily Sun correspondent earlier this week in Jacksonville, Fla. “There are a number of places like that. Some might refer to them as steppingstones. As a result, a lot of names go through places like that.”

This was especially evident during the heyday of “Cheers” and “The Cosby Show.” As the NAU head coach from 1985-89, Larry Kentera proved to be an astute judge of coaching talent.

He hired Reid in 1986 (he moved on to Texas-El Paso the next year), Brad Childress the same year (he took a job at Utah in 1990), Melvin the same year (he went to California-Santa Barbara in 1988) and Mornhinweg in 1988 (he went to Southwest Missouri State in 1989, but after three seasons there and three more at Missouri he returned in 1994 for another one-year stint and then joined the Green Bay Packers in ’95).

Another ex-Kentera assistant, Bill Callahan, who was a Lumberjack in 1987-88, was the head coach of the Oakland Raiders when they went to Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 against Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (And don’t forget about ex-Jacks assistant Mike Shanahan, who was here in 1977, who led the Denver Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl triumphs in 1997 and ’98 as John Elway capped off a great career.)

“Coach Kentera hired great coaches,” Childress said. “He was able to assemble (a staff of) guys who were motivated. Maybe it was the altitude.”

The Lumberjacks went 26-29 during Kentera’s five years at the helm, but wins and losses aren’t what Kentera’s ex-assistants now talk about when the topic is discussed.

“It’s a great school and it was a privilege to work with Larry Kentera,” said Reid, who still keeps in touch with his ex-boss. “There were a number of great coaches there.”

Even in those days, Reid, a former offensive lineman at BYU who played in three Holiday Bowls, was recognized as a bright mentor.

“Andy was a very good offensive line coach,” Childress said. “He was able to teach pass protection. We (played) in the Big Sky and we needed offense in that league. It was important to protect the quarterback, and he did a great job motivating the offensive line. The offensive line was not very good the year before Andy got here, and it congealed when he got here.

“You could tell he was committed to the coaching profession.”

No one should argue with that statement, especially in Philadelphia, where Eagles fans are rejoicing that their team made the Super Bowl – the team’s first since a 27-10 loss to the Raiders in the 1981 game — after three straight losses in the NFC Championship Game.

On the other sideline, Scarnecchia will be returning today to place that’s become quite familiar: the Super Bowl.

In fact, Scarnecchia is the answer to a super-tough trivia question: Who is the only coach to be with the Patriots for all five of their Super Bowl appearances?

After leaving Flagstaff following a one-year stint as an assistant, he returned to Southern Methodist University, where he worked in the mid-1970s, in ’80 for two years. And then he joined the Patriots’ coaching staff in 1982. Except for a two-year stint with the Indianapolis Colts (1989-90), Scarnecchia has been with the Patriots ever since.

And he’s had a remarkable career, reaching The Big Game while working for Raymond Berry (Super Bowl XX in 1986), Bill Parcells (Super Bowl XXXI in 1997) and Bill Belichick (Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, XXXVIII in ’04 and XXXIX today).

So what does this year’s Super Bowl mean for Scarnecchia?

“Just to get here ain’t enough,” said Scarnecchia, who enjoyed swimming at Oak Creek Canyon when he lived amongst the cool pines. “When they shoot off confetti at the end of the game, if it’s not red, white and blue, it doesn’t count. Winning this game is all that matters, all that counts.”

But in a profession where it’s common to move every few years, a profession where stability is often not attained, Scarnecchia, 56, is a fortunate fellow.

“We’re very lucky, very blessed to be here this long,” said Scarnecchia, referring to his family, his wife Susan and their two children, Steve and Lisa. “It’s something you never think will happen, and it has happened. It’s home. Hopefully we will retire here.

“So many great coaches have never been to a Super Bowl, and to be a small part of New England’s Super Bowl, it’s very special.”

Remembering Frank Kush

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (June 25, 2017) — In the days since former Arizona State football coach Frank Kush’s death at age 88, a few memories return to the backroads of my mind.

He was a larger-than-life legend on ASU’s Tempe campus, even more so in the Sun Devils athletic department.

Everyone knew who he was. Or would quickly learn by mentioning his name.

Decades after he last coached a game for ASU in 1979, Kush’s records remain remarkable, including 19 winning seasons in 21-plus seasons at the helm.

Kush took over for the departed Dan Devine, who went on to coach Missouri, the Green Bay Backers and Notre Dame after leaving ASU in 1957.

A few times in the mid-to-late 1990s, when a large throng of reporters exited the Sun Devil Stadium press box and took the elevator down to field level, Kush was among the notebook- and tape recorder-carrying group. I recall seeing a few look at Kush with awe, as if to say, “Wow, that’s Frank Kush.”

He must’ve gotten this look a million times.

Kush engaged in small talk with the media without the apperance of an ounce of pomposity, and went on his way.

I didn’t converse with Kush dozens of times. We only met a handful of times.

However, I remember interviewing him two times while I worked for the ASU State Press, the student newspaper.

On the first occasion, I wrote a story about the athletic department retiring quarterback Danny White’s No. 11 jersey before the special event. Speaking on the telephone while taking a break from his job as executive administrator of the Arizona Boys Ranch, Kush provided serious, to-the-point answers. No wasted words. Not a lot of flowery adjectives. He simply offered anecdotes and sharp-as-a-tack recollections of White’s arrival on the Tempe campus and details of games that were still quite clear in his mind decades later.

Kush also couldn’t hide his admiration for White as a comeptitor, leader and accomplished winner. Those were traits that also served Kush well throughout his coaching tenure with the Sun Devils.

On another occcasion in the lates ’90s, I crossed paths with Kush at a weeknight fundraiser for former ASU offensive lineman Joe Cajic, who was battling leukemia. (Related story:

Kush joined several former Sun Devils players in giving moral support to Cajic during a very difficult chapter in his life. He also signed autographs, posed for photos with fans and conversed with the media throughout the night. Over the course of a few hours, including during his brief exchange with me as Pat Tillman looked on from a few feet away, Kush repeated the message that giving back to the community is part of the responsibility of being a football player or coach.

And he was right.

From the archives: Joe Cajic’s battle with leukemia

This article appeared in the State Press, Arizona State University’s student newspaper, on Oct. 28, 1998.

Cajic garners support from fans, ex-teammates.
Former ASU lineman fights battle with leukemia, relentlessly searches for donor

By Ed Odeven

Once a Sun Devil, always a Sun Devil.

For ex-ASU football player Joe Cajic, that sentiment was exemplified Tuesday night in his honor as several hundred fans showed up at ASU’s Karsten Golf Course to help raise money for the Joe Cajic Foundation.

Cajic, an offensive lineman at ASU from 1993-94, was diagnosed with leukemia in December 1997. He was given four years to live unless he found a life-saving bone marrow donor.

So far, Cajic has not found one. But he continues to search for a donor through the National Marrow Donor Pool.

Last night’s autograph party, hosted by the Sun Angel Foundation, United Blood Services and the Joe Cajic Foundation, raised approximately $10,000.

But more importantly, it reminded Cajic what it means to be a Sun Devil.

“It’s amazing how many people have showed up here to show support for me as well as for the other people that are out there in the situations that I’m in,” the bulky 6-foot-5 Croatian-American said. “This is absolutely wonderful — not just the fans showing up, but old friends of mine… This is like a reunion for me. There’s a bunch of guys we played with right here.”

Among Cajic’s former teammates in attendance were Jake “The Snake” Plummer, Mario Bates and Cardinals rookie free safety Pat Tillman, who was busy signing autographs all night.

“It’s the least we can do,” Tillman said between shaking fans’ hands and signing posters. “We (NFL players) are in an area where we get a lot of attention and we can take advantage of that.

“This is a chance to do something to help him a great deal and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

So was Mike Layton, a co-worker of Cajic’s.

“It’s amazing that all these people came out,” said Layton, who has worked at Cajic’s roofing company for two years. “They come out for celebrities, but Joe is the kind of person that people can take an instant liking to.

“He’s a big lovable guy.”

And Cajic’s will to live has been aided by the advice of caring ex-teammates.

“(They tell me) just keep marching,” he said. “Keep doing it (fighting leukemia). Take one step at a time. And that’s what I’ve been concentrating on.”

“They are all giving me 100 percent support and that’s lifting me up. As you can imagine, it’s a disease that’s day-to-day. (It’s a) disease that you get frustrated by because you can’t find a donor. But these guys are giving me the spirit and the energy that’s going to last a long time.”

Although he hasn’t found a donor, Cajic’s steadfast determination and commitment have not been shaken.

“I’ll do whatever I can to get people to know about this (disease),” he said sincerely. “An example of this is mammogram testing. Five years ago, the percent of the population (tested for mammograms) was extremely low. Now, it’s high.

“I want peoplel to know they can save somebody’s life. I want people once they turn 18 to go out and register (to vote) and donate blood for bone marrow testing.”

Bone marrow testing typically costs $40. However, funds from last night’s autograph party will be used to provide free testing across the country, including free testing for the first 2,000 participants at Paradise Valley Mall on Nov. 7 starting at at 9 a.m.

Cajic has contacted 52 Croatian Catholic churches across the country. The churches have coordinated their efforts to assist Cajic.

“The possibilities of being matched, I’ve been told anywhere from one million to one (odds) in the general population,” he said. “However, if you can narrow down the ethnicity, which we have with me, I’ve heard the odds are as good as 20,000 to one. So that basically breaks down to about 350 people per church.

“That’s not difficult. That’s something that can be done.”


2016 update: Joe Cajic received a life-saving bone marrow transplant in 1999. He serves on the board of directors for Sun Devil Family Charities.

Feature flashback – L.J. Shelton

This feature on Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman L.J. Shelton appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Aug. 7, 2003.

Healthy Shelton expecting big year

By Ed Odeven

Despite playing with an injured right ankle last season, L.J. Shelton had his finest all-around season as a pro.

The injury, originally a sprain, occurred in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Now, the Arizona Cardinals’ starting left tackle is looking forward to having an even more productive, injury-free season. He underwent arthroscopic ankle surgery on May 2. That was followed by eight weeks of rehabilitation, which ended just before the start of training camp.

“I had a bad sprain. I played through it for 14 games, so it worked out pretty good for me, being that I was hurt,” Shelton said after Thursday’s morning practice at NAU’s East Fields. “But it’s a scary feeling out there not knowing what’s going on, then finding out later that there’s a piece of bone floating around in there.”

While enduring the pain in his ankle, Shelton was able to concentrate on fine-tuning his skills.

“My injury forced me to focus on my technique a whole lot more, so I was able to really get my feet under my balance,” said Shelton, whose father, Lonnie, was a 10-year pro in the NBA and played for the 1978 NBA champion Seattle SuperSonics.

“I had to really focus on the footwork to keep my balance because the muscles in my ankle weren’t strong.”

Which is why he’s not trying to do too much in the preseason.

“I’m a little rusty because I didn’t do any of the mini-camps because of my off-season surgery. I’m not too hard on myself right now,” he said. “I know I’m able to play, but I want to play at a high level. I’m not quite there yet. I have four preseason games and a bunch more practices to get me there, so I’m not too worried about it right now.”

Adding depth to the o-line has been a key objective for the Cardinals. Guard Cameron Spikes, who played for the Houston Texans last year, was a free-agent pickup during the off-season. Guys like centers Steve Grace and Jason Starkey; tackles Reggie Wells, Kendrick Rogers and Watts Sanderson; guards Tony Wragge and Teag Whitting; and guard/tackle Raleigh Roundtree (who is recovering from a splenectomy) are vying for spots on the roster. Another lineman, Frank Garcia, will miss the first four games of the regular season after violating the NFL’s drug policy by testing positive for ephedra.

In 2002, the Cardinals’ starting offensive line was besieged by injuries. Center Mike Gruttaduria (knee), tackle Leonard Davis (knee), guard Pete Kendall (knee) and tackle Anthony Clement (triceps) all missed games. Shelton was the only one to start all 16 games.

“We’re not just counting on five guys to get it done,” Shelton said. “We’re counting on all eight or nine guys to make this team and get it done. We’re aware that it’s hard for the whole line to make it through 16 games. Injuries are going to happen. We’ve got to be able to have guys step in.”

When you’re 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds, like Shelton, size and strength are the physical attributes people notice about you right away. The untrained eye might not see how exceptional Shelton’s footwork is.

“His biggest asset is his feet,” offensive line coach Pete Hoener said. “He has remarkable feet for a big man. (He has) quick feet, he’s athletic, he has great balance, and those are things that you need to have playing left tackle.

“I think he’s a heck of a player. He’s very gifted athletically. He understands the game. Again, once he continues to master his techniques he could be one of the best.”

Shelton, a No. 1 pick (21st overall) by the Cardinals in the 1999 draft, is in the final year of a five-year deal, a year in which he’ll make $560,000. He said he’s not dwelling on getting a new contract.

Instead, his focus is on the football field.

“Last year was a big year for me just as a confidence-booster, my first year playing consistently at a high level,” Shelton said. “I just want to carry that over to this year. If I can build on last year, then all the rest of it financially will take care of itself.”

‘Offensive linemen have to play as one group, one unit, and not as five fingers. They have to be one fist.’

This feature on the NAU (Northern Arizona University) Lumberjacks’ offensive line appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun  on Nov. 27, 2003.

The foundation

By Ed Odeven

Amidst the cacophony of whistles, blurted plays and banter, you repeatedly hear two of the most important words in a football coach’s vocabulary:

Set, hit. Set, hit, Set, hit.

Those are the words of Chris Wiesehan, NAU’s assistant head coach/offensive line coach, signaling the start of another blocking drill — offensive linemen vs. defensive linemen — during Tuesday’s practice.

Strong practices have translated into strong efforts in games for the offensive linemen, who call themselves “The Hogs.”

“We’ve been consistent for the most part,” Wiesehan said matter-of-factly.

Indeed, a lot of things have gone right for the 16th-ranked Lumberjacks (8-3) this season. One of the biggest success stories has been the determined, dominant play of the offensive line. The starting five — left tackle Sean Funke, left guard Matt Cary, center Matt Raivio, right guard Matt Ryan and right tackle Jake Sanders — has been the foundation of the offense’s success, an offense which averaged 428.3 yards per game in the regular season (13th-best output in Division I-AA). The Lumberjacks’ 282.3 passing yards per game (No. 8 in the nation) is a direct link to the sufficient time true freshman quarterback Jason Murrietta has had to make plays.

Wiesehan, who received a master’s degree in sports administration from Fort Hays (Kan.) State, doesn’t need to write a 77-page thesis on what makes an offense click in order to explain why NAU’s offense has gone from being the Big Sky Conference’s worst (313 yards per game) a year ago to the aforementioned 428.3 ypg, the league’s best output.

It really only takes two numbers: 46 and 22. The former represents the number of sacks given up by NAU in 2002, the most in the Big Sky; the latter is the league-lowest total this year.


Another huge key for the Lumberjacks this season has been the health of the offensive line. While the unit was besieged by injuries last year, this year’s starters have all played in 11 games.

And as any coach will tell you, you cannot overstate the importance of a healthy offensive line.

“The health of the line, that’s the one position on the field that it’s very tough to exchange personnel, because it’s not like putting a new wide receiver in the game. It’s not like putting a new running back in the game,” Wiesehan said.

“Offensive linemen have to play as one group, one unit, and not as five fingers. They have to be one fist.”

Seniors Funke and the three Matts (Cary, Raivio, Ryan) were returning starters when the season began. Sanders, a true freshman, was inserted into the starting lineup for the season-opening Saint Mary’s game and stayed there.

Three months later, the quintet plays and thinks alike, down after down.

“Yeah, definitely being together as a group for more than a year helps a lot,” said Cary, a native of Juneau, Ak.

For the four returners, that continuity has helped them improve their productivity this season.

“Overall talk and communication with everybody (is better),” said Funke, who hails from Kentucky.

And, of course, that trickles down to the rest of the offense.

“The offensive line basically stabilizes the whole offense,” said the team’s primary ballcarrier, speedy Roger Robinson, who has rushed for 100 or more yards five times this season. “They are the foundation of the offense and without them nothing happens.”


Wiesehan, the players will tell you, is a stickler for details. He’s a demanding coach who expects his players to perform up to their potential every game.

“He’s a real intense coach,” Funke said. “He gets you motivated and makes you work hard. It pays off on Saturday when you come out and play hard every down, every snap.”

Or as Sanders said, “He’s helped me a lot, because I didn’t even know the offense. He helped me learn the offense and gets me prepared each week.”

Others have noticed how prepared and effective Sanders, a Buckeye High School graduate, has become as the season’s progressed.

“He’s done an amazing job,” Robinson said of Sanders. “I know at the beginning of the year I was a little worried. It’s one thing to be a true freshman and start, but to start on the offensive line is even more impressive just because it’s basically a street fight down there and he’s fighting against guys that are three and four years older than him…

“He’s just another guy in there now. He’s not a freshman anymore.”

With Sanders picking up his assignments, Wiesehan has had more time to spend coaching the group as a whole. Here are a few characteristics that he looks for when analyzes the play of the line:

* Relentless

* Aggressive

* Consistent

“We look to be a violent line that finishes in the run and the pass and finishes their opponent,” said Wiesehan, who’s now in his third year coaching the line.

“We (strive) to find ways to play to the echo of the whistle. I think this group recognizes their talent and they recognize their deficiencies.”

Essentially, Raivio, an All-American candidate at center, jump-starts the line with a hard-nosed, intelligent persona. Wiesehan refers to him as the line’s anchor, the catalyst that ignites NAU’s high-powered offense.

“He does so many things from a mental perspective, getting us into the right checks, getting us into the right plays at times, recognizing the structures of (an opponent’s) defense and really getting our line from tackle to tackle on the same page,” Wiesehan added.

NAU coach Jerome Souers said credit must go to Wiesehan and strength and conditioning coach Casey Bond for maximizing the potential of these guys.

“You really have to credit the kids for the determination and the effort that they’ve had, the resolve that they’ve had to do it on their own,” Souers said. … “They are vastly improved in their technique. Their ability to communicate and perform as a unit has brought a lot of offensive production for us.”

After a game, running backs, receivers and quarterbacks fill the stat sheet with gaudy numbers. The offensive linemen, however, are more concerned with one statistic: knockdowns.

It’s knockdowns, after all, that lead to first downs … and touchdowns … and victories.

Funke leads the Jacks with 111 knockdowns, while Cary has done it 96 times.

That stat never makes it into the box score, but that’s fine with Wiesehan and his unit.

“It’s just the nature of the position,” Wiesehan said. “You are the workhorse and you understand your role.”

It’s a role these guys are filling admirably and effectively.

You’ve got to start somewhere

By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Feb. 18, 2015) — NFL Films founder Ed Sabol’s recent death at age 98 triggered many memories for those who crossed paths with him over the years.

Sports columnist Dave Wiggins, who grew up near Philadelphia and became a high school football coach in the area, remembered Sabol’s work before NFL Films became an institution and a driving force of the NFL’s popularity from coast to coast.

“Believe it or not, before he got into NFL Films, Sabol used to work developing game films for Philly area high school football coaches,” Wiggins, who pens the Man About Sports column for The Japan Times, wrote in an email. “My first year as a head coach, I used to drop films off at his house to be developed and then pick them up later. After that, he moved on to the big time.”

Wiggins described his interactions with Sabol as “really pretty much all business.”

“He was a friend of my principal, who suggested I use him (our booster club provided the funds),” Wiggins recalled.

“I would just knock on the door of his big house out on the Main Line (ritzy area of Philly suburbs) and give him the films to develop and then come back later and pick them up.

“We’d just exchange pleasantries and he would ask if we won or not.

“I think it’s when he was just building up his business after he got out of the selling of coats because it wasn’t as much fun as film work – which he had dabbled in as a young adult onward. He began by filming his family, I believe.”

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