Duly assured that we have plenty of space (and that we’d listen blissfully to his tales of legends like George Halas and Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry for however long he’s willing to tell them), Sabol uses his first pick on the 1967 NFL Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys, better known by the mythological sobriquet of “The Ice Bowl.”
Like so many times before, Sabol witnessed the action from behind a camera. “That drive, it was 68 yards across a frozen field against a doomsday defense,” he recalls. “The character of that achievement surpassed the achievement itself. That drive stood for everything that Vince Lombardi had preached in his years at Green Bay.”
Sabol also plays up the game’s pivotal role in NFL mythology making. “It cemented the Packers as the romantic team of legend. That was the third consecutive championship they won, which has never been duplicated.”
For individual excellence, Sabol points to the Dec. 12, 1965, game, in which Chicago’s Gale Sayers scored six touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers: Four on runs, one on a screen pass and one on a punt return. “People talk about [former Detroit Lions star] Barry Sanders being the most exciting runner they’ve ever seen, and clearly he had moves that were indescribable,” Sabol says, choosing his words carefully. “But Gale Sayers? Gale Sayers had moves that were unimaginable. That day, every one of those runs came on a muddy field.”
Sabol delights in evocative descriptions: of the sound of cleats reverberating on concrete or the wet-dog smell of leather shoulder pads. It comes as no surprise, then, that he singles out one of the game’s most cinematic moments — Adam Vinatieri’s last-second, 45-yard field goal in a blizzard that sent a 2001 divisional playoff contest between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders into overtime — as among its most memorable.
“With the season on the line, to send it into overtime, to kick in those kind of conditions in that weather — that was almost impossible,” Sabol says. “That kick, in many ways, was the beginning of the modern Patriot dynasty.”