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NFL Films Studios Hosts PFRA

by Randy Snow

Originally posted on Yahoo! Voices, Tuesday, June 19, 2012


About a year ago, I joined an organization called the Professional Football Researchers Association. As someone who has been writing about many different aspects of football since 2003, I thought it might be good to connect with other people who shared my love of football and the history of the game.

For my annual PFRA dues, I receive a magazine every other month called "The Coffin Corner." It contains articles written by association members on all manner of subjects. The PFRA has been around since 1979 and currently has 438 members in seven different countries.

Another thing the PFRA has done since 2002 is to maintain what is known as "The Hall of Very Good." Each year, several players and/or coaches are profiled who are not currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but whose careers were none the less noteworthy and should not be forgotten.

A few months ago, as I was perusing the current issue of "The Coffin Corner," I read that the PFRA was planning its bi-annual member's meeting. It was going to be held at the NFL Films Studios in Mt. Laurel, NJ and would include a tour of the facility. I could not fire off an e-mail fast enough to let them know I was very interested in attending!

The meeting took place on June 8 and 9 and included guest speakers Dave Plaut, an author and Emmy Award winning producer at NFL Films and ESPN's Sal Paolantonio. We also got to view the episode of "A Football Life" that profiled Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. This screening took place in the Ed Sabol Theater inside the NFL Films Studios, which seats 163 people.

The Executive Director of the PFRA, Ken Crippen, announced that the organization was going to begin assisting the Senior Selection Committee of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in gathering information, stats and bios of players who have been out of the game for at least 50 years. This will assist the committee by providing them with more information and bringing to life the careers of the candidates that they will be voting on.

Also speaking to the membership was Bob Dilweg, the son of former NFL player Lavern (Lavvie) Dilweg. Bob was there to talk about his efforts over the years to try and get his father recognized in the Hall of Fame. Lavern played end for the Green Bay Packers from 1927-1934. Dilweg was a member of three consecutive NFL championship teams with the Packers in 1929, 1930 and 1931. He passed away in 1968 at the age of 64. He is just the kind of player that the PFRA can research and profile that could make all the difference in getting him honored in Canton.

Several PFRA members spoke during the two-day meeting on various subjects that they have researched. There were talks on statistical analysis, preserving oral histories, NFL officials, Jim Brown, military service teams from World War I, World War II and the Korean War, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse and more. They were all very fascinating lectures and I learned much from them.

The highlight of the entire weekend for me, however, was the studio tour. NFL Films Studios moved into its current location in the fall of 2001. It was built at a cost of $45 million and is located just a mile or so from its previous facility, which they simply outgrew. Ed Sabol founded the company in 1962 as Blair Motion Pictures. It was named after his daughter. The NFL purchased the company two years later and it was renamed NFL Films. Today, the company employs about 250 people.

Walking thought the halls of the facility, I felt like a kid in a candy store! There were football pictures and artwork everywhere. I could spend an entire day there just looking at all of the unique and wonderful items on display throughout the facility.

One place that I found extremely fascinating was a small sitting area just outside of NFL Films President Steve Sabol's office. It is known as "The Board Room" and it contains many vintage board games on display, all related to the game of football. There is even one board game based on Canadian football.

The halls are filled with many enlarged photographs of NFL players past and present. Some of the most interesting ones that I saw were framed, vintage program covers of college football games from the late 1800's and early 1900's, many featuring Ivy League teams.

There was even one Detroit Lions poster that I had on my bedroom wall as a kid and which I recently found and had framed for my someday man cave. Another unique piece of artwork was a wall sculpture made entirely from the internal parts of a film camera.

We saw video editing rooms, offices, production facilities, recording areas, a wall of Emmy's, film vaults, film processing areas, graphics areas, research libraries and more. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The complex even has its own cafeteria and an orchestra recording room, where they record all of their own original music.

The reason that NFL Films has such a unique look is because they still use 16mm film to shot all the games. The film is then sent to the studios where it is processed and then transferred to tape or digital media.

The facility is not open to the public, so this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to go behind the scenes of a company that, as football fans, we are all familiar with. We have all marveled at the products that NFL Films has produced over the past 40+ years and now I've had a glimpse into its inner workings.

The NFL Films complex is part football museum, part shrine, part historical preservation society, part biggest man cave ever and all fascinating. Thanks to the PFRA, I got to see it first hand.

In 2014, the PFRA members will gather again, this time in Cleveland, Ohio. I can hardly wait to see what's in store for us there!


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