The other aspect I love about the post-merger era was the helmets and uniforms the teams sported back then, some of which I think are light years better than today’s overblown and gaudy duds (Eagles, Seahawks, Bengals, atten-shun!). I love seeing the Eagles in their white helmets with the green wings and the Redskins with the yellow helmets with the “R” on them that they wore for only two seasons (1970-71). The Houston Oilers had silver helmets for a brief time back then that I thought looked really cool, and of course you had the San Diego Chargers in their famed power blue uni’s. Given their popularity now, I don’t see why they don’t just revert back to them permanently—their current navy blue uniforms are rather boring to me. And am I the only person who loves the L.A. Rams in just blue-and-white (during the Deacon Jones/Merlin Olsen/Roman Gabriel era) before they added the gold to their uniforms in 1973? Cool uni's to me, anyway. Other subtle stuff is fun to examine in the old reels too, like when there were no names on the players’ jerseys, none of the fans in the stands sported their team colors and the coaches wore suits and ties on the sidelines (with the ever-dapper Hank Stram of the Chiefs being the trend-setter). It’s funny to see the goalposts in the fronts of the end zones instead of the back, not to mention those cheesy facemasks the players wore back then—I’m amazed there weren’t some major facial disfigurations in those days! What’s also amazing about NFL Films is their ability to make a highlight reel look timeless. Apart from the helmets, uniforms and stadiums, their game films from this past season don’t really look all that much different than the ones they shot 30 or 40 years ago.
As beautiful as their visuals were, no discussion of NFL Films is complete without mentioning two fundamental elements of style on the audio side that made their presentations special: the background music and the narration by the late John Facenda. I’m a non-believer, but if there really is a God, then I'm pretty sure this is what He sounds like. Facenda’s commanding baritone added that extra touch of drama to even the most mundane contest, like Super Bowl V, aka the “Blooper Bowl” between Baltimore and Dallas, for example. Facenda was a longtime TV newsman in Philadelphia and huge football fan, and since the Sabols also hailed from Philly, the match was a natural. He didn’t write “The frozen tundra of Lambeau Field…” but JF made it sound like his own. Meantime, Facenda’s narrations were laid over some wondrous music beds, many of which were composed by musician Sam Spence. Most of these musical pieces were 2-3 minutes in length, and they fit the various highlight packages like a glove. My personal favorite piece was called “The Over The Hill Gang”, and many are instantly recognizable, like the Oakland Raiders’ theme "Autumn Wind" . These recordings were even available on vinyl albums back in the '70s, and I was ever so pleased when much of the NFL Films music catalog was re-released on CD in the early ‘00s in a classy 10-disc box set called Autumn Thunder.
Another technical concept NFL Films pioneered was the use of mircophones by coaches and players during games. Their first full-fledged effort was one of the most memorable, as Chiefs coach Hank Stram became an instant hit with his constant jabbering on the sidelines during Super Bowl IV vs. the Vikings, thus introducing "matriculate that ball down the field, boys" and "65 Toss Power Trap" into the pro football vernacular. Hank was a real hoot, but the all-time sideline classic for me was the late Lou Saban on the Denver sideline pitching a fit over a botched Bronco play and exclaiming, "They're killin' me, Whitey, they're KILLIN' ME!" Whitey was assistant coach Whitey Dovell, who ironically, later served on the Chiefs staff. Miked players and coaches are all quite commonplace now, but in 1970, this was considered revolutionary.