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Winning Is Gut Pride: A Look at the NFL Super Bowl Films

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Winning Is Gut Pride: A Look at the NFL Super Bowl Films
Winning Is Gut Pride: A Look at the NFL Super Bowl Films

On January 15th, 1967, on a bright, clear day in the Los Angeles Coliseum, the big question which had troubled the football world for seven years was answered. For the first time, the Green Bay Packers, champions of the National Football League, played the Kansas City Chiefs, the best team in the American Football League.”—John Facenda

So begins Super Bowl I: The Spectacle of a Sport amid shots of Bart Starr dropping back and hitting #84, Carroll Dale, over the Kansas City defense, and then of Chiefs quarterback, Len Dawson, making his own connection in the middle of a brutal Green Bay secondary. Under John Facenda’s steady, omnipotent narration, a mosaic of action unfolds through that distinct slow motion technique—not so slow as to lose interest, but slow enough to absorb detail—so often used in the NFL Films series, which turns football from a mere sport into a poetic clash of titans. The Super Bowl films establish American football as the most cinematic of sports. Multiple cameras take us deep inside the brutal trench combat at the line of scrimmage, where hoarse grunts, bandaged knuckles, missing teeth, and bloody noses vie for dominance. We breathlessly follow a running back as he pivots, contorts, and gracefully maneuvers through a moving minefield of onrushing tacklers. We fade back out of the pocket with a quarterback as he scrambles and lets loose a perfect spiral pass, and the zoom lens tracks the ball tight as it soars through the air and lands gently into a receiver’s outstretched hands as he breaks into a full out sprint. And all the action and drama unfolds against the relentless ticking of the clock. It does not take a football fan to appreciate the stellar filmmaking at work here or to catch the suspense as the drama unfolds. But the films do more. They define the warriors’ code of pro football. The tone of the Super Bowl films is the closest modern thing to that of the ancient Greek poet Homer. Warrior is pitted against warrior, and heroism is forged from victory and defeat. John Facenda says of pro football in NFL ’68: “From the top, it looks executive and slick…but it’s more. The game has soul.” These films express that soul.