Music to watch football by

The blare of French horns and the triumphant pounding of bass drums are as much a part of NFL Films as the slow-motion crunch of a linebacker knocking the spit off a running back's tongue.

And it all goes back to Steve Sabol's summer camp experiences in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains in the 1950s.

"What I remembered are songs like, 'What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?,' these spirited things that had a beat and a melody," Sabol says. When his father, Ed, began NFL Films in 1962, they were either musicless or full of the old high school band rah-rah stuff. But Steve Sabol thought the professional game -- and the company's innovative footage -- deserved more.

"Music is so much a part of the main things of your life. You listen to it when you are in love. You are married to it. You are even buried to it," he said. "I knew we had to have music to complete the story line."

In 1965 he found a conductor-composer in Munich, an American expatriate named Sam Spence. Spence was not a football fan, but he wrote the kind of rich orchestrations Sabol loved.

"I couldn't tell Sam about the Lions and Packers playing at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, but I would explain it in terms, say, of a midwinter battle at the gates of Moscow. That, he understood," Sabol recalls.

It was that crashing of cymbals and tooting of piccolos that made NFL Films distinctive, as well as different from any sports highlights that had come before.

For the last 11 years, Tom Hedden and Dave Robidoux have been the resident composers at NFL Films. Their music is a bit lusher and brassier than Spence's. Theirs tends more toward the Marlboro theme or "Bolero"; Spence's compositions were more "Pink Panther"-ish jazz.

Hedden and Robidoux, too, have the advantage of working in NFL Films' new building, a 200,000-square-foot facility with every piece of high-tech audio equipment. Most prominent is Studio A, modeled primarily after Abbey Road Studio Two in London, with Argentine mesquite floors to absorb the reverb and cathedral-style windows to provide just the right light for the studio musicians who record NFL music, some of whom are members of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Hedden, NFL Films' music director, and Robidoux went to Berklee School of Music in Boston, which doesn't even have a football team and which specializes in jazz studies.

"But it is a wonderful thing that we can compose music that gets played all over the world," Robidoux says. "It is serious music, and we hope we do it well."

-- Robert Strauss

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