The Voice of God

It is Super Bowl week, a time that means so many different things to so many different people. If your team isn’t participating, then you are left to your own devices as to how you relate to the game. A social event? Holding a grudge against a participating player or team? My team is not in Indy, and there is little in the way of personal interest in any of the particulars (my fanship of Eli Manning notwithstanding).

So the week brings mostly nostalgia. I remember watching Super Bowl III at my sister’s house. Joe Namath and his Fu Manchu, long hair, and white shoes — all symbols of anti-establishment. All perfect for a 9th grader. I was under the spell of the Jets’ victory over the old-school Colts. I’ve always remembered the score (16-7) for some reason. It all stuck.

This week I am watching a string of old Super Bowl recaps, those brilliant 30-minute vignettes of games long forgotten produced by the venerable NFL Films. Oh, if only college football had the equivalent.

The editing of these visual summaries is brilliant. The games seem that much more dramatic when caught on film that has been spliced and diced and reassembled as a short story. But the true genius of these gems is the music combined with the narrative, especially the delivery of those words by The Voice of God.

John Facenda was already a legendary figure in Philadelphia television by the time Ed Sabol, the man who founded NFL Films, contracted Facenda in 1965 to do narration for all of the films produced by Sabol’s brain-child (NFL Films was founded in 1965 as a private enterprise and is now owned by the league) that has won over 100 Sports Emmys.

It was Facenda’s voice, and his pace of delivery (never hurried) without overmodulation, that could turn a pedestrian script into something which the listener surely thought was penned by William Butler Yeats or Ezra Pound. Facenda’s last narration for NFL Films was his rendition for Super Bowl XVIII (he died in 1984). He never uttered “the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field” that was attrubuted to him by Chris Berman’s poor attempt at mimicry of true class.

But there was a lot that John Facenda actually did say. He alone made the game of football a bigger-than-life spectacle back in the days before the NFL truly became America’s game. As Ed Sabol’s son, Steve, said of Facenda,

John may have made a game seem more important than it was because he read lines with a dramatic directness.

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