NFL Films’ “They Call It Pro Football” selected for Library of Congress’ National Film Registry



The Librarian of Congress James H. Billington today selected NFL Films’ 1967 production “They Call It Pro Football” for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

“Established by Congress in 1989, the National Film Registry spotlights the importance of preserving America’s unparalleled film heritage,” said Billington. “These films are not selected as the ‘best’ American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring importance to American culture. They reflect who we are as a people and as a nation.”

The Library of Congress recognized the film as follows in its press release today:

Before “They Call It Pro Football” premiered, football films were little more than highlight reels set to the oom-pah of a marching band. In 1964, National Football League commissioner Pete Rozelle agreed to the formation of NFL Films. With a background in public relations, he recognized that the success of the league depended on its image on television, which required creating a mystique. “They Call It Pro Football,” the first feature of NFL Films, looked at the game “in dramaturgical terms,” capturing the struggle, not merely the outcome, of games played on the field. Written and produced by Steve Sabol, directed by John Hentz and featuring the commanding cadence of narrator John Facenda and the music of Sam Spence, the film presented football on an epic scale and in a way rarely seen by the spectator. Telephoto lenses brought close-ups of players’ faces into viewers’ living rooms. Slow motion revealed surprising intricacy and grace. Sweeping ground-to-sky shots imparted a “heroic angle.” Coaches and players wearing microphones let the audience in on strategy and emotion. “They Call It Pro Football” established a mold for subsequent productions by NFL Films and has well earned its characterization as the “Citizen Kane” of sports movies.

NFL Films president Steve Sabol long ago made “They Call It Pro Football” mandatory viewing for all NFL Films staffers. NFL Films named its blog after the movie and has posted the final five minutes of the movie for viewing here (

“They Call It Pro Football” joins the ranks of classics on the list including Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, The Graduate, Knute Rockne All American, Lawrence of Arabia, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Wizard of Oz.


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