Bobby Smith went from the football field to behind the camera with NFL Films


“I owe Chuck everything,” Smith said. “Chuck was always there when God wanted him to be there. Great man and great mentor. Helped me an awful lot.”

Smith still is repaying the debt. Bowman, of course, became the longtime director of the state Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Now retired but still involved, Bowman will be in Estes Park, Colorado, later this year for a Heroes of FCA program. Smith will be there to film it.

From NEO, Smith went to Drake University, where he was a kicker and backup quarterback.

Smith went to Drake intent on print journalism. But walking in a basement building, he saw a door open and vibrant light shot out. He likened it to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Smith poked his head in the door, saw the studio lights and cameras run by guys wearing headsets, and he was infatuated. Went straight upstairs and changed his major.

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Smith worked at WHO television in Des Moines, Iowa, produced his own football team’s highlight video, realized his voice rose three octaves when he went in front of the camera and decided his future was behind the camera.

In summer 1973, at a futile training camp with the Kansas City Chiefs — Jan Stenerud was the KC kicker and on his way to the Hall of Fame — Smith struck up a conversation with an NFL Films videographer and got invited to a training-table dinner, which included Steve Sabol, whose father, Ed, had founded the burgeoning company.

Not long after, by which time Smith had been cut by both the Chiefs and the Chicago Bears, Ed Sabol called and offered a job.

NFL Films in the 1970s became a sensation, with the monopoly on NFL highlights and timeless 30-minute videos narrated by Facenda. Some credit NFL Films for igniting the mass popularity of pro football in the 1970s. The Sabols eventually sold NFL Films to the league itself.

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