The voice of NFL Films was from Philadelphia, and now his legacy will live on in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
John Facenda, a Philadelphia broadcaster who later became known as “The Voice of God,” has been posthumously awarded the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, which is given each year to a member of the media for “longtime exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.”
“For nearly 20 years, John Facenda’s resonant voice was, and even today still is, synonymous with the power, strength and character of the NFL,” Hall of Fame president David Baker said in a statement. “His narration of the league’s history, the legacies of those who played and coached in it and the stories of its greatest moments and memories helped generations of fans fall in love with the game and make it America’s passion.”
Facenda’s son, Jack, will accept the award on behalf of his father on Aug. 6 during the Hall of Fame’s enshrinement weekend in Canton, Ohio.
Facenda spent the bulk of his career in Philadelphia — first as a radio newsman on WIP Radio, then as the anchor for WCAU-TV, which at the time was a CBS affiliate. He ended each broadcast with the catchphrase, “Have a nice night tonight and a good day tomorrow. Goodnight, all.”
But he’s best known as the bellowing voice that powered NFL Films to prominence during the 1970s and ’80s. Among his most celebrated clips was a two-minute narration of “The Autumn Wind,” a poem adapted from Mary Jane Carr’s “Pirate Wind” by former NFL Films president and cofounder Steve Sabol. It has since become the official anthem of the Las Vegas Raiders.
In a documentary about Facenda released in 1996, Sabol referred to him as the “maestro of myth” and credited his deep, baritone voice with becoming one of the key elements of his filmmaking style. Facenda continued to narrate films until 1984, when he died at the age of 71.
“It’s fitting in a year that Steve Sabol joins his father, Ed, in the Hall of Fame that John Facenda’s decades of professionalism and excellence at the highest level will be recognized as the recipient of the Pete Rozelle Award for 2021,” Baker said.
As the story goes, Facenda’s connection with the NFL happened by luck. Ed Sabol, the creator of NFL Films, happened to hear Facenda speak at a Philadelphia bar in 1965, and knew immediately his deep voice was the perfect soundtrack for slow-motion highlights of the league. The first narration Facenda did for NFL Films was in 1967 in the full-length documentary film They Call It Pro Football.
“It came to define the aesthetic of modern, hyper-vivid sports coverage, taking viewers inside the huddle, letting them hear the collisions and understand the coaches’ tactics,” Rich Cohen wrote in The Atlantic. “It turned every game into Waterloo and every player into an epic hero. It taught America how to watch football.”
In an introduction to the film, longtime sportscaster Pat Summerall summed up Facenda’s voice and its interplay with the slow-motion highlights as well as anyone, noting it expressed both “the beauty and violence of professional football.”