NFL Films composer Sam Spence leaves lasting impact

Posted Feb 9, 2016

Iconic composer for NFL Films Sam Spence died this week

Steve Sabol once said there are two sports that are set to music.

One is bullfighting, and the other is football.

“Music is as important to the game as the crack of leather or the sound of the referee’s whistle,” the late co-founder of NFL Films said decades ago in an interview with The New York Times.

Sam Spence, the iconic composer for NFL Films, died on Saturday morning in Lewisville, Texas.

His passing came a day before the league celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl, which wouldn’t be what it is today without Spence.

Spence was 88 and had been ill for several months in the United States after returning from Munich, Germany, where he lived for many years with his wife, Friedl, and recorded songs for NFL Films.

"He lived to hear from people who enjoyed his work," his son, Kim Spence, told the Houston Chronicle. "He believed his music would allow him to live forever."

A native of San Francisco, the site of Super Bowl 50, Spence studied music at USC and UCLA and began scoring documentaries for NFL Films in the 1960s. With compositions such as “Up She Rises," "Pony Soldiers," and "The Over the Hill Gang," Spence provided the soundtrack behind narrator John Facenda, known as “The Voice of God” among football diehards.

Along with Steve Sabol and his father, Ed, they are credited with popularizing the NFL through their films. Spence was the last survivor of the four men, but their legacy lives on in the sport.

With the Giants, fans can’t stand up on third down in MetLife Stadium or watch “Giants Chronicles” without hearing Spence’s work.

“I can’t imagine any producer in any sport that hasn’t been influenced by the music of Sam Spence,” said Don Sperling, vice president of Giants Entertainment. “Especially at a team in the NFL, his music has become universal at the stadium, on TV, and on the Internet.”

As the Super Bowl enters its next 50 years, Spence’s mark on football lore won’t be forgotten.  

“The advantage that I had was melody,” Spence once said in an interview. “I could write melodies that would stick in your ear.”