John Facenda (August 8, 1913 – September 26, 1984) was an American broadcaster and sports announcer…..who was a fixture on Philadelphia radio and television for decades….and achieved national fame as a narrator for NFL Films and Football Follies. Through his work with NFL Films, Facenda was known by many National Football League fans as “The Voice of God.”
One night in 1965, Facenda went to a local tavern, the RDA Club, which happened to be showing footage produced by NFL Films….as he enjoyed the slow-motion game sequences that were already an NFL Films trademark and would later recall….“I started to rhapsodize about how beautiful it was….when Ed Sabol, the man who founded NFL Films happened to be at the bar that night…..and he came up to me and asked if he game me a script, could I repeat what I just said….and I replied I would try.”
Thus began Facenda’s association with NFL Films….which would continue until his death….as Facenda narrated many highlight films during his career with the company. His dulcet baritone was the perfect match for the highly dramatic nature of the footage he narrated….and earned him the nickname “The Voice of God.” Probably one of the best-remembered and most frequently-quoted examples of Facenda’s NFL Films narration is something he never actually said….“the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field” was a quote sportscaster Chris Berman made up, mimicking Facenda’s voice when he said it. Steve Sabol, son of Ed, claimed that “John may have made a game seem more important than it was because he read lines with a dramatic directness”….as broadcast legend Bob Costas calledFacenda’s voice “one of the most remarkable instruments in the history of broadcasting.”
Facenda was at the pinnacle of his style in NFL Film’s 1974 production of “The Championship Chase” with his recitation of “The Autumn Wind” a football poem written by Steve Sabol, personifying fall weather:
The Autumn wind is a pirate Blustering in from sea With a rollicking song he sweeps along Swaggering boisterously. His face is weather beaten He wears a hooded sash With a silver hat about his head And a bristling black mustache He growls as he storms the country A villain big and bold And the trees all shake and quiver and quake As he robs them of their gold. The Autumn wind is a Raider Pillaging just for fun He’ll knock you ’round and upside down And laugh when he’s conquered and won.
The poem and its accompanying theme music have become an anthem of the Oakland Raiders. It is also known as the “Battle Hymn of the Raider Nation.”
To this day, Facenda’s speaking style remains the sound most closely linked with NFL Films, and, in some ways, football narration itself. The style is frequently emulated, often in a parodic manner, in contemporary sports news, advertising, and even other sports-themed entertainment. Similarly, Facenda’s voice is so closely associated with the NFL that in July 2006, Facenda’s son filed a lawsuit against the NFL, claiming that Facenda’s voice was used without permission in an NFL Network program promoting the video game Madden NFL 06. A room in the internet virtual Professional Football History Museum is called “The Facenda Audio-Visual Room” in Facenda’s honor.