Jim Sabo Remembrances
By Thomas E. Hepler
As the founder of OURLADs, I will admit that as we matured, key to our evolution was Jim Sabo. When he first joined us in 1984, he asked for a specific assignment. I pondered the request. Because we had been struggling keeping track of the rosters of the 28 NFL teams, something essential to our computer draft algorithm, I asked him to take on that function, which he did. What a fortuitous move! Within a short time he had built a database which became the foundation of what are considered to be the premier team depth charts available. OURLADs Depth Charts are, as most fans know, a credit to Jim Sabo.
Lest one thinks that was Jim’s sole contribution to the effort, nothing could be further from the truth. It should be known he was an excellent evaluator of talent and was intimately involved in that aspect of our operation as well. As an example of how he is remembered, one of our former scouts, Roy Kawagoe, upon receiving a notice of Jim’s death, wrote, “I recall him touting a QB who I thought was too slender on the topside to withstand hits in the NFL. That QB was Tom Brady.”
He was also our go-to-guy when dealing with various print and electronic media. Many of our lads had their gigs, but it was Jim who I always felt did it best. He was in demand, especially as the draft drew near. There were not enough hours in the day, yet he persevered.
And he did all of this while writing a column for Giant Insider, a weekly publication for fans of The New York Football Giants. Jim was a Giants fan and season ticket holder for ages. Yet, in his work at OURLADs, he was impartial. Notice my use of the word “football” in the team name. Even though the New York Baseball Giants left New York after 1957, the official name for the football version is New York Football Giants, or was, last I looked. In any discussion with Jim, I would, in jest, purposely refer to the team as the Football Giants. He eventually came to ignore me. But I never ceased.
Jim had a great sense of humor. In some ways it was perverse. As an example, when he left for the Senior Bowl each year, or any trip for that matter, he took his local mail with him to be posted in Mobile — or wherever. He figured he got better value for his postage having the post office work harder to deliver it from a distant location. To compound his belief, if I were going on a trip, he’d ask me to take his mail to be posted at my destination. The concept became infectious. I still adhere to that way of getting postage value.
Player’s names became a great game mostly at Jim’s instigation, but the lads were all active participants, especially during our computer draft projections, mostly on Saturdays in the months and weeks before the draft. Tyronne Drakeford comes to mind. When, in 1994, Drakeford’s name would pop up on our computer screen as the “ideal” selection for a team, and, because we had the option of overriding the computer, we’d allow it if the consensus was, “Love the Drake,” or we’d reject it based on a “Hate the Drake” argument. If you are not familiar with Seinfeld, none of this makes sense. But a true Seinfeld enthusiast will understand.
Contorting names was also a feature mostly instigated by Sabo. Kavika Pittman, a 1996 pick of the Cowboys, was referred to internally as Kavorka Pittman, “Kavorka” being a seinfeldian standard. A few non-seinfeldians, are Stock Car McDouble (Stockar McDougle), Hotel Adams (Flozell Adams), Gandy Dancer (Mike Gandy), and Jim Klein Snacker (Jim Kleinsasser). There were more, too many to name here. If you are not a Seinfeld fan, or you don’t recognize the players mentioned, all of this probably makes no sense. But it was fun. Maybe you had to be there to fully appreciate the shenanigans. There was a risk in all of this, we needed to ensure none of these pseudonyms ended up in our print products — none did. But more important, we had to be alert to not using them on radio or TV. We didn’t, so far as I recall.
Jim Sabo was very creative. One year, as we were finishing the pages for the guide, we had one page left to fill to make a full print signature. I had a rule: no blank pages with the word “NOTES” above the page to justify its existence. Jim suggested giving out “oscars” acknowledging various football players and their positions. We went to work immediately creating that one page. Early the next morning, THE LADDIES were born. They were a hit and became an annual feature.
A quality about Jim I came to appreciate was his ability to keep a story, or legend, afloat. He had made a vow, for whatever reason, I don’t know, to never, ever set foot in a particular state, one I opt not to identify. True to his pledge over the years, he was eventually faced with a real dilemma. We were headed to a post-season all-star game and were scheduled to make a connecting flight through a major city in the anonymous state. He opted to make the trip, as planned, only on condition that changing flights did not constitute “being in the state.” We argued with him for years after that, that he had, in fact, entered the state. He held to the position he had not. It became moot, years later, when one of his sons was married in the unnamed state, and, of course, Jim attended. How could he not? It was a great topic of conversation, and consternation, for years.
When I retired, I was pleased that Jim stayed on with Dan Shonka and the new lads, as it were. Dan will be hard pressed to continue the depth chart at a high level without Jim Sabo, but, knowing Dan, it will work out.
When I had finally accepted that Jim was no longer with us, and I’d never enjoy his company on this earth again, I felt obliged to notify others who knew him and might not be aware of his passing. I sent email copies of his obituary. Many responded, as did Roy Kawagoe, mentioned previously. I had written to Thomas Marino a long time NFL scout, and a friend of Jim and I, ending with the comment, “I don’t know what kind of football they play in Heaven, but I’m certain Jim Sabo is already involved.” Tom Marino replied, “You are right, I bet he has already finished a set of rosters and submitted them to the HFL commissioner.”
Jim Sabo, Requiscat in pace!