Sam Spence

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Sam Spence
Birth nameSamuel Lloyd Spence
Born(1927-03-29)March 29, 1927
San Francisco, California, U.S.
DiedFebruary 6, 2016(2016-02-06) (aged 88)
Lewisville, Texas, U.S.
GenresFilm score
Occupation(s)Composer, musician
Years active1966–1990

Samuel Lloyd Spence (March 29, 1927 – February 6, 2016)[1] was an American soundtrack composer best known for his work with NFL Films.[1] His music has also been in the EA Sports Madden NFL football video games and many football-related commercials.


Spence was born in San Francisco. A former University of Southern California music instructor living and working in Munich, Spence was hired in 1966 to score the mini-documentaries that conveyed National Football League highlights and personalities to fans in the network-television era. Spence's music cues combined with the voices of announcers Pat Summerall, Tom Brookshier, Charlie Jones, John Facenda, and Harry Kalas created the trademark style of sports highlights films of the NFL.

Initially, Mahlon Merrick was asked to provide scores for NFL Films. A friend of Spence, Merrick asked Spence to help in the recording sessions. "Mahlon had written marches. Toward the end of that recording session, I stuck in a couple of different pieces—my own orchestral compositions with strings and woodwinds, more like a Hollywood film score. It turned out they were Ed Sabol's favorites and he offered me a three-year contract to write, conduct, and produce NFL Films' music."[2]

In Germany, Spence wrote several TV soundtracks with Hani Chamseddine, e.g., for the Francis Durbridge thriller Wie ein Blitz [de]. After his retirement in 1990, he returned to Munich. He achieved unexpected fame in 1998 with the success of a CD compilation entitled The Power and the Glory: The Original Music & Voices Of NFL Films.[citation needed] Spence died at a Lewisville, Texas nursing center on February 6, 2016, at the age of 88.[3]


  • 1970: "Wie ein Blitz" – Main theme for the Durbridge series on German network TV (Single, Kuckuck Schallplatten)
  • 1971: The Art of the Synthesizer – Interesting, Unusual and Melodic Moog Sounds (LP, Kuckuck Schallplatten)
  • 1972: Fantastic Sounds: TV Themes and Pop Covers (LP, Kuckuck Schallplatten)
  • 1998: The Power And The Glory: The Original Music & Voices of NFL Films
  • 2007: Sam Spence: Our Man in Munich (Allscore – Indigo)
  • 2009: Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music


In 2005, Spence's music was remade by the hip hop music group Da Riffs, which can be heard on several NFL Network shows and found in the soundtrack of the game Madden NFL 06. Along with the urban remakes, the original songs still play in the game's soundtrack. His music was also included in Madden NFL 07, Madden NFL 08, and Madden NFL 09, being remixed again by Da Riffs.

Later appearances[edit]

Spence's music has been performed live several times, with the composer conducting guest residencies with regional orchestras. On June 14, 2008, he guest conducted a medley of his NFL Films hits with the Golden State Pops Orchestra in San Pedro, California, as part of the orchestra's "Pops for Pops" concert.[4] In November 2010, a concert devoted almost entirely to his football scores was staged in Green Bay, Wisconsin. An audience of nearly 1,000 turned out at the historic Meyer Theater downtown for a program that featured three local ensembles—The Civic Symphony of Green Bay, the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay Wind Ensemble, and a big band jazz ensemble—performing a wide range of Spence's football scores, from symphonic to jazz to pop.[5]


One of the hallmarks of Spence's music is its intangible familiarity. Two film score enthusiasts have pointed out the similarity of his more popular themes to several contemporary film scores; one has criticized them of "get[ting] too close to their obvious film inspiration".[6] They have lauded some of his compositions as "cool homage[s]",[6][7] while describing others as "barely disguised"[6] "knock-offs".[7]

NFL music[edit]

Over his three-decade career, Spence composed hundreds of short sound-track scores for NFL Films. Some songs in this list are:

  • "Magnificent Eleven"
  • "Round Up"
  • "Forearm Shiver"
  • "Macho Theme"
  • "A Chilling Championship"
  • "Sunday Afternoon Fever"
  • "Ramblin' Man from Gramblin'"
  • "The Equalizer"
  • "Raider Might"
  • "The Over the Hill Gang"
  • "Classic Battle"
  • "West Side Rumble"
  • "Lombardi Trophy Theme"
  • "Golden Boy"
  • "Final Quest"
  • "Game Plan For Sudden Death"
  • "Industrial Giant"
  • "Torpedo"
  • "Police Car"
  • "The Pony Soldiers"

Performance rights controversy with NFL Films[edit]

Spence had long been involved in a controversial situation with the NFL regarding the rights to perform or use his music in any media outlets. The case was first reported by musicologist Alexander Klein in a 2013 article published by Film Score Monthly magazine.[8] Through personal conversations with the composer, Klein reported that Spence was convinced to sign a contract that relinquished all of the rights to his music to NFL Films under the promise that the enterprise would return the document to the composer.

According to Spence, "I received a phone call, in which NFL Films claimed my music had been 'stolen' and used in a pornographic film called Deep Throat (released on June 12, 1972 in the U.S.). They would send me a paper to sign to the effect that NFL Films was empowered to protect the music in a court of law. In all sincerity, I did not see a possible 'plot' here at all. However, I unwittingly 'punctured their balloon' by explaining that they didn't have to bother with this at all because GEMA (a German state-authorized performance rights organization) would protect my music and legally proceed after anyone who used it without permission." As Klein reported, "soon afterwards, GEMA sent Spence a video copy of the film and asked him to make a list of "where and how long" his music appeared in it. Thus, the composer dutifully watched the film in order to find possible fragments of his music in it. Yet, the outcome was unexpected." In Spence's own words: "I was surprised to find not one note of my music in the film. Naïve, trusting person that I was, it never dawned on me it could possibly be a hoax to get me to sign a forthcoming document." According to Spence, "the next 'trick' came several months later. I received a phone call in which I was told that NFL Films had a court case in two days against someone who had illegally used some of my music. Their lawyer had sent me a paper via Federal Express, which they said would be arriving shortly (in that same afternoon) for my signature. After signed, the FedEx courier would immediately send it back to them so they would have it in time for the court case." According to Klein's report, the composer received the paper in the afternoon and read it but, in Spence's words, "after reading the paper, I called them and said that I could not sign a document with that wording. But they assured me that as soon as the case was over, they would send it back to me." Still unsuspecting, and trusting in the company's words, Spence signed the document and sent it to NFL Films. He never got the paper back and, to this day, the late composer's family is not receiving royalties for the many uses of Spence's music in American television shows and commercials.[8]


  1. ^ a b Weber, Bruce (February 8, 2016). "Sam Spence, Who Set the Fierce Dance of the N.F.L. to Music in Film, Dies at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved September 18, 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music liner notes.
  3. ^ Barron, David (February 6, 2016). "Sam Spence, longtime composer for NFL Films, has died". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved February 6, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ "Golden State Pops Orchestra Performs Indy and Jurassic". Retrieved October 30, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "Video: Legendary NFL Films composer Sam Spence visits Green Bay". Retrieved October 30, 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b c Lukas Kendall, "CD Review: NFL Films: The Power and the Glory", Film Score Monthly, November 1998.
  7. ^ a b Jeff Bond, "CD Review: Autumn Thunder: 40 Years of NFL Films Music", Film Score Monthly, July 2005.
  8. ^ a b Alexander Klein, "The Sam Spence Case: The shocking truth about production companies and royalties", Film Score Monthly, April 2013.

External links[edit]