You can imagine that, while filming a TV commercial for a soda company, you would imbibe a refreshing sugary beverage or two, right? But TV commercial work is thirstier work for some people than it is for others. And for Pittsburgh Steelers legend "Mean Joe" Greene, who starred in Coke's iconic 1980 Super Bowl ad, it was really, really thirsty work.
The clip, in which an injured Mean Joe is so touched by a young fan offering up his own soda to the tired, limping player that Mean Joe tosses the kid (billed officially as "The Kid" and played by 12-year-old actor Tommy Okun) his Steelers jersey.
"Hey kid, catch!" says the Hall of Famer.
"Wow, thanks, Mean Joe!" says Okun, after the NFL-er chugged the soda and gifted him with the shirt.
But that was far (far, far) from the only Coca-Cola Joe drank in the making of the commercial. Filmed in upstate New York at a small stadium (to make Mean Joe look even bigger), the commercial took three days to complete, partly, Greene would later say, because Oken was really such a fan of the superstar that he flubbed his lines a time or two.
And on day three, the duo did so many takes that Greene ended up chugging 18 bottles of Coke. Eighteen 16 oz. bottles of Coke, or the equivalent of 24 cans — two refrigerator 12-packs — of canned Coke. Accidental burps, he said in a documentary about the making of the ad, ensued.
The commercial, which premiered late in 1979, but made its biggest impression during the 1980 Super Bowl, was an instant classic, with NBC even stretching the ad's story into a 1981 made-for-TV movie called The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid. Mean Joe played himself (as did Steeler Franco Harris), but the role of The Kid went to Henry Thomas, who, less than a year later, would play Elliott in E.T.
And the ad, which Greene spoofed in a commercial for Downy Unstoppables in 2012, was remade for Coke Zero in 2009, with Steeler Troy Polamalu and a cheeky twist.
One more bit of Mean Joe commercial trivia: Greene says Cowboys superstars Roger Staubach, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, and Tony Dorsett, as well as his Steelers teammate Jack Lambert (he of the missing front teeth) were among the competition he beat out to star in the Coke ad.
"It came down to Lambert and myself, but Lambert… Lambert didn't have any teeth. He wouldn't have looked good on TV," Greene joked in the making-of documentary.
More trivia from seven of the most memorable Super Bowl commercials ever:
Old Spice, "The Man Your Man Could Smell Like," 2010
Premise: The very handsome, fast-talking "Old Spice Guy" points out to viewers — female viewers — that their men will smell manly, like him, and become all-around swell guys if only they'll start using Old Spice body wash.
Tidbits: Unnamed in the ad, "Old Spice Guy" was played by actor Isaiah Mustafa, an NFL practice squad player-turned-restaurateur-turned actor who went on to star as the character in a whole series of Old Spice commercials. Mustafa, who filmed the initial ad in one uncut take, also went on to guest star on TV shows like Chuck, Hot in Cleveland, and Nikita and had a role in the movie Horrible Bosses, and in 2011 beat out romance novel cover boy Fabio in a competition to determine which of them would be the Old Spice spokesman. Last year, Mustafa reprised his role as Old Spice Guy in a clever series of commercials – dubbed "Internetervention" – in which he chastises men for making poor decisions (and recommends correcting them with, what else?, Old Spice products).
E-Trade Baby, 2008
Premise: A cranky, smart-mouthed infant also seems to be something of an investment whiz. Oh, and he likes to play golf, spend his earnings on clowns, sass his elders, and use the E-Trade app on his smartphone.
Tidbits: The baby, voiced by comedian and late-night host Pete Holmes, actually sparked a lawsuit with his 2010 Super Bowl commercial. E-Trade Baby explained to his girlfriend baby that he spent the previous night "diversifying [his] portfolio," not hanging out with, as she put it, that "milkaholic Lindsay." Lindsay Lohan, who was in the midst of some of her worst legal woes at the time, assumed the "aholic" and "Lindsay" were referring to her, and she filed a $100 million lawsuit against the company for misuse of her "name and characterization." Not surprisingly, in Sept. 2010, the suit was dismissed… but TMZ reported La Lohan had managed to wrangle some sort of payment from E-Trade along the way.
Sadly, after seven consecutive years of being a Super Bowl ad fixture, E-Trade Baby apparently outgrew the game and was MIA from the 2014 Super Bowl ad fest. And in March 2014, via Twitter, he announced his (very, very) early retirement, with his "investing and financial wizardry" apparently providing him with enough cash to travel the world, do volunteer work, and kick back with his Juice box. "Check ya later, Shankapotomus," E-Trade Baby signed off.
Brad Pitt for Heineken, 2005
Premise: A paparazzi-stalked Pitt remains calm and cool as he evades photogs and slips out of his apartment to buy a six-pack of Heineken in the David Fincher-directed spot. Once back at his apartment, he calls a mystery lady and asks her to pick him up for their date.
Tidbits: In another example of real-life celebrity happenings creeping into a Super Bowl ad, the identity of the mystery woman on the other end of the phone took on a whole new meaning given Pitt's romantic entanglements at the time. The Heineken ad ran during Super Bowl XXXIX on Feb. 6, 2005, just a month after marrieds Pitt and Jennifer Aniston announced their separation, and during a time that gossip swirled he had fallen in love with his Mr. & Mrs. Smith co-star Angelina Jolie. So, was Pitt making a Braniston or a Brangelina call? The world may never know.
P.S. One more Pitt/Heineken connection: Aniston later starred in her own Heineken commercial, which was shown only in foreign countries. (But which, of course, is available on YouTube).
VW's "The Force" (aka "Darth Vader Kid"), 2011
Premise: A young Star Wars fan — complete with a killer Darth Vader costume — wanders around his house trying to use Jedi mind tricks to move objects and start his dad's car. It finally works… with a little help from a remote starter for his dad's new Passat.
Tidbits: The ad, created by the agency of one-time CNBC host Donny Deutsch, has more than 61 million views on YouTube, which proves just how many of us identify with having fantasies about Darth Vader powers. And just how adorable boy Vader is: He's actor Max Page, who had not seen any of the Star Wars flicks before filming the ad... he was just 6-years-old at the time, and his parents thought the movies would be too frightening for him. Page, who was born with a heart defect that required him to have a pacemaker installed as an infant, also went on to star as Reed Hellstrom on The Young and the Restless.
And, yes, the pint-sized Darth Vader has met the all-grown-up Vader — Star Wars movie star James Earl Jones. Page and his family visited Jones when he was starring on Broadway, the night after "The Force" aired during Super Bowl XLV.
Xerox, "Monks," 1976
Premise: Brother Dominic finishes copying — by hand — a lengthy document, only to be told by another monk that he needs an additional 500 copies. The then-new Xerox 9200, which could make duplicates at a rate of two pages per second, was behind a secret passage, and solved Brother Dominic's problems. He presented his superior with the stack of copies, prompting the head monk to declare, "It's a miracle!"
Tidbits: The irreverent ad led to a string of Brother Dominic spots, which starred a Borscht Belt comedian named Jack Eagle as Dominic. Ad exec Allen Kay created the original "Monks" ad that earned a spot in the Clio Hall of Fame, and he told DigiBarn.com the late Eagle, who was hired as a Xerox mascot and used to attend official functions on behalf of the company, always opened his speeches by saying, "I'm the only Jewish monk, a schmonk."
Eagle, who died in 2008, went on to star in dozens of commercials for other companies, and made appearances on TV shows like Captain Kangaroo, The Merv Griffin Show, and The Mike Douglas Show. His son is CBS and YES sportscaster Ian Eagle.
Mastercard Priceless with Homer Simpson, 2004
Premise: An entry in Mastercard's "Priceless" series finds hapless Homer Simpson being reminded by the "Priceless" series voiceover guy that nothing is more important than spending time with family, which annoys Homer (who's happily spending time at Moe's Tavern instead).
Tidbits: Voiceover guy? It's Almost Famous star Billy Crudup. And his voice — even though you probably didn't know it was his voice — is so synonymous with the "Priceless" ads that Mastercard even filmed a clever spot mocking the voiceover, starring Crudup providing the voiceover on camera.
Homer, by the way, is not the only animated character to be featured in the "Priceless" campaign. Curious George, Fred Flintstone, Mr. Magoo, Yogi Bear, Olive Oyl, Tom and Jerry, and Scooby-Doo are among the 'toons who've also appeared in Mastercard spots.
The Pets.com Puppet, "Deliveries," 2000
Premise: A doggie sock puppet is the mascot for Pets.com, an online pet store that existed "because pets can't drive."
Tidbits: The talking, singing puppet — cleverly voiced by comedian Michael Ian Black — was an instant hit, starring in additional spots as the company's mascot and becoming a pop culture figure who appeared on Live With Regis and Kathie Lee and inspired a line of Pets.com merchandise with his likeness. Unfortunately, the puppet wasn't enough to save the company. Pets.com became an early dot com failure, and a socket puppet toy was the last item for sale at the site before the company folded in November 2000.
Sock puppet, however, lived to pitch another day. A company called Bar None, Inc. — which specialized in helping consumers with iffy credit secure car loans — bought the rights to the puppet and used him in a series of ads in which he once again carried a microphone and declared, "Everyone deserves a second chance!"
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