Athletes are the ultimate pitch men. Most are recognizable, mostly personable, and usually unintentionally hilarious. This week’s top five celebrates the absolute pinnacle of the commercial genre. Any goofy athlete can pitch McDonald’s or Subway. These TV spots raise the bar for one reason or another. Perhaps one day some of these athletes can turn these spots into a hallowed movie cameo. Let’s dive in head first, shall we?
Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, McDonald’s
This commercial is quite possibly the most perfect combination of athletic star power shilling unhealthy fast food options. Just the thought of Michael Jordan eating a Big Mac and fries before lacing up in a game of one-on-one with Larry Bird is ludicrous. However, the gusto with which Bird suggests “I’ll play you for it!” screams desperation. My guess is that they were really going to pay old Larry Legend in McChicken sandwiches, and he thought the game was real.
The ensuing shoot-off (“no dunking” implores Bird, again slightly desperate) results in crazier and crazier shots, which I’m positive the grade-school me attempted hundreds of times in my driveway. Ultimately, we never get to see who wins, so we’re left with no closure, just the assumption that whoever won was getting some awfully cold fries.
Peyton Manning, Mastercard
Peyton’s NFL-related commercials became so overplayed that they spawned an absolutely hilarious SNL video that paints Peyton a little more at odds with his overall charming goofball persona. As an athlete, Peyton is as calculating and methodical as they come, but his commercial persona comes off the same way my dad does whenever he makes a rather clever pun. There’s literally no other athlete I can think of that could chant “Cut that meat!” at the top of his lungs in a commercial and seem completely sincere.
Manning has had a stranglehold on the football commercial market for so long, it’ll be weird to see him go when he decides to retire. Honestly, Peyton Manning now shills pizza for Papa John’s and he sometimes looks like he could turn around and pistol whip John Schnatter for stealing his thunder. There’s only one wholesome goofball around these parts, and it’s number 18.
Haloti Ngata, Thompson Creek Window Co.
Full Disclosure: I watch this video about once a week. There’s another video in the same vein starring Ryan Kerrigan so all your DC-area heating needs are met. The two athletes star as the sun, and creep up on an unsuspecting couple. There’s not much dialogue, mostly screaming, then posing at the end. I can’t really explain why these commercials are effective, but I find myself almost eerily drawn to their over-acted siren call.
Local commercials are notoriously bad, but combining them with local athlete/celebrities is a time-tested and unending gold mine of comedy. I highly recommend randomly surfing YouTube for local commercials, you’ll definitely get several hour’s worth of quality material. I really hope that there is someone collecting these clips for posterity, or at least as future blackmail material.
Gretzky is above and beyond every other player except Mario Lemieux or perhaps Gordie Howe in the conversation for greatest hockey player of all time. However, the bar for hockey player commercial greatness is set perilously low. The biggest hurdle for most hockey players is overcoming a French-Canadian accent. Gretzky never had those issues, but he did have the small problem of being about as interesting as a bag of sticks. He even needed his little brother Keith to star in a soda commercial to come off as slightly personable.
The intrinsic 80s value of this ad makes it rewatchable in and of itself, but for me, the hilarity comes from the moronic concept that Wayne Gretzky couldn’t knock the puck out of the air. He has to have his little brother help him. I’m pretty sure every time someone watches this clip, Maurice Richard goes berserk and kills about 20 angels.
Bo Jackson, Nike
“I knew I should’ve taken a right turn at Albuquerque!”
There has never been a better commercial by an athlete. Ever. Bo Jackson even attempts an English accent in this commercial, and it comes off as endearing. No athlete has ever been as versatile as Bo, and that includes in the area of pitch man. I’m pretty sure if Bo wanted to be a movie star, he would’ve been bigger than Schwarzenegger or Stallone easily.
The best part is Jackson had a sense of humor about his whole persona. I mean, in this clip alone, he is wearing bike shorts, a unitard, and a sweater around his shoulders. Any other athlete might want to do this commercial and come off as more pretentious than Roger Dorn. Bo takes it and comes off as the coolest person who ever lived. Bo knows acting. And he dominated the commercial landscape just like he dominated everything else he attempted.
Matt Brockway just watched about 6 consecutive hours of YouTube clips. Follow him on Twitter @subtlehyperbole.