Broncos star Von Miller just launched his latest ad — this one a spot for Old Spice, which was probably funnier in concept than in execution and is unlikely to become a pop-culture classic. (Sorry, Von.) But that got us to thinking. There have actually been a lot of NFL player ads that have hit the zeitgeist over the years, including some from the Denver home team. Some are old, some are newer, but all take up precious real estate in the memories of Americans. After all, life and love may come and go, but annoying jingles are forever.
So what are those NFL player commercials that have become — or are becoming — the juggernauts of American advertising pop-culture reference? Here’s a top-ten trip down Madison Avenue’s memory lane.
10. Peyton Manning for Nationwide Insurance
Okay, you know this had to be on the list, especially here in Denver. But it’s not just at Mile High (or in the Manning kitchen) where fans are singing the jingle. These days, Peyton Manning is almost as much a spokesperson for chicken parm sandwiches as for, you know, actual companies with products to sell.
9. Terry Bradshaw for LectricShave
Wait, Terry Bradshaw for what, now? Sure, this product might not be all that well known, but a lot of TV viewers remember this ad, featuring Steelers QBs Bradshaw and Mike Kruczek trying to act like they’re having a conversation about pre-shave lotion and how that strains to relate in some way to playing football. Then, at the end, they laugh not so much at the lame joke that they just had to recite, but at how dumb this whole idea was.
8. Ickey Woods for GEICO
In only a few years, you’re going to forget almost everything about this ad: that it’s for GEICO insurance featuring Bengals running back Ickey Woods. But you’re going to remember this: “Get some cold cuts…get some cold cuts…get some cold cuts.” And that’s all that’s important.
7. Dick Butkus for Ford Vans
There is literally no way that this commercial could be more 1979. Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus wearing cowboy boots, brown slacks and a tight dress shirt unbuttoned to his navel? Check, check and check. Weird, awkward and featuring objectification of women? Check. That it’s actually a TV ad for the sheer awesomeness of pinstriped vans? Wow, check. The only thing missing is a CB radio, and I’m pretty sure that’s one there on the dash.
6. Joe Namath for Beautymist Pantyhose
If this were a list of the most “What the hell was that?” moments in NFL advertising, this commercial for pantyhose featuring no less than legendary Jets QB Joe Namath would be at the top. The ad pans up a pair of nice legs, only to end on Broadway Joe’s craggy mug. That’s the point, of course — that if the pantyhose can make Joe’s legs look good, “imagine what they’ll do for yours,” but still…put some pants on, man.
Continue to count down our five top picks for the best commercials by NFL players.
5. Tony Romo for DirectTV
One of the newer items on this list, I still hear people talking about this DirectTV campaign, which had a string of memorable hits with their “Don’t Be Like Me” campaign. Rob Lowe notably began the series, and when DirectTV had to shift its focus due to complaints about accuracy in the claims the company was making, the same idea returned with new stars. Fortunately, Tony Romo, in full-on Bob Ross mode, was one of them.
4. John Elway for Nestle Crunch
This 1989 ad features not just Broncos QB John Elway, but his then-wife Janet. They even get to share a very happy ’80s-coiffed deep look into each other’s eyes at the end of the ad, when they were clearly thinking about how “s-Crunch-ious” their chocolate is, and not at all about the manner in which they’d legally battle over their hoard of candy bars some thirteen years later.
3. Bo Jackson for Nike
The “Bo Knows” series of ads were ubiquitous in their time. Even though many of us have forgotten at this point that they were advertising cross-trainer shoes, most fans who were around in 1990 still remember the “Bo Knows” catchphrase. Bo Jackson, who then was a running back for the Raiders, didn’t just know football: He knew pretty much everything. Except, of course, the guitar....and playing for Tampa Bay.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
2. John Madden for Miller Lite
The classic “Tastes Great” and “Less Filling” debate was, for the most part, a separate campaign from the John Madden series of Miller Lite ads, but somehow they’ve melded together in most fans’ minds over the years since these campaigns ended. Still, it’s good to see such a motley crew of folks (comedian Rodney Dangerfield and noir novelist Mickey Spillane?) joining in on the fun. And it was fun — and classic TV — for decades.
1. “Mean” Joe Greene for Coca-Cola
This is it: the granddaddy of all NFL television ads. And it’s more than that. This 1979 classic, portraying Steelers defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene talking with a kid after a punishing game, isn’t just one of the best NFL player ads, not just one of the best Coke ads (which is saying something), not just one of the most award-winning ads (even though it’s all three). It’s one of television’s most effective ads, period. Thanks for the memories, Mean Joe.