Airwaves: Sports commercials have come a long way

Thirty years ago, the most violent and perhaps the best defensive player of all time made a commercial that brought tears to your eyes. “Mean” Joe Greene, then of the fabled Pittsburgh Steelers, starred in a Coca-Cola commercial in which he won a CLIO Award, for excellence in advertising. The scene was Joe in a tunnel of a football stadium following a hard-fought game. He is sweaty, dirty and thirsty.

He has his jersey hanging on his shoulder pads. As he begins to drink a nice cold bottle of Coke, he sees a young boy looking at him with an intimidated look on his face. Greene guzzles the soft drink, then flips the young fan his jersey. They both smile and the commercial ends. I still vividly remember this as one of the first major sports-related commercials.

When Coke was honored for this production, Greene was unable to attend the ceremony. This past Sunday, before the Bengals-Steelers game, Mean Joe Greene was finally given his CLIO Award. Obviously, Coke staged this as a way of self-promotion while celebrating the 30th anniversary of the historic commercial. In fact, Tommy Okon, who played the young fan, was also in attendance. Okon was 9 years old at the time the commercial was made. Neat stuff!


Sports-related commercials, needless to say, are big business. There have been some great ones through the years:

– People of my generation always speak about the fabulous Miller Lite commercials of 25 years ago. “Great taste, less filling” was the motto for that series of ads. It got John Madden on the pitchman map. It starred Billy Martin, Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith, among others. They were super entertaining and made the world take notice of Miller Lite beer. In the mid-80s, I was fortunate enough to spend an afternoon at Butkus’ Malibu beachfront home. One of his garages was filled with at least
100 cases of Miller Lite. He told me that one of the perks of the commercials was a lifetime supply of the beer. Not a bad deal.

– All the ESPN commercials that take place in the offices with a notable athlete, a mascot or member of their on-air team are funny and quite original.

– Nike’s ads with Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan speak for themselves. The “Just Do It” theme is short and to the point. No wasted words here.

– ESPN’s “College GameDay” analyst Lee Corso is sensational in his latest Hooters commercial, when he dons the head of the Hooters Owl, after giving a beautiful coed the eye-over. He, in all likelihood, is not acting.

– Last, but not least, is the Coors Light sequence of commercials featuring ex-NFL coaches on the sidelines and at the podium. Herm Edwards is great in his tirade about winning.

We have come a long way since Joe DiMaggio did his Mr. Coffee bit.

Jon Gruden extends his stay on ‘MNF’

I very seldom brag and say I told you so. But this is one opportunity that I am going to say, “I told you so.”

In the May 24 edition of Airwaves, I predicted exactly what happened this week at ESPN involving its “Monday Night Football” broadcast crew. At the end of a column that I wrote about the hiring of Jon Gruden for “Monday Night Football,” it was stated that “my guess is that he [Gruden] will fall in love with TV work and use this as a platform for a new career and not get back into coaching.”

This week, ESPN announced that Gruden has signed a new deal to remain with ESPN for at least two more years. Very reliable insiders tell me the deal is worth almost $2 million a year.

Gruden has quickly become a TV star and the “MNF” broadcast is back to being about pure football, not a cheap remake of “Hee Haw.” Gruden is a great coach, but my sense is he got burned out.

It happens in the very demanding life of a coach. I should know, I was the same way, in-season and out of season.

He has now seen another side of life as well as football by landing in the booth. Trust me on this, it is an adrenaline rush when you are on live TV and you are speaking to millions upon millions of people. In addition, he is having fun doing it.

I know Mike Tirico, and he is a good guy and easy to work with. Ron Jaworski, who I personally do not know, is a no-nonsense guy, who is a football junkie. They are perfect partners for the very bright and analytical Gruden.

Intense coaches, like Mike Ditka and Bill Cowher, can get very comfortable in this different type of lifestyle. All in all, this move by Gruden, his agent Bob Lamont and ESPN is a move that benefits all parties involved. I love it!

Who said it

Jim Harbaugh
“I’ve been reading some people’s opinion that somehow this is something personal with coach [Pete] Carroll. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There was nothing personal. I’m not trying to make any enemies,” the fiery Stanford football coach said after he was criticized for going for a 2-point converstion with a big lead against USC last weekend. Harbaugh seems to have SC’s number in L.A.

Bill Belichick
“I thought it gave us the best chance to win the game,” said the New England Patriots’ coach and best football coach on the planet, when asked why he decided to go for the first down on a fourth-and-2 with two minutes left in the game on his own 28-yard line. We all know what happened next. My opinion is Bill that has an unreal track record. None of us have the wisdom or right to question him.


On target

Bud Adams, the very wealthy owner of the Tennessee Titans, set some type of NFL record last weekend while his team was beating the stuffing out of the embattled Buffalo Bills. It seems the 86-year-old oilman gave the finger to Bills fans numerous times at the end of the game. I saw it on YouTube and on TV, and he really did do it. In the big scheme of things, who really cares? The NFL fined him some $250,000, a drop in the bucket to him. I think it was kind of funny, to be honest with you. I wonder how many vodkas he consumed?


One to watch

The Raiders and Dallas Cowboys will play on Thanksgiving to a national audience on CBS (KPIX, Ch. 5). I don’t know if this is good or bad for the Silver and Black. My sense is that it is bad, because Jerry Jones’ guys are just better than Al Davis’ troops. Expect Tony Romo to have a huge day as the Cowboys look at this contest as a statement game. It could be an ugly one. Kickoff is set for 1:15 p.m.


Sports by numbers

6 NFL quarterbacks who threw for over 300 yards last weekend

0% Chance of Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis returning next year

100% Chance of the Raiders’ Tom Cable, Redskins’ Jim Zorn and Browns’ Eric Mangini getting fired after the season

Artie Gigantino spent 25 years as a coach at the major-college and NFL levels, was lead college football analyst for Fox Sports Net for seven years, was with CBS for one year and was an executive with the Raiders for three years. E-mail him at

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