The best two minutes of the Superbowl were not on the field — those poor folks in Atlanta paid thousands of dollars for what might as well have been soccer for all the kicking — but the NFL’s commercial to commemorate its centennial.
Now, if you’re like me, you’re so used to seeing these guys from their game days and in uniforms that helpfully tell you who you’re looking at, you might not recognize who is who. But with the help of the internet and frame by frame analysis, allow me to give you the play by play.
It begins at a seemingly boring self-congratulatory dinner, NLF Commissioner Roger Goodell giving a boring, self-congratulatory speech. (He appears to have left the horns, tail, and pitchfork at home.) Cuts back to the audience seated at banquet tables show Bears Linebacker (’65-’73) Dick Butkus, Steelers Defensive Tackle (’69-’81) Joe Green, and Rams Defensive Tackle (’14-present) Aaron Donald at one table, Broncos/Colts Quarterback Payton Manning (’98-’15) and Rams/Bears Offensive Tackle (’97-’09) Orlando Pace at another, with Saints Running Back (’17-present) Alvin Kamara and Chargers/Saints Quarterback (’01-present) Drew Brees at yet another. A cut shows another table with only Giants Defensive End (’93-’07) Michael Strahan in focus. Patriots Tight End (’10-present) Rob Gronkowski and Bears Linebacker (’00-’12) Brian Urlacher sit together, while at another table E-Sports player Tyler “Ninja” Blevins pours champagne for Steelers Wide Receiver (’17-present) JuJu Smith-Schuster, who doesn’t appear to recognize the guy with whom he played Fortnight.
And then we see Bills/Seahawks/Raiders Running Back Marshawn Lynch in his hoodie and skullcap (presumably because he had to be there) eyeing the cake. He’s like a moth to a flame. Closer and closer he leans toward it, until he overreaches. His hand goes into the cake, and the golden football rolls off its topper onto the floor. We get a quick cut back to Goodell, Payton and Pace following the ball with their eyes; Goodell pauses in his speech and Payton says “Oh boy.” The first female NFL play-by-play announcer Beth Mowins and Giants Quarterback (’04-present) Eli Manning looks on in horror, while Lions/Dolphins/Rams Nose Tackle (’10-present) Ndamukong Suh looks like a kid who’s just seen all the presents under Christmas tree. There’s also a gentleman to the right of Suh that I feel like I ought to know, but again, I can’t recognize football players without their jerseys!
Bears Linebacker (’81-’92) and Ravens/49ers/Vikings/Rams/Express Coach (’02-present) Mike Singletary pulls off his glasses and reacts on the instincts honed by a lifetime spent around the game: “Fumble!” And the game is on. Panthers Running Back/Return Specialist (’17-present) Christian McCaffrey lunges up from the table, pulling his way around 49ers/Chiefs Quarterback Joe Montana. Suh leaps for the ball and becomes the first man on the bottom of a massive dogpile. But the ball escapes!
Now Montana has it! He’s looking downfield, er, ballroom, when 49ers/Raiders/Seahawks Wide Receiver (’85-’04) Jerry Rice reaches out to catch! Cowboys Wide Receiver (’88-’99) Michael Irvin reaches out and yells “Joe!” to which Montana replies “No can do, Cowboy!” and launches it (ironically) out to Falcons/49ers/Cowboys/Redskins/Ravens Cornerback and Punt Returner Deion Sanders, who starts running with his iconic high stepping. Urlacher goes in for the tackle, collapsing one of the fully laden banquet tables.
We then cut to three gentlemen in lovely teal jackets representing the undefeated ’72 Dolphins — Chargers/Dolphins Guard (’67-’80) Larry Little, Browns/Dolphins/Southmen/Browns Wide Receiver (’64-’77) Paul Warfield, and Dolphins/Southmen/Giants/Dolphins Fullback (’69-’79) Larry Csonka — drinking their champagne and enjoying the show. Rams Running Back (’15-present) Todd Gurley catches the airborne ball, and with encouragement from Strahan, does a short run and a lateral pass to Lions Running Back (’89-’98) Barry Sanders. Sanders spins around one attempted tackle and dodges a second while Cowboys/Cardinals Running Back (’90-’04) Emmitt Smith looks on and notes to the lovely ladies at his table, “Y’all know I have more yards than they do.”
Somehow, Payton has the ball now, and he drops back for a third and long. It’s caught by Chargers/Jets Running Back (’01-’11) LaDainian Tomlinson. As Payton works his shoulder, Strahan sitting next to him notes that “You still got it” but Payton replies “That hurt.” Tomlinson runs the ball, spinning around a waiter who crashes into his own tray, when Ravens/Texans/Jets safety (’02-’13) Ed Reed prepares for the takedown. Tomlinson squeaks between a pair of tackles while Reed sneaks around a table to flying tackle Tomlinson into the tower of filled champagne glasses. Appropriately named Browns Fullback (’57-’65) Jim Brown watches and says what we’re all thinking: “Boy, this is a great party.”
We cut to a quiet corner where Browns Quarterback (’18-present) Baker Mayfield encourages Patriots Quarterback (’00-end of time) Tom Brady to “Get out there, old man.” The Ugg spokesman slips off his five Superbowl rings and gives them to Mayfield with a “Hold these,” as it is a well-established fact that Brady performs best with the least possible weight in his hand. Sometimes too much air can throw him of his game. Not that we see him actually throw a ball, as our next cut shows us Donald putting the pressure on Steelers Quarterback (’70-’83) Terry Bradshaw. The truly old man launches the ball into the pack of Cardinals Cornerback (’11-present) Patrick Peterson, Giants Wide Receiver (’14-present) Odell Beckham Jr., Cardinals Wide Receiver (’04-present) Larry Fitzgerald, Chargers Safety (’18-present) Derwin James, and Jaguars Cornerback (’16-present) Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey gets a hand on it, but it rebounds to Steelers/Seahawks Fullback (’72-84) Franco Harris in a repeat of the Immaculate Reception. Joe Greene of course approves.
JuJu now has the ball and jumps on a table to demonstrate his foot-placement prowess, to Lynch’s approval. We have a couple of quick cuts, including one to Goodell pointing at someone and noting “He’s open.” The ball is now in the hands of rookie Pro-Bowler, Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP, the amazing, the talented, so-fast-he’s-blurry-in-every-shot, Chiefs Quarterback (’18-present) Patrick Mahomes who has time to say hi to Seahawks Quarterback (’12-present) Russell Wilson before throwing a no-look pass. Beckham leaps for the catch, landing beautifully on the center of another banquet table.
Officiate Ronald Torbert gestures for a fair catch, and the first female NFL referee Sarah Thomas agrees and calls a first down. You may decry her presence as the NFL caving into feminist pressure, but I think it’s high time we had female referees. Everyone knows that a woman is much better at identifying a man’s mistakes than he is! And besides, could women really do a worse job than the male refs we have?
And now the ball is being run in by Chiefs/Falcons Tight End (’97-’13) Tony Gonzalez, who rolls over Broncos Outside Linebacker (’11-present) Von Miller into Lynch’s beloved cake, much to the dismay of Butkis, Greene, and Donald. The ball ends up in the hands of 15-year old Sam Gordon, a high school girl who’s become internet famous for a) playing high school football, b) suing schools that don’t have girls tackle football teams, and c) admitting that her preferred sport is soccer, anyway. Seahawks/49ers Cornerback (’11-present) Richard Sherman asks her nicely for the ball instead of tackling her flat like a proper cornerback should, and in reply, she trash talks him, spins around him and laterals the ball to Giants Running Back (’18-present) Saquon Barkley. He hurdles over another man and ends this fantastic spot by running offscreen, followed by a half dozen players.
Aside from the stupid girl power moment near the end, this is an amazing commercial. This is why we watch football. This is what we want to see every Sunday in the fall. This is the game we care about.
Oh, and Avengers: Infinity War? You have officially lost your title as the most impressive crossover event in history.