How the NFL got all those players in on that Super Bowl commercial

Peter King
Peter King on NBC Sports

If you missed the TV advertisement with all the NFL players at the NFL Formal just before the halftime concert last night, here it is:

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The story behind it, from the NFL’s new chief marketing officer, Tim Ellis, who came to the league from the video game industry last September:

“When I came on board, I felt we needed to take a new communications direction. I had the best agencies in the country compete for our business, and [full-service ad agency] 72 And Sunny won the business. We said we wanted a big ad to kick off the NFL’s 100th season, and they said they could get this ready for next fall. I said no, that’s the Super Bowl spot. We want it for the Super Bowl.

“The turnaround was incredibly fast. There’s almost 50 stars in it, and we didn’t start contacting people till last December … and we taped it in mid-January. The reason we were able to pull it off is because it felt genuine and authentic to the players. The players said, ‘Whoever put this together knows football.’ “

It’s a two-minute spot. In brief: At a black-tie banquet celebrating football, with Roger Goodell at the podium, and the camera panning the room to show Dick Butkus, Joe Green, Ndamukong Suh, Peyton Manning, Orlando Pace, Alvin Kamara, Drew Brees, Michael Strahan, Rob Gronkowski, and Brian Urlacher, and Ninja, the biggest video-game influencer in the world, serves the (supposedly) best video-game player in the NFL, JuJu Smith-Schuster, who gives him a double-take look …

… There’s a gigantic cake in the middle of the room, a golden football on top, and mischievous Marshawn Lynch (in a Beast Mode sweatsuit), leans over in his chair to swipe a taste of the icing and the chair tips over and Lynch smashes the cake and the golden football skitters to the ground, and Mike Singletary screams “Fumble!!!!” and Singletary and Christian McCaffrey and a couple of others dive for the ball, and it ends up in Joe Montana’s hands, and Montana bypasses Michael Irvin to throw to Jerry Rice, but Deion Sanders intercepts and struts down the middle of the ballroom, and Urlacher smashes him into a table, which collapses, and Larry Little and Paul Warfield and Larry Csonka (of the ’72 Dolphins) look on admiringly, and Kamara and Suh enter the fray but Barry Sanders ends up with the ball and makes a pirouetting move, admired by Emmitt Smith, and Peyton Manning ends up with the ball and throws to LaDainian Tomlinson and Ed Reed destroys Tomlinson, and Jim Brown is cool with that, and then Baker Mayfield and Tom Brady, sitting at a side table, chat and Brady hands Mayfield his five Super Bowl rings and then enters the game, and somehow Terry Bradshaw has the ball and fades back to pass and Aaron Donald destroys a table to get at Bradshaw, and Bradshaw throw it high to Larry Fitzgerald with Jalen Ramsey and Derwin James in coverage, and the ball bounces high and far away …

… And Franco Harris makes an Immaculate Reception, admired by Joe Greene, and JuJu ends up with the ball and he twinkle-toes across a table, and Odell Beckham goes out for a pass and Goodell tells Patrick Mahomes (yes, he’s in it) that Beckham is open, and Mahomes no-look-passes to Beckham, who reprises his one-hand end-zone catch against Dallas while landing on a table …

… And this is a very cool moment—down judge Sarah Thomas eagle-eyes the Odell catch, and referee Ronald Torbert makes the “catch is good” signal and Thomas signals and calls “First down!” And then Tony Gonzalez catches a pass, tackled hard by Von Miller, and that viral-video adolescent female running back, Sam Gordon, has the ball, and Richard Sherman tries to steal it, and she jukes him, and laterals to Saquon Barkley, and he leads a cadre of young stars out of the frame.

All in two minutes.

“I felt in my gut this would be a big commercial and a big way to launch our 100th season,’’ said Ellis.

Logistics were fun. With the spot being taped in the middle of the playoffs, Ellis had some faux banquet rooms, with tight shots, built with the same décor as the L.A. venue. Mayfield flew to Boston and did his piece with Brady there. Mahomes flew to Orlando and did his piece with Wilson there, making a throw that was “caught” on the L.A. set by Beckham. Extra credit to Brees and Kamara for doing their piece in New Orleans a couple of days after the bitter loss in the NFL title game.

Peyton Manning was booked solid on the days it was being taped in L.A. But he found a way to make it to the set and did his part in 90 minutes.

And that’s how this breakneck commercial happened.

Read more of Peter King’s Football Morning in America by clicking here

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