Year after year, the Super Bowl is the most-watched television event in the United States, and it’s not even close. Of the 20 highest-rated programs in U.S. television history, only the M*A*S*H finale, Roots finale, and Muhammad Ali winning his third World Heavyweight title over Leon Spinks earned spots on the list. Every other program is a Super Bowl. The game is the obvious draw, but it’s commercials and massive halftime show performances that bring millions of casual football fans to the game every February.
Back on October 1, 1979, Coca-Cola first aired a commercial starring Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene and a 9-year-old superfan, who was played by Tommy Okon. The story it told has stood the test of time, and anyone who watches it today still feels that emotional connection when Mean Joe famously calls out, “Hey kid, catch!”
While limping down the tunnel toward the Steelers’ locker room, a young fan offers to help the NFL Hall of Famer. The young boy tells ‘Mean’ Joe that he thinks Pittsburgh’s superstar is the best ever and offers him a bottle of Coke. After downing the entire thing, Greene makes his iconic jersey toss to the kid in an exchange that still puts a smile on everyone’s face to this day. Click here to stock up on those classic bottled Coca-Colas and watch one of the most memorable Super Bowl adds to ever air.
The commercial still ranks as one of the greatest Super Bowl ads in history. Not only did Coca-Cola capitalize at the height of the Steelers’ dynasty in the 1970s, which culminated with the team’s fourth title of the decade in Super Bowl XIV over the Los Angeles Rams, but ‘Mean’ Joe’s commercial famously re-aired during that very game. The Super Bowl commercial won a Clio Award for one of the best T.V. commercials of 1979, and “Have a Coke and a Smile” stamped the iconic ad campaign as one of the most-effective ever thanks to the writing of Penny Hawkey and director Roger Mosconi.
In 2017, the pair reunited once again inside Apogee Stadium in Texas, where Greene recalled chugging 18 bottles of Coke before getting the commercial right. For someone with a classically “mean” reputation on the field, the commercial pulled back the veil to show that football players, even a Hall of Famer, who was a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, are nice guys with a softer side off the field.
During Super Bowl XLIII, which also happened to be Steelers’ victory, Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu brought the great commercial back to life with a few hilarious twists for the company’s Coke Zero products.
The Super Bowl’s greatest commercials are more than just good laughs to get us thinking about what products we’ll buy during our next grocery trip. The best have an emotional connection that really reminds us all that what we’re watching is just a football game, and even football stars aren’t any more important than a young kid looking to dish out a smile.