Commercials can be embarrassing and they don’t exactly age well. But during that same NFL game, you might see a dozen different athletes—or Peyton Manning a dozen different times—promoting everything from Wrangler jeans to terrible pizza.
That’s because for athletes, doing endorsements can be more lucrative than their team contracts or prize earnings. Moreover, it’s expected that even medium-famous athletes will, at some point, pop up in a commercial at some point. According to Forbes, LeBron James made $54 million in endorsements in 2015, more than double what he made with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Longhorn Jordan Spieth made $20.8 million in tournament earnings and $32 million in endorsements during the same period. Not too shabby for a 23-year-old, and a nice, tidy retort for anyone who begrudges him for going pro before graduation.
Bill Murray’s memorable line from Lost in Translation, “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time,” keeps running through my head right, because I’m in the midst of a deep-dive unlike any deep-dive I’ve done in recent memory. I’ve watched, to my knowledge, every single commercial starring a Longhorn athlete that is available online. And reader, there are some doozies. For example, in 1980, Earl Campbell starred in a commercial for Skoal in which he dips the smokeless tobacco while laying on a sunny beach. He literally says the words “Skoal brother.” I won’t link to it, because I won’t condone tobacco use, especially dipping on the beach, but there’s always Google (or … Bing? I guess?) if you’re curious.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many—many—Longhorns who have done commercials, from the lowest of low budgets to national spots, and I intend to break the list down for you.
The “Internet is Forever” Commercial
Oh, Colt. I know you’re young here—McCoy was just a wee quarterback at the even wee-er Jim Ned High School—but you’re too old for that haircut. Then there’s the acting, the crummy graphics, and the shoddy editing. There are so many reasons for Washington’s backup QB to be embarrassed by this commercial, but I’m actually going to go the other way with this one. I love this commercial, and here’s why:
First off, he was simply doing a favor for his uncle James, who still owns this small-town, family drug store that he opened in … 1998! That he opened an independent drug store in the late-90s is pretty charming.
Also, the notion of a high school star (McCoy is the all-time leading 2A passer, and fourth all-time in Texas) acting as a pitchman for anything is such an only in Texas! moment for me.
Finally, Colt getting a faux (or even better, maybe real?) shot and turning to the little kid, saying “It didn’t hurt!” is incredible. That this brief section of the commercial is dedicated to children who don’t like shots (re: all of them) and acts as a brag for the pharmacists who give pain-free boosters is amazing. Well done, 10/10, would watch again (I have watched this commercial 20-plus times already). Haters be damned.
The “Barely SFW” Commercial
One question (I have SO MANY questions): Why, in the beginning of the commercial, do they run the shower head over an unwrapped bar of Zest? That’s not how soap works.
About halfway into this commercial, the female lead asks, “Do I look fully clean to you?” Um, how would we know that? “Surprise!” (She actually says this.) “No one is fully clean until they’re Zestfully clean.” So … no?
What’s hilarious about this commercial—besides everything—is that Clemens is barely in it! He appears at the very beginning to let the viewers know that a famous baseball man is taking a shower. He appears at the very end again, lip-syncs the coda to the jingle, and then spreads his towel out over his (ostensibly) bare frame to reveal the words “Zestfully Clean.” That towel sells itself, but if Zest needs a towel pitchman …
The “Athletes Have a Sense of Humor Too!” Commercial
While technically not an actual commercial—seriously though, how do I get one of these magical “towels”?—Vince Young’s faux informercial for Funny or Die has to make the list because Vince Young is in it. Little known fact: He won a national championship once.
Created in 2012, during the boom of Tim and Eric-style aesthetics (quick cuts, decaying VHS footage, elevator music, absurdity), VY’s “long lost commercial” is … weird. The highlights:
-At :55, VY asks Pat Sajack to buy a towel.
-At 1:34, VY wears a suit made out of towels and says “I made this.” Looks comfy.
-At 1:52, he does this meta-thing where he acknowledges that the word “towels” sounds weird when you’ve heard it 100 times in a row.
The rest is forgettable, but it’s worth a watch, and was actually funnier to me upon second viewing. The only problem? There’s nothing for me, the American consumer, to purchase after watching. What’s capitalism for? Seriously though, people would buy a VY towel.
The “Nobody Believes in Us” Commercial
Before VY graced the cover of the singularly popular Madden video game in 2008, Ricky Williams rode the wave of three consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, capped off by his Miami debut, in which he was named a 2002 First Team All-Pro, straight to video game infamy. The 2003 Madden cover model … wait … my memory is failing me. [Googles Madden 2003 cover] Ok. I think I understand why Ricky is mad in this commercial.
Fans of the game know that Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk was on the cover that year, so he surely deserved it. [Googles Faulk’s 2002 stats, sees that he didn’t break the 1,000 barrier or have more than 10 touchdowns that year]. Ricky really undersold this, IMO. He could have punched that mirror.
The funny thing is, though Ricky had an all-time season in 2002 (1,853 rushing yards; 16 TD) and wasn’t even the best Longhorn running back in the NFL that year. Priest Holmes, who was Wally Pipp’d by Williams at Texas in 1995, went bonkers in 2002, gaining 2,287 yards from scrimmage and scoring 24 TDs. Holmes was then robbed of that season’s MVP award, which went to … Rich Gannon. Both Longhorns could (should!) have been on the cover that season, and Holmes didn’t even get a commercial, one with which I can only imagine he’d convey his disdain by throwing a plasma-screen through the mirror.
The “My Dad is Super Bowl Champion Phil Simms” Commercial
Honestly, the most interesting parts of this clip are the words “Peter Jennings” (R.I.P.), Uncle Jesse’s ongoing Elvis obsession (all-new episodes now on Netflix!), and (for me) the reminder that Phil Simms won the 1987 Super Bowl for the New York Football Giants. Two of these things are visible only due to sloppy editing by whomever uploaded this commercial, so let’s move on, unless there’s a competing Major Applewhite commercial from the mid-80s.
The “Only in Texas” Commercial
The Spurs H-E-B spots are great, for a few reasons. For one, seeing Popovich’s charges display flashes of character off-the-court (and seeing Tim Duncan smile, for that matter) warms the cockles of my heart. The panoply of accents—Patty Mills (Australian), Tony Parker (French), LaMarcus Aldridge (North Texan), and Tim Duncan (Notably not Virgin Islands creole, so closer to … Dragonlance?)—is incredible, another display of Pop’s United Nations approach to basketball. Most importantly for a great commercial: No one here can act a lick. And it’s much better that way! Who wants Sidney Poitier or Helen Mirren hawking Creamy Creations? Gimme Old Man Riverwalk!
There’s only one problem. Where’s Manu?
The “Grandpa Knows Best” Commercial
“We don’t freestyle ‘Texas Fight,'” is as good a closer as any in my book. That Mack Brown throws on a pejorative “big boy” at the end really helps him stick the landing. This is, in my humble opinion, the best Longhorn commercial of all time. It has everything you could possibly want packed into 20 seconds, including:
-Mack Brown strumming the same single chord on guitar for the entirety of the commercial
-Lee Corso giving Hook ‘Em a horrified look
-Desmond Howard and Chris Fowler wearing cowboy hats
-Kirk Herbstreit stereotyping Texas and getting admonished for it
It’s funny, concise, and depicts a time when Texas was so good at football that the coach got to star in a national commercial. It also pre-configures Brown’s eventual slide from the sidelines to the small screen. Who knows? Maybe his quick work on the commercial won him the gig. Or maybe that national championship I mentioned above had something to do with it.
Let me know in the comments if there are any much-watch Longhorn commercials I’ve missed. And yes, again, I’ve seen Earl dipping on the beach.
Illustration by Melissa Reese.
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