'Mean' Joe Greene reunion on CBS's Super Bowl 50's best commercials special Feb. 2

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Every year for 15  years, CBS has aired a special featuring the best Super Bowl commercials of all time. Every year, the network has to re-air a 1979 heart-tugger by Atlanta's own Coca Cola featuring Pittsburgh Steeler "Mean" Joe Greene and a nine-year-old kid.

It will certainly make the top 50 all-time commercials that CBS will show in its annual special hosted by Boomer Esiason and "Scorpion" star Katharine McPhee on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. five days before the Super Bowl itself.

This year for the two-hour special, CBS decided to reunite the retired football player with the now 45-year-old actor Tommy Okon, who played the innocent kid. They met at Apogee Stadium in Denton, TX where they reminisced about the shoot and re-watched the original commercial. They had become friends over the years. Okon now lives in Yonkers and owns a marble and granite owner and father of four.

"You can see it was perfect casting," said Bob Horowitz, executive producer who put the reunion together. He said their chemistry resonates 37 years later.

I dare you to watch the ad again or for the first time without smiling. A dejected Greene is limping down the hallway when the kid tentatively but sincerely tells him how great he is. Greene looks doubtful. When the kid offers him a Coke, he drinks it and brightens. Then he throws his jersey to the kid, "Hey kid! Catch!" as the Coke jingle ("Have a Coke and a Smile!") plays.

Although the ad is tied with the Super Bowl, it actually debuted three months earlier.

Entertainment Weekly aired a clip of the reunion.

Horowitz said this ad didn't immediately bring all the media attention to Super Bowl ads we now expect. He thinks the 1984 Mac debut ad that evokes George Orwell's "1984" really set off the frenzy. "It was the shock value," he said. Ads this year now go for $5 million per 30 seconds.

Since then he has seen three primary types of ads that resonate: those that make a big branding statement like that Apple ad, a purely comedic/silly ad (think Ali Landry and Doritos) and those that tug at the heartstrings. (Bud and the Clydesdales.)

One of Horowitz's favorites is the Fed Ex ad where they used color bars to show what happens when the agency used another service and the ad didn't arrive in time.


Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials 2016 will air on CBS on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. ET.

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About the Author

Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho
Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.