The "Mean" Joe Greene Coke ad is part of the ad documentary playing at the World of Coke. "Mean" Joe Greene himself showed up to talk about his legacy at the World of Coke on Friday, February 1, 2019 during Super Bowl weekend. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

‘Mean’ Joe Greene revisits classic Super Bowl Coca-Cola ad from 1979

He spoke at the World of Coke

Originally filed Friday, February 1, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

The iconic Coca-Cola ad featuring Pittsburgh Steeler defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene and an awe-struck kid was not actually a Super Bowl ad. It debuted nearly three months earlier in the fall of 1979.

But on January 20, 1980, it aired on CBS before an estimated 105 million Super Bowl viewers, and its legacy on Madison Avenue was cemented.

The ad is simple and effective. Greene, after experiencing an injury, is limping slowly into the tunnel, looking despondent. A shy nine-year-old boy offers his help. Greene declines. The boy then tentatively tells Greene he is “the best ever” and offers his own Coke. As music swells, Greene accepts it and drinks the entire bottle. The boy, disappointed, says, “See ya ‘round.”

Then the key moment: a rejuvenated Greene looks to the boy and says, “Hey, kid, catch!” and throws his jersey to the kid, who is thrilled. “Wow! Thanks, Mean Joe!” Greene smiles and continues to limp to the locker room. It ends with the line “Have Coke and a Smile.”

It is often cited as one of the most popular Super Bowl ads of all time.

A FanBuzz writer just this week wrote a column extolling its virtues with the headline: “‘Mean’ Joe Greene’s Coca-Cola Commercial Still Awesome After 40 Years.”

The 72-year-old Greene, donning a tan Pro Football Hall of Fame jacket, stopped by the World of Coke Friday afternoon to recount why the ad was so memorable. (Coke cleverly promoted this event while rival Pepsi and Super Bowl sponsor blanketed Coke’s hometown with banners and billboards.)

“I think that it was the difference between me,” he said, then standing up to show his 6-foot-4-inch fame, “and the little kid.” The crowd laughed.

Greene said later, at the Pro Bowl, he was inundated with kids handing him Cokes, and he really appreciated the power of the ad.

And for a man who had a reputation for being tough, this ad softened his image in a positive way.

“It gave a little humanism to the world and resonated with a lot of people,” he said.

It also gave Greene, a defensive tackle, the type of respect and love usually reserved for quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.

Four-time Super Bowl champ "Mean" Joe Greene, now 72, poses for pictures with fans at the World of Coke.

Moderator and CBS Sports reporter Tracy Wolfson asked him the most satisfying part of winning a Super Bowl for a football player, something he did four times.

“Eternal bragging rights,” he said, holding up his right hand to show off his ring from the 1980 win, the Super Bowl game when the memorable Coke ad aired.

"Mean" Joe Greene with one of his four Super Bowl rings on his right ring finger. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Tommy Okon, who played opposite Greene in 1979, reunited with him for CBS News in 2016. Check out the video here:

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

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

Related Stories

X