Super Sunday was a super disappointment when it came to memorable characters.
A few made repeat performances — such as the Budweiser Clydesdales and the E-Trade baby — but no new personas were that hard to forget.
Too bad for 51 companies that spent an average of $3 million for each 30 seconds of ad time. If a marketer's Super Bowl character catches on, it's a "dream result," says Pamela Maythenyi, senior vice president at SourceEcreative, a database company that tracks TV ads. "It puts (the company) into the culture of the country."
After seeing Coca-Cola's ad, a twist on its famous "Mean Joe Greene" spot of three decades ago, the Ad Team decided to hunt down some famous folks of Super Bowl ads past to see what they're up to now.
Tommy Okon, the kid who caught Mean Joe Greene's jersey in Coca-Cola's 1980 Super Bowl ad.
The boy who made Mean Joe Greene smile is a 39-year-old father of four in Westchester, N.Y. Okon, who offered the battered Pittsburgh Steeler a postgame Coke and was tossed his jersey in return, says he got to "spend my day bothering Joe" during the ad shoot. The ad also aired in regular-season games but made its mark with a Super Bowl airing.
"My parents were both from Pittsburgh, and our family always rooted for the Steelers," he says. "It was a 9-year-old boy's dream."
Okon acted in more than 50 TV ads, but, "Most of them (didn't) even end up making it to air, let alone being as successful as that one." He now co-owns a company that makes stone countertops, conference tables and other goods.
Years later, people still spread the word that he was in that ad. "It's kind of followed me my whole life," he says. And while no one's sure what happened to the jersey featured in the ad, Greene sent Okon another for Christmas that year. He still has it.
Gretchen Palmer, member of Ray Charles' Uh-Huh Girls trio in Diet Pepsi's 1991 ad.
At first, Gretchen Palmer thought the Diet Pepsi ad shoot with singer Ray Charles would be just another gig. But after it wrapped, she knew they'd done something special.
"After we finished and the music stopped … it was like a euphoric feeling came over the room," she says. "Something special happened in that moment, and the ad person … said, 'Put those girls in the next three commercials.' "
Over the next three years, they appeared together and, though they lip-synced in the ads, they met with music executives about a CD.
The album never happened, but Palmer, 47, went on to act in TV shows such as The Young and the Restless and The Parkers. Now, between acting jobs, she teaches acting and dance and sells real estate in Pasadena, Calif. She remains close to the other Uh-Huh Girls, who are modeling and making music. "We are like sisters."
Mean Joe Greene, Pittsburgh Steeler.
The shoot was supposed to last one day but took a bit longer. "A lot of it was because I kept flubbing my lines, burping in the middle of my takes," says Greene, 62.
At the time, he had played pro football for a decade and starred in a handful of other ads. But the Coke spot made his star shine brighter. "In terms of the football-viewing public, I think I was pretty well known," Greene says. "But the commercial opened up a whole new avenue of fans."
Greene, now a Steelers talent scout, keeps in touch with Okon through phone calls. The last time the co-stars saw each other was a few years ago at a dinner honoring Greene. "They surprised me with a guest appearance by Tommy, and that was quite nice," he says.
David Leisure, fast-talking liar "Joe Isuzu" in Isuzu's 1987 ad.
The actor played a sleazy car salesman who made outlandish claims such as the car goes 300 miles per hour. While he spoke in the ad, disclaimers exposed his lies. While Leisure, 58, did several Isuzu ads before the Big Game spot, he says he knew he'd hit the big time when that one aired. "That was quite a feather in my cap."
The campaign ran until 1990. In a bid to boost flagging sales, Isuzu brought back his "Joe Isuzu" character in ads in 2001. It didn't stem its decline, and Isuzu has stopped selling passenger vehicles in the U.S.
For the past seven years. Leisure has been a stay-at-home dad for his teenage daughter in Valencia, Calif. In December, he returned to TV as Roger Wilkes on the CBS soap The Young and the Restless. That part isn't far from his days as Joe Isuzu, he says: "I'm a bad guy."
Lester Speight, "Terry Tate, Office Linebacker" in Reebok's 2003 ad.
Speight gained notoriety for doing what most folks only dream of: punishing office slackers. As fictional football linebacker Terry Tate, he tackles workers who goof off. "Most people wish they could do what Terry Tate does," says the 6-foot-5 actor, who has appeared on shows such as Bones and Numb3rs and in the film Norbit.
The Southern California resident's résumé also includes video game voice-overs and time as a professional wrestler competing as Rasta the Voodoo Man.
Reebok does not own the rights to the character — only licensed it for the ads. Speight recently again played Terry Tate online in a series of videos, including one in which he knocks down a worker who scoffs at voting in elections.
Fans can check out some clips at ReturnOfTerryTate.com.
Michael Black, the guy behind the sock puppet in Pets.com's 2000 ad.
Black, 37, describes himself as the "voice and hairy forearm" of the famous Pets.com sock puppet. The online pet supply retailer's ad for Super Bowl 2000 — known as the dot-com bowl because it had 18 ads for new Internet companies — showed the dog puppet singing the Chicago song If You Leave Me Now as a pet owner leaves to go shopping.
While Black was in many Pets.com ads, he says the Super Bowl shoot was particularly grueling. "It was the most ambitious one that we did," he says. "There were crane shots and singing. … What I primarily remember is how much my arm hurt."
Like most of the game's dot-coms, Pets.com was gone within a year.
Black was on NBC sit-com Ed and now performs at comedy clubs. He no longer lists Pets.com on his résumé. "Not that I have anything against it, but I don't want that on my tombstone."
McKenzie Schwefel, girl in Monster.com's "When I Grow Up" 1999 ad.
McKenzie Schwefel told viewers that when she grew up she wanted to have a "brown nose." But at age 7, she didn't know what she was saying.
"I probably didn't know what that line meant until, like, three years later," says Schwefel, now 17 and a high school senior in Minnetonka, Minn.
Schwefel made her experience filming the Monster.com spot and other ads a focus of her college application essays. "I even sent my clip from Monster.com to schools," she said. "I think it made a really big difference. It was nice to be able to show people that I had this thing that made me unique."
Cedric the Entertainer, played a too-eager date in a 2001 Bud Light ad.
The surprise ending of this ad — Cedric accidentally sprays his date with brew from a shaken Bud Light — ignited his career. "It was one of those things that catapulted me into pop culture," says Cedric Kyles, 44.
Before that ad aired, he had toured the country as one of The Original Kings of Comedy and co-starred in The Steve Harvey Show.
Since then he has done more Bud Light Super Bowl ads, and appeared in films such as The Honeymooners. He also lent his voice to the animated flicks Madagascar 2 and Ice Age.
He recently played songwriter/singer Willie Dixon in the film Cadillac Records. Last year, he appeared on Broadway in American Buffalo with John Leguizamo.
Out next: The first film he's directed, Chicago Pulaski Jones: The Legend of Dance Fu. Needless to say, it's a comedy.
Steven Monroe, who ate pizza topped with hot sauce in Tabasco's 1998 ad.
In Monroe's Los Feliz, Calif., home, there is a big "Salvador Dali-like" picture of a Tabasco sauce bottle. That's fitting, because ongoing payments from the Super Bowl ad helped finance the house. In the ad, a mosquito bursts into flames after biting Tabasco-imbibing Monroe.
The actor, 36, still is recognized for that role. "(People) look at me and do a double take and think I'm a long-lost cousin or they don't know where they know me from," he says. "I say, 'Mosquito, explodes and Tabasco' — and those three words tend to jar their memory."
He's acted in TV shows and movies and is earning a graduate degree in marriage-and-family counseling. "I've been blessed. The Tabasco ad has opened a lot of doors."