Super Bowl XXI at the Rose Bowl: Phil Simms starts happiest commercial on Earth
Sixth in a series looking back at the seven Super Bowls held in the Los Angeles area. Giants Super Bowl MVP quarterback Phil Simms fought against doing the first “I’m going to Disneyland” commercial, but finally relented and that triggered a trend:
For quarterback Phil Simms, the first play of Super Bowl XXI was a no-look pass.
Really, Phil, don’t you want to make a few extra bucks by signing this sponsorship deal if your New York Giants beat the Denver Broncos?
No need to look. Pass.
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“I was approached about it maybe the Tuesday before the Super Bowl,” Simms recalled. “My agent, David Fishof, told me and I said, ‘No chance. Don’t even talk to me about it. Not going to do it.’ I stood my ground until Friday night when I finally said, ‘Oh my God, fine. I’ll do it.’ He wore me down.”
What came next launched a franchise, a pop-culture sensation that’s not just part of Super Bowl celebrations but also those of the NBA Finals and World Series.
That tradition began 35 years ago with Simms leading the Giants to a 39-20 victory at the Rose Bowl.
Every year since, at the conclusion of the Super Bowl, NFL Films has only two hours to produce a commercial that first airs on SportsCenter at 11 p.m. PST.
The 30-second spots follow a familiar formula and feature the player of the game. There’s a montage of him running onto the field, standing on the sideline, making a play, all to the soundtrack of “When You Wish Upon a Star.”
“I said, ‘How many times do I gotta do this?’ I didn’t say it meanly, but it was like, I want to shake some hands and enjoy this moment.”
— New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms
Then the voiceover: “Joe Montana! You and the San Francisco 49ers just won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do next?” Montana, with helmet raised above the cameras surrounding him, yells, “We’re going to Disneyland!”
“The hardest thing about that commercial is the unpredictable nature, certainly in recent years, especially when the Patriots are involved,” said NFL Films producer Ken Rodgers, who directed the commercials 10 years in a row.
“It seems to never be decided until the final seconds. You have no idea as a director who you’re going to feature in the commercial. It’s being decided by a group over headsets. Disney executives are on site, NFL Films is on site, we’re all talking over the headset.
“The game will sometimes end, and as you’re running onto the field, you’re being told who to go find and shoot the commercial.”
On the field, it’s a chaotic scene.
“There’s this manic euphoria that takes over the press corps, not the team,” Rodgers said. “The winning team is usually kind of stunned and wide-eyed. It takes a while for it to sink into them that they’ve won.
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“Our crew is usually one of 70 crews trying to reach this one person. It’s a battle royale. We actually have to send three camera crews out onto the field to get the shot because many times we’ve lost camera crews to damage.
“We’ve suffered broken cameras. We’ve suffered from a crew getting tripped and falling down and being trampled. And we’ve simply lost crews where they get lost in the crowd and you never see them again until 20 minutes later.”
NFL Films deploys three camera crews to get the shot, and they work in coordination to execute a pincer maneuver, with two crews on the outside funneling the player to a third crew in the middle.
The players are asked to say the line multiple times, using both Disneyland and Disney World, as different versions of the commercial run in different parts of the country.
“I don’t think anyone expects or remembers or realizes that it’s even an option until all of a sudden we’re standing in front of them,” Rodgers said. “The hardest thing is actually getting the line read because there are 20 cameras directly in front of them, and a lot of people yelling at this player. I’m yelling, ‘Say the line into the camera!’
“So we started bringing cue cards that said, ‘I’m going to Disney World,’ so that we could put them next to the camera they were supposed to speak to. Because everybody has a camera out there. It’s not like they don’t know the line. It’s engrained in all of our heads. They just need to know where to look.
“They’re in this moment where it’s not yet elation because they haven’t yet met any of their teammates. They’re just surrounded by a bunch of people they don’t know. So they’re not ready to celebrate yet, they’re just trying to find somebody to celebrate with.”
That was the case for Simms, with the confetti falling on that Pasadena evening.
“The reason I’m smiling and laughing in mine is not because we won,” he said. “It’s because I’m sitting there doing a commercial as I’m walking across the field to shake hands with John Elway.
“We’ve simply lost crews where they get lost in the crowd and you never see them again until 20 minutes later.”
— NFL Films producer Ken Rodgers
“I said Disney World and Disneyland, and they said, ‘Do it again!’ I said, ‘How many times do I gotta do this?’ I didn’t say it meanly, but it was like, I want to shake some hands and enjoy this moment.”
It’s a high-stakes game for those camera crews. Get the right shots. Capture the magic of the moment. Then rush the footage out to a production truck parked outside the stadium to get a commercial cut.
And, because the featured player usually isn’t decided until the final moments of the game, NFL Films has to prepare multiple templates that feature all the potential player-of-the-game candidates. The quarterbacks sign just-in-case Disney contracts during the week leading up to the game, as do several other key players.
“At halftime, we might have 20 possible commercials that could air,” Rodgers said.
Of course, only one makes the cut.
“So there’s a commercial sitting offline in dead storage somewhere, probably in a mountain cave in Georgia, of John Elway’s Disney Super Bowl commercial from that game,” he said. “It’s complete all the way up to that line that’s never read.”
No doubt surrounded by boxes and boxes of New England Patriots 19-0 T-shirts.
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