Pro Football Is a Funny Game

Young & Rubicam, in the third year of its public service effort for the National Football League/United Way partnership, serves up a new mixture of jocks, kids and jokes.

Like prior work, the new campaign is humor-based, but features more dialogue and less slapstick than 2001’s highly regarded effort. (One spot was short-listed at this year’s Cannes ad festival.)

This time around, 10 new TV spots—the first of which breaks Thursday with the opening of the 2002-03 NFL season—again unfold like pseudo-documentaries, with a gravelly voiced narrator setting the tone. All begin in a straightforward manner, but end with a player becoming the butt of a joke.

In one spot, Jake Plummer of the Arizona Cardinals lectures a group of children visiting a zoo about the ferocity of cardinals, going so far as to say that they eat eagles and falcons. The kids aren’t buying it, though. “It doesn’t look so tough,” says one. Even the narrator begs, “Let it go, Jake.”

Another spot shows a hypercompetitive Troy Brown of the New England Patriots besting senior citizens in games such as archery and racquetball. But after standing to boast of a Bingo win, he sits down on a cake. As surrounding seniors snicker, the narrator says slyly, “Bing-o.”

A third spot, starring the Chicago Bears’ Ted Washington, involves a game of trust. Washington catches a backward-falling kid, but the boy, realizing he’d be flattened by the 365-pound defensive lineman, stays clear when it’s Washington’s turn to fall.

“People like seeing these athletes poking fun at themselves,” said Jim Ferguson, chief creative officer of Y&R in New York. “It makes them human again.”

As in years past, the spots were directed by Neil Tardio Jr., also known for his ESPN work. The copywriter was Darren Wright, and the art director, Dave Skinner.

As part of the partnership, the NFL gets networks that air games—ABC, CBS, Fox and ESPN—to donate media time. If paid, the effort would cost $30-40 million, according to a Y&R representative.