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FOOTBALL

Fantastic commercial success

NFL's promotional videos are more about special effects work than special teams play, but however they were accomplished, they have been scoring big on the Internet

September 24, 2009|Sam Farmer

What, you don't believe they can do it?

You doubt that Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew can be buried up to his neck on a beach, then use his superhuman burst to explode out of a hole five feet deep?

You wonder whether Denver quarterback Chris Simms can effortlessly throw passes into trash cans 45 yards away, then pull off the same trick as a can is zipping past on a golf cart?

You scoff at the comic-book quickness of New York Giants tight end Kevin Boss, who bends backward Matrix-style to one-hand a pass screaming at his head from point-blank range?

Well, Mr. Skeptic, just know that even Boss' agent wasn't sure if his client actually pulled off that stunt for an NFL.com commercial promoting fantasy football.

"During training camp that was probably the No. 1 question I heard while I was signing autographs after practice: Was it real?" Boss said. "Different people back home, if their reaction wasn't like, 'Whoa!' they'd kind of look at me funny like, 'You did that?' "

He'll never tell.

Each of the 18 "Fantasy Files" ads features a player urging the viewer: "Pick me!" They have become YouTube sensations, earning views by the millions, and have spawned dozens of homemade copycat versions.

The authentic commercials air exclusively on NFL Network but are also available at fantasyfiles.nfl.com.

A film student might say the commercials are cinema verite.

To a football fan, they're Xs and O's meets the X-Files.

"It's all about fun," said Jonathan Klein, the NFL's creative producer. "And it's showing another dimension of these athletes. These guys have great personalities. Not only did they show their skills, but they had fun doing it."

Sure, the ads can be picked apart, and someone with a keen eye can probably guess how some of the effects were achieved. But for the most part, the astoundingly realistic spots have viewers thinking, "Did I really just see that?"

There's Washington tight end Chris Cooley, busting his hands through drywall on a construction site and blindly catching a pass thrown on the other side of the wall.

(He was willing to explain how the commercial was shot, but what fun would that be?)

"What was really the hardest part was ripping the ball back through the sheetrock," Cooley said. "I kept dropping the ball trying to bring the ball back through. The harder you punched the sheetrock, the more it would explode, so the bigger the hole would be.

"They ended up having to put makeup all over my arms because by the sixth or seventh ones, I had cuts all over my fists and my arms from the sheetrock cutting it."

These guys are willing to suffer for their art -- or maybe just make someone else suffer.

When Simms shot his ad, for instance, he wasn't always as accurate as he wanted to be when trying to throw a ball into a moving trash can. Twice, he drilled the equipment guy driving the golf cart.

"I beaned him," said Simms, who played for Tampa Bay at the time and now plays for Denver. "He was mad at me for about a week. I hit him once in the arm and once in the back of his shoulder. He was probably about 25 or 30 yards away, and I was throwing it pretty hard. I'm sure it left a good mark."

Simms had one of the earlier -- and less improbable -- commercials and, in addition to hitting the moving and stationary cans, he finished by plunking the crossbar of the goal post from about 25 yards away.

The most difficult of the three tricks? Dropping a pass into the fixed can.

"That's probably the one I hit the least," he said. "I don't know how many balls I threw to the trash cans. I feel like if you stood a person in front of a trash can, I could hit him all day. But for some reason, you see the trash can and it does something with your depth perception. I was pretty average at that.

"The ones I was good at were hitting the crossbar because I do it a lot. Even to this day I play practice games like that. We filmed it 10 times and I hit it seven or eight."

In another ad, New England running back Laurence Maroney demonstrated he can squeeze through a tight hole by diving right through a parked SUV -- in through the driver's side window, and out through the passenger's window.

There's Houston receiver Andre Johnson showing his speed by feeding a ball into a jugs machine, then running the length of the field to catch the pass.

There's San Diego running back Darren Sproles, bounding over the heads of two defenders as if -- hint, hint -- he's running up an invisible ramp or something.

"People ask me, 'Did I really do it?' " Sproles said. "I just tell them yes."

Among the more talked-about ads features Packers kicker Mason Crosby teeing up three balls in downtown Green Bay. Explaining it's a prank he likes to pull at 2:59 p.m., he boots the balls in succession off a clock tower bell -- three bells for 3 o'clock.

Did he really do that?

You be the judge -- but understand that the kicks would have to be absurdly accurate and spectacularly powerful.

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