Super Bowl ad contest peeks at NFL stars' lives

By Michael McCarthy, USA TODAY

Consumers are not the only ones intrigued by Super Bowl TV commercials. So are NFL players. Hundreds of NFL stars ranging from veteran quarterbacks such as Matt Hasselbeck of the Seattle Seahawks to rookies such as Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings have responded to the league’s call to pitch their own Super Bowl spots.

Under the NFL’s “Super Ad: Who Wants it More?” contest, fans are voting online to decide which player’s personal story would make the best ad during the big game. The 60-second TV commercial will air during halftime of Fox’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3.

Out of the NFL’s 1,800 current players, 240, or 13.3%, volunteered to pitch their idea to film crews in recent months, says Lisa Baird, the NFL’s vice president of marketing.

Baird was surprised at how savvy the players are about advertising and their own personal brands — and how eager they were to share their football stories during the most-watched television event of the year.

“They’re pretty astute about what’s good advertising and what’s not going to work,” she says.

Players bidding to star in their own Super Bowl spot include 18 selected for the 2008 Pro Bowl.

Among them: Seattle’s Hasselbeck; Minnesota’s Peterson; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh; and tight ends Tony Gonzalez of the Kansas City Chiefs and Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys.

The personal stories of the players at range from funny to risqué. They provide a firsthand look at fame and fortune, NFL-style:

•Hasselbeck recalls his joy at receiving his first fan letter as a backup quarterback on the Green Bay Packers — only to discover the fan wanted him to secure an autograph from teammate Brett Favre.

“That’s when I knew I had not arrived yet, at all, in the NFL,” the Super Bowl XL quarterback recalls.

•Peterson shares a story about a fan who was ready to leave her husband, on the spot, for him after meeting him and his brother outside a restaurant.

•Veteran quarterback Kurt Warner of the Arizona Cardinals recalls a St. Louis mother who wanted to take him home to autograph a poster on her son’s bedroom wall.

Willie Colon of the Pittsburgh Steelers recalls how the Cowboys skipped over him in the draft because his cellphone went dead — and the team couldn’t reach him.

•Punter Brian Moorman of the Buffalo Bills says he’ll “never forget” the first time he saw a fan wearing a jersey with his name. “I couldn’t help it. I had to go over and give the guy a high-five,” Moorman says.

The contest has already generated more than 235,000 votes, Baird says. Starting Thursday, fans will be able to pick from nine finalists through Jan. 6.

This season’s contest follows a similar online promotion last year in which the NFL asked fans, not players, to pitch their own Super Bowl commercial. Bills fan Gino Bona won the contest. Just like last year, the winning idea will be turned into a finished spot by hotshot Madison Avenue director Joe Pytka.