Behind the scenes of that hilarious NFL Dirty Dancing commercial — here's how it came together
Plus: The ad's 'Hamilton' connection
The New York Giants may not have made it to Super Bowl LII, but some of the team’s players still appeared in the Big Game — and in the process, they, too, were some of Sunday’s big winners.
In the 60-second commercial, above, Giants quarterback Eli Manning and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. are in the team practice facility running some routes, resulting in a touchdown. To celebrate, they break into dance — but not just any dance. A dirty dance. Not Magic Mike style (though maybe that commercial is still to come), but more like Patrick Swayze-Jennifer Grey in the climactic moment of their 1987 classic Dirty Dancing.
When “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” starts playing, the guys — eventually joined by backup dancers, a.k.a. Giants offensive linemen Brett Jones, John Greco, Chad Wheeler, D.J. Fluker, and John Jerry — break out into a condensed (and not nearly as intimate) version of the scene, here choreographed by Hamilton‘s Stephanie Klemons.
Manning and Beckham score the ultimate touchdown, though, when they nail the iconic jump lift. “These guys are strong; they can do anything,” NFL’s senior vice president of marketing Jaime Weston tells EW, admitting it took “quite a few” takes, but “we got it!”
“We played it in the bowl — inside the bowl it’s loud, and there’s a lot going on,” Weston explains, “and just to see the response from the fans — 70,000 fans that were in the stadium — when this came on was thrilling, and to see all of the response outside of the stadium with viewers all over.”
According to USA Today‘s Ad Meter, the spot ranked second among 2018 Super Bowl commercials, eclipsed only by Amazon Echo’s commercial where various celebrities fill in for Alexa, who has lost her voice. (Both also landed on EW’s list of best Super Bowl commercials, here.)
Below, Weston goes deep on the concept, getting the guys into their dancing shoes, and why this song was the top choice.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Most brands now release their Super Bowl commercials early, but this one was a surprise. In a time when many have “statement” ads, the NFL went the direction of something fresh and funny and rather unexpected. That said, why does the NFL need to advertise to people who are watching the NFL?
JAIME WESTON: That’s a good question. Our unique challenge that we have with advertising in the Super Bowl — other brands don’t; for other brands, their spot is their Super Bowl, that’s their moment — we’re tasked to create our brand statement within our greatest brand statement, which is the game. So that is what we’re up against every year, but we’ve always found the most effective advertising for us is when we lean into insight that rings true with our fans, our players, [and] is authentic to the game. So the touchdown celebration, having those reinstated into our rules this past season, we’ve really seen our players’ creativity, their youthfulness, their competitiveness shine through all season long. We’ve seen everything from potato sack races in the end zone, Duck, Duck, Goose, and it’s really been embraced by our fans far and wide. We have fans age 5 to 95, and it’s great to see! It’s just fun and our fans really connect with it.
So, to your point about releasing in-game, you’re right, the trend has been to release their spots early; you get so much exposure and impressions around your campaign. But once we saw the cut and we shared it with a few folks internally, we said, “This is too good. It’s gold. We have to surprise people and wait till game time.” So that reveal was everything. But what it changed for us is, Okay, how do we tease into this? What is that whole strategy leading up to it now? It’s easy in this day and age to just put the spot out; so we had to get creative around the social teasers and then the [10-second commercials] that led up to the spot in-game (Patty Cake, Thumb War). So how do we point to, there’s something really big coming, we don’t give it away though? It was almost harder to think through all of that to string that through than the spot itself. But we did it, and it was a lot of fun. I think by that last :10 that ran before the :60, people started to pick up on, there’s something coming here that we gotta be ready for.
How early did you conceptualize everything? When did you shoot?
We shot about two weeks ago — really quick, it was a one-day shoot, but a lot of prep that leads into it, though, and I’d say we started looking at concepts in December. We always start with an insight — this touchdown celebration, our brief to Grey advertising, our agency, was very simple: Lean into the excitement and the fun of the game, let the players’ personalities shine. So they came back with a handful of concepts, and when this one came in we agreed this was the one to go with. But really to make it Super Bowl-worthy, our casting was everything; we needed the right duo to pull it off, and Eli and Odell were perfect! They delivered. And Landon Collins, his delivery with that line, “Let them dance,” it was so great. He’s a safety, right, so he’s a guy on the other side — he plays defense — and he’ll rarely if ever get to celebrate touchdowns himself, so it was really cute to bring him in into the spot.
Audiences are used to seeing NFL players on Dancing With the Stars, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that these guys would break into dance.
That’s true. Well maybe Dancing With the Stars will be calling Eli next after they see that audition tape. [Laughs] But you’re right, our players are so talented off the field as well — they’re doing so many different things. These guys always have helmets on, so it’s great to show their personalities to our fans and let that really come through. And we worked with Stephanie Klemons, one of the choreographers for Hamilton — that was really the icing on the cake for us. The guys worked so hard, and they were so serious to nail a very intricate dance — the timing, the steps, the footwork, all of that had to be on point, and they did it!
How long did they have to rehearse the choreography?
Just that morning.
Yeah. And I think that’s another great point: These guys, they have to practice plays every day, they have footwork, they’re doing drills and skills — they came in around 8 a.m. and immediately got to work with Stephanie while the production team was setting up for the shoot itself, and they just kept going through repetitions and getting it down, and when it was “go” time, they were on. They were just great.
Were there other songs in consideration? How did you settle on this one?
This was the front-runner. This was it. This was all the money right here. We read it and were like, “Yeah! Everyone will know this!” Whether you’re young or old and you’re a fan, you know this movie, you know this song — even the reboot of the movie, or seeing Jessica Biel do the dance on Ellen, you see memes about it — it’s something that has really stood the test of time, so to be on the Super Bowl stage, we said that’s what we need, mass appeal in that way and culture relevance as well as Eli and Odell, who are known even to our most casual fans. That was really the magic ingredients to make it work.
So here’s the really important question: How many takes did the guys need to nail that iconic lift?
You know, they’re athletes — these guys are strong, they can do anything. You have to take all of the necessary precautions to keep them safe — playing the game is priority above all else — but we pushed them to their limit wherever we could. There’s a succession of takes to get that, to really nail it. It was quite a few, but we got it!