In the world of professional football, some players become larger than life characters. One of those men was Pittsburgh Steelers lineman Mean Joe Greene. While the defensive tackle was a star on the field and earned plenty of honors, a simple Coca-Cola commercial earned him a place in pop culture history.
While that commercial still lives on today, things didn’t exactly go smoothly on the set. In fact, Mean Joe himself was plagued by some uncomfortable issues while filming.
Mean Joe Greene’s Pittsburgh Steelers career
Outside of Pittsburgh, Mean Joe Greene is most commonly remembered for his famous Coke commercial. As anyone in the Steel City can tell you, though, he was no slouch on the gridiron, either.
After playing his college football at North Texas State, Greene entered into the 1969 NFL draft. The Pittsburgh Steelers selected him fourth overall, hoping to build a solid defense starting on the line. Mean Joe himself, however, wasn’t thrilled about joining the then-lowly franchise. “Oh my goodness,” he told CBS Pittsburgh in 2013. “I did not, did not want to be a Steeler.”
While Greene was right about the Steeler’s status—they went 1-13 during his first professional season—he still found individual success, claiming the 1969 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year title. Slowly but surely, though, the team started to improve; in 1974, they captured their first Lombardi Trophy, topping the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IX.
In all, Greene spent 13 seasons in Pittsburgh, becoming a defensive captain and the heart of the team’s “Steel Curtain.” He won four Super Bowl titles and two Defensive Player of the Year awards, ultimately earning himself a spot in Canton.
Filming a famous Coca-Cola commercial
For all of Mean Joe Greene’s success, however, all of his on-field accomplishments pale in comparison to one piece of popular culture: his famous “Hey kid, catch” Coca-Cola commercial.
In case you haven’t seen the clip recently, it features Mean Joe limping down the tunnel after apparently exiting a football game. A young fan slips past security, however, and offers the star an ice-cold Coke. While the defensive tackle isn’t initially interested, he eventually accepts the soda; he then thanks the boy by tossing him his jersey, accompanied by the famous “Hey kid, catch.” Unsurprisingly, the child is thrilled and everyone goes home happy.
The commercial first aired during the 1979 NFL season but truly took off after it ran during the Super Bowl. It hit the perfect emotional beats, showing a player who was perceived as mean and intimidating—Greene actually disliked his famous nickname because he felt it gave fans the wrong impression of him—being moved to kindness by a young fan and a bottle of Coke.
Mean Joe Green didn’t enjoy chugging all that soda, though
In retrospect, filming a Coca-Cola commercial was one of the best decisions that Mean Joe Greene ever made. On the set, however, he actually had second thoughts about the project.
In the commercial, we see Green chugging an entire bottle of soda. While that might not sound like an arduous task in isolation, it had to be repeated for each take. During a single day of filming, the defensive lineman reportedly put down 24 16-ounce bottles of Coke; that prolific consumption brought about some obvious problems.
“Between me belching and going to the men’s room, it took three days to film it,” Greene told the Baltimore Sun in 1992. At least one take was interrupted when he burped instead of delivering his lines, and the Steelers star almost bailed on the shoot due to frustration, only to be talked down by his lawyer.
Drinking that much soda might not be healthy or pleasant, but, at the end of the day, it was worth it for Mean Joe Greene.
All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference