Image: Jordan and Bird
McDonald's
Michael Jordan and Larry Bird's "The Showdown" ad in 1993 was a friendly competition. These days, it might have been more tense.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 2/2/2010 7:52:14 PM ET 2010-02-03T00:52:14
COMMENTARY

The best Super Bowl commercials tend to reflect happier times, when people liked their American cars and privatized health care, nobody was worried about the fate of the world's polar bears and high fructose corn syrup was practically a food group.

We should be so lucky in Super Bowl XLIV — which comes after a year filled with great financial hardship, moral lapses by high-profile leaders and movies that seemed to feature either militaristic fascists hunting down peaceful tree dwellers or post-apocalyptic survivors getting eaten by cannibals.

Below is a celebration of the 10 best Super Bowl ads of all time, followed by the depressing reality of what each one would look like if it was filmed in 2010. Needless to say none of the new ones will be featuring Tiger Woods.

10. Pepsi, “Apartment 10G” (1986)
The commercial: Michael J. Fox’s gorgeous new neighbor asks for a Diet Pepsi, but his last bottle is empty. The actor Fox goes to great lengths to get a can of the soda, leaping over cars, getting rained on and finally breaking his own window to gain entry into his apartment.

How it would look in 2010: Fox would be carrying mankind’s last can of Diet Pepsi, dodging cannibal biker gangs and radiation clouds to carry the flame for future carbonated beverage-drinking generations. In the last frame the viewer finds out that Fox (spoiler alert!) really is dead!

9. Tabasco, "Mosquito" (1998)
The commercial: A man relaxes on his porch, lazily dousing a slice of pizza with Tabasco sauce. He does nothing as a mosquito lands on his leg, draws blood, then flies away and explodes.

How it would look in 2010: The Tabasco advertisement, while popular with the viewing public, draws sharp rebuke and protests from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Tabasco reluctantly pulls the advertisement, later replacing it with one where the mosquito survives, albeit with a nasty case of indigestion.

8. E*Trade, “Money out the Wazoo” (2000)
The commercial: In an “E.R.”-like hospital setting, a group of increasingly desperate paramedics, nurses and doctors treat a patient who has “money coming out the wazoo.” (“Does your husband have insurance?” … “Insurance? He has money coming out the wazoo!”)

How it would look in 2010: The patient slowly pores through the 2,074-page health plan before figuring out that he qualifies for the public option. No death panels are consulted, but the patient does go on “The Glenn Beck Program” to tearfully compare notes about their respective wazoo surgeries.

7. Monster.com, “When I Grow Up” (1999)
The commercial: A series of children, talking to the camera, sarcastically declare their desire for a life of cubicle-dwelling corporate monotony. (Example: “When I grow up, I want to climb my way up to middle management.”)

How it would look in 2010: “When I grow up, I want to be Wall Street banking executive, who pleads before Congress for aid, receives a huge government bailout and then takes a $4 million performance bonus.”

6. McDonald’s, “The Showdown” (1993)
The commercial: Michael Jordan and Larry Bird play a shooting game for the rights to a Big Mac meal. They throw shots through windows, off walls and from the top of skyscrapers — each time calling “nothing but net.”

How it would look in 2010: After Larry Bird eventually wins the contest (duh), Jordan refuses to pay the Big Mac debt. Bird then pulls two guns out of his locker and leaves a note for Jordan to “pick one.” With both players suspended indefinitely, Charles Barkley’s Phoenix Suns win the NBA championship.

Now the list gets controversial. If history is any indicator, a lot of fans of flatulent horse humor are about to become very upset that Budweiser’s “Sleigh Ride” didn’t make the top five.

A case can be made for iconic advertisements from the 1970s including commercials from Master Lock, Xerox and Noxzema, but they all seem a lot more dated than the classic ads we include below.

(Super Bowl advertising purists point out that the Mean Joe Greene commercial appeared a few times before Super Bowl XIV. We’re including it because just about everyone viewed it for the first time during the big game.)

5. Budweiser, "Frogs" (1995)
The commercial: Three frogs sitting on lily pads in a swamp start croaking the words “Bud” “Weis” and “Er.” The camera pans and their muse becomes clear — a neon Budweiser sign is seen hanging in the window of a bar.

How it would look in 2010: Due to intense cost-cutting moves after a 2008 acquisition by Belgian brewing giant InBev, one of the frogs is laid off and the two remaining amphibians lose their personal secretaries and pension plan. The “Wise” frog’s voice is dubbed in a sound studio in Vancouver by a non-union voice actor working below scale.

4. Apple, “1984” (1984)
The commercial: A defiant Dolphin shorts-clad runner throws a hammer at a tyrant shouting propaganda on a video screen, followed by this message: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like ‘1984.’”

How it would look in 2010: The video screen would show a guy reading his news for free on the Internet, and the hammer-thrower would be a columnist whose writing has been placed behind a pay wall (Maureen Dowd?). “On January 27th, Apple Computer introduced the iPad. And you’ll see why the death of print journalism is premature. Unless it isn’t.”

3. Reebok, “Terry Tate: Office Linebacker” (2003)
The commercial: A struggling company hires an overly aggressive football player to keep order in the office. He  runs and tackles underperforming workers while saying things like, “You know you need a cover sheet on your TPS report, Richard!”

How it would look in 2010: "Terry Tate: Office Linebacker" becomes "Terry Tate: Corporate Linebacker," knocking out automotive executives and other corporate bosses who act cluelessly in the face of industry ruin. “You took a private plane to a congressional hearing, Richard!”

2. Budweiser, “Respect” (2002)
The commercial: A team of Clydesdales carrying a wagon full of Budweiser crosses snowy fields in slow motion. When they reach the outskirts of New York City, the horses kneel as a tribute to the lives that were lost during the Sept. 11 attacks.

How it would look in 2010: Hopefully exactly the same.

1. Coke, “Mean Joe Greene” (1979)
The commercial: After a tough game, a surly and limping “Mean” Joe Greene is offered a bottle of Coke by a young boy. After taking a long sip, Greene stops the boy from walking away, says, “Hey kid,” and throws his jersey as a souvenir.

How it would look in 2010: In 1979, Greene managed to milk this concept into a TV movie starring role. In today’s celebrity-obsessed culture, he would also merit an appearance on “Celebrity Apprentice,” an MTV reality show and its sequel (“For the Love of Mean Joe 2”) and nuptials to a Kardashian. The boy puts the jersey up for sale on eBay. Mark McGwire ball collector Todd McFarlane wins the auction with a $2 million bid.

Peter Hartlaub writes about pop culture for the San Francisco Chronicle.

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