THANKFULLY, NIKE'S BELLHOP SIDELINES HOPPER CHARACTER

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Well, go figure. A professional sports season is about to begin on schedule, without picket lines or semi-pro players suited up to look like real professionals (except, of course, for the Washington Redskins). Yes, the NFL is back.

That's the good news. The bad news is: another five months of Terry Bradshaw.

Every Fox broadcast of his insufferable histrionics reminds us that the actual game is part of a package over which the viewer has little control. We tune in to see the football contest by choice, but the rest-from ex-quarterbacks mistakenly cast as personalities to TV commercials interrupting the action-is shoved down our throats.

Hence the duty of the shovers to be considerate of the shovees.

Fox clearly does not see that duty. If it isn't Bradshaw mugging and trying painfully to be amusing, it's smutty sitcom promos and soft porn interludes with Melrose Placers in heat. And as if that weren't bad enough, last season the paid ads brought us Nike's Dennis Hopper campaign, featuring a deranged (i.e., not goofy and eccentric but seriously mentally ill) ex-ref character sniffing athletic shoes in order to sell athletic shoes.

So here's more good news: This year Nike's primary NFL thrust will not be Hopper, but a weird and wonderful new series of Wieden & Kennedy spots that the Hopper campaign should have been all along.

This time it's actor Toby Huss as Perry the bellhop, who like Hopper's Stanley Craver is an excitable, fanatical NFL devotee so absorbed with his love for the game that he loses touch with the world around him. But unlike Craver, the seriously afflicted schizophrenic, Perry is just an exuberant, manic bore.

In the best of the first eight spots, he spies Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe in an elevator and tears across the lobby to ride with him. In the ensuing conversation, he does most of the talking:

"Used to quarterback myself, too, over at the community..... [looking furtively behind him and swallowing his words, as if divulging something confidential]..... community college. Basically the same game as you, when I was, like, the man. You should try that one: 2-45-BLACKDAWG! Had the same Nike Turf Trainer-covered feet." And then, amid jump cuts and herky-jerky body movements, he does a Bledsoe touchdown pantomime and then pulls back to reality and tries, hilariously, to play it cool.

Another spot has him prattling on to a Japanese businessman about his favorite Chicago Bear until so caught up in the reverie he knocks the businessman to the floor. Another, with versions for New York and San Francisco, has him showing a female hotel guest a lock of Boomer Esiason's (or Steve Young's) hair. In every case, both the patter and the physical comedy are irresistible. And, unlike Stanley Craver, he manages to get his Turf Trainers into the conversation.

Some will find Huss to be a pale imitation of Hopper, and they won't be entirely wrong. Perry is Stanley, notched back about five clicks. But that's good. The object is to contrive a character who takes fandom to ridiculous extremes, not to take creepy liberties with the tragedy of psychosis.

He cannot fail, and if he does, no big deal. Fox could use a real halftime-show personality. And the Redskins could use a quarterback.M

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