As far as celebrity endorsements go, it’s not quite Joe Namath shilling for pantyhose. Nor is it Muhammad Ali hawking d-CON’s roach-killing products or Ore-Ida hash browns.
But a video game called “Jerry Rice & Nitus’ Dog Football,” which hit stores this week, has to be one of the most unexpected athlete endorsements to come down the pike since the George Foreman grill.
Dog football? That’s right. Rice is playing quarterback, throwing to his pooch, Nitus, and a gaggle of other canine receivers in the $30 Wii game. This is probably the closest any of us will ever get to playing an “Air Bud 2: Golden Receiver” video game, and it even features a 49ers Hall of Famer.
Trailers from publisher Judo Baby show Rice’s animated likeness throwing passes to cute cartoon dogs and growing dismayed when one becomes distracted by a nettlesome raccoon, killing what looked like a sure catch-and-run touchdown. Also, there are blue-haired dancing girls and, um, aliens.
It’s easy to sit back and take pot shots at Rice’s latest venture, which bears all the hallmarks of a cheesy, budget Wii game. But watching Judo Baby’s trailers, it’s also easy to be convinced that Rice may have participated in the year’s most surreal party game. With local co-op modes that support up to four players and totally unrealistic football action, could it be the current-generation equivalent of Nintendo Entertainment System classics like “Base Wars” (robot baseball) and “Baseball Simulator 1.000,” which let players alter gravity, cause earthquakes and turn their hits into missiles? Only time will tell.
Talk of “Jerry Rice & Nitus’ Dog Football” got my sports desk colleagues and I talking about some of our favorite unexpected sports star cameos. The video for Ali’s pitch for Ore-Ida hashbrowns is embedded above. Bonus biographical tip: My late dad and I would for years yell, “I’m huungry!” from the next room the same way Ali does in this ad. I’d long since forgotten the commercial that inspired us, but it was a hoot to stumble across it again on YouTube while looking for Ali’s spot for d-CON anti-roach fogger. I’ve embedded that video, plus some of our other favorite athlete endorsements, below.
My favorite part of Ali’s d-CON Four Gone commercial is the way he says, “six legs” while wiggling all 10 of his fingers.
My colleague Robert Rubino got a chuckle out of the great pains Beautymist and Namath went to to make sure viewers of the ad knew he wasn’t some cross-dressing closeted gay man in real life. I proposed someone remake this ad with Dennis Rodman in the Namath role.
The ad isn’t as weird as some of these, but Shaquille O’Neal’s dubious fighting game for the NES, “Shaq-Fu,” is probably the closest thing “Dog Football” has to a peer. Thanks to Associated Press video game writer Lou Kesten for pointing out its initial exclusion. Kesten also mentioned “Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City,” a game that somehow escaped my attention back in the day. I couldn’t find a commercial or trailer, but here’s a pretty good “Let’s Play” video.
The William “Refrigerator” Perry G.I. Joe action figure was all the rage back when I was in fifth grade. You could only get it via mail order. None of us questioned the idea of a 350-pound soldier. This clip has a bit better resolution than the one I embedded, but the creator has disabled embedding.
Maybe it was the “Super Bowl Shuffle,” but you couldn’t flip on a TV in the mid-’80s without spotting a commercial featuring a member of the 1985 Chicago Bears. Here’s Jim McMahon selling some kind of paintball gun. He’s so dreamy.
And if you couldn’t get the Bears to record a new “Super Bowl Shuffle,” why not just round up a bunch of NFL players (including 49ers Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott) and have them sing a rap about your soft drink? It’s not all that abnormal for athletes to pitch soft drinks, but this one makes the cut for its strangeness.
See? Rice is in great company. In its own way, “Dog Football” is kind of a throwback to a bygone era. Athletes these days get paid a ton of money for playing their sport and are less likely to seek dubious, alternate revenue streams. And players are much more likely to view their personality as a “brand” they can exploit for future revenue, meaning they’ll say “no” to promoting stuff like pantyhose or weird, paint-pellet-shooting guns. Thanks, Jerry, for keeping it old school.