Nike, everyone's favorite inescapable apparel brand, was originally named after the Greek goddess of victory, and that decision turned out to be prophetic: It's rare to not see a swoosh—whether on a headband, jersey or, naturally, shoe—whenever a team is celebrating a big win. But the association with excellence wasn't created on its own. It was carefully crafted over the years by advertising, often of the groundbreaking variety.
While the company is primarily known for its basketball commercials (Mars! Lil' Penny! That thing where they dribbled the balls in rhythm!), they've also set a high bar for football spots, as demonstrated by the ten Best-Evers below.
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10. I Promise
This spot embodies the spirit of high school football. What makes it so dope is that it doesn't show any players or coaches—the commercial drifts like a reverie through a series of football-centric images while the attendant sounds of high school play behind them. There's an old-timey pep talk, a mid-workout exhortation, and a team cheer, among other bites, and all of it makes you wish you had one more chance to suit up under those Friday night lights. Or any-night lights, really.
9. Marshall Faulk
The Hall of Fame running back is best known for his time as the engine behind the Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis, but he spent the first part of his career with Indianapolis. He won Rookie of the Year in 1994 as a Colt, and he also filmed this effects-laden ad:
8. Briscoe High Game Day
Ever dreamt about being a varsity receiver playing for the coaching duo of Jimmy Johnson and Don Shula, having Deion Sanders be your dad, and being teammates with Michael Vick, Brian Urlacher, and LaDanian Tomlinson? Maybe? In any case, here's what it would look like, and it looks good.
7. Barry Sanders Demolition Derby
Jaguars futility, Browns quarterback controversies, and Danny Amendola injuries: Those are about the only things you can count on in the NFL these days. Time was, that list also included "Trying to stop Barry Sanders is bad for your health." This ad is from that time.
6. Stanley the Ref & Michael Irvin
Man, RI- so much -P to Dennis Hopper. His time as Stanley, the crazy referee, in this legendary Nike football campaign is a thing of historical greatness. Here's one of the many commercials in which he loses his mind, this time describing Michael Irvin going over the middle.
No words needed.
4. The Michael Vick Experience
Just a great idea. There's probably no better analog for peak Michael Vick than a sharply cutting, twisting, and turning roller coaster. This spot took that parallel and executed it to wonderful effect.
3. Vince Lombardi & Deion
Thank you, World, for giving us Jerry Stiller as Lombardi. I'm skeptical that the legendary coach would have condoned Deion's antics, but it's fun to hear his proxy give Prime Time a pass.
2. Bo Knows
There are kids born well after Bo Jackson's career had ended who know that "Bo Knows".
For my money, the best Nike football commercial. The ad ostensibly builds toward one collision between stars Troy Polamalu and LaDainian Tomlinson, though the hit itself is mundane in terms of in-game context. What really elevates the commercial is the message about the lifelong work and focus required, despite the obvious natural gifts, to bring those players together at that one forgettable moment. Also note that throughout the commercial, Polamalu and Tomlinson are always moving in the same, opposing directions. A nice touch to round out a smartly-conceived spot.