Dan O'Brien has many spiritual ancestors. Willie Shoemaker stood in the irons a little too early and lost the 1957 Kentucky Derby aboard Gallant Man. Roberto de Vicenzo signed an inaccurate scorecard to lose the 1968 Masters.
However, no athlete—not Fred Merkle, not even Wrong Way Riegels—had as much at stake as O'Brien did at the Olympic track and field trials.
Such was the impact of Reebok's media blitz for O'Brien and Dave Johnson that the public reaction to O'Brien's blunder in the pole vault wasn't so much, What will happen to Dan? as it was, What will happen to the $25 million ad campaign? To Reebok's credit, it says it intends to support Dan through the '96 Olympics in Atlanta.
When O'Brien failed in his three attempts at 15'9" last Saturday, Reebok pulled the Dan and Dave ads it had planned to run on NBC during the trials, substituting two spots featuring the Rockets—Roger Clemens and Raghib Ismail. Additional footage of Dan and Dave performing separately had been shot in case something happened to keep either from competing in Barcelona. And Reebok plans to create one or two new commercials, which will be aired during the Olympics, from that footage and perhaps from some footage that may soon be shot of Dan.
Reebok has two lines of shoes tied to the Dan and Dave campaign: the Pump Graphlite and the Cross-Trainer. These shoes have been selling fast, and Reebok thinks they will continue to sell.
Other people in the know think differently. Says Bob Bruch, an independent agent who once was an IMG executive, "It has to hurt. Reebok was putting almost all its eggs in one basket. But the one to feel sorry for is Dan. If he had set a record in Barcelona, he would have made $5 million easily."
According to Dave Ropes, Reebok's vice-president for worldwide advertising, the company has a multiyear contract with O'Brien, and it remains unchanged, except that O'Brien can't capitalize on whatever Olympic-related incentives the contract contains. O'Brien—whose contract with Reebok is reported by sources close to him to be in the mid-to high-five-figure range—also has deals with Fuji, Chevrolet and McDonald's. Mike Keller, O'Brien's coach and manager, says, "I see no change with these companies."
But every cloud has a silver lining. O'Brien can now do what Donna Rice, Monica Seles and Maria Maples once did: make ads for No Excuses Jeans.