TV has a bad habit of elevating a lot of false heroes in children’s eyes. These heroes come from all sections of popular culture, whether music or film or TV stars or social media players or CEOs of tech companies. The list goes on. Certainly, sports are guilty of creating some false heroes at times. Whether basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer or football. Certainly, football and certainly NFL football.
This is one of the brilliant things about this commercial for the NFL, run right before the Superbowl. The NFL has had its problems these past few years and a lot of their TV audience (and advertising and ratings) have thanks to familiar stances on politics in the past few years. Of course, the desire to keep politics out of religion or education is a strong desire of many in the nation. Yet the industry that is the most adamant about keeping politics out of it is the sports industry.
Sports fans have their own nation (as many sports groups are called, not just groups but real nations). People are passionate in life about a few things but there are no groups in popular culture as passionate as real sports fans. This is one reason that so many of the old fans of the NFL have been so upset that politics has finally arrived in the NFL. The last refuge from politics thought so many of its true fans. But, not the case. For many, it has been the last real refuge of culture after the others have failed. Politics has infiltrated all our culture. One’s church. One’s schools. Now, even sports.
Jim Brown On a Park Bench Encourages the Young Boy
The NFL finally seems to realize and understand this problem with the changing image of the NFL in the minds of all sports fans. Rather than offer up again one of their heroes or a group of them to inspire that spirit of the NFL in its fans again, it uses a sports hero of young boys for this purpose. A thirteen-year old boy named Maxwell Young. Not to say that the short little 2:51 second commercial is not packed with real NFL legendary football heroes. It is full of a collection of many heroes of the NFL. Jim Brown appears on a park bench cheering the young boy carrying the football. “Take it to the house kid,” he says in a phrase that will be repeated by the other football legends as the boy runs by them with the football. “Take it to the house kid,” they all say.
A Boy & HIs Football
So, on runs the little football player, carrying his football to the music of the classic Ray Charles “What I’d Say.” The boys moves into more and more dangerous territory as he runs towards the “house” he seems on a mission to carry the football to. There is an almost psychedelic scene of his arrival in the middle of a type of Mardi Gras parade with crazy masks all about him. People steal the boy’s ball away from him in this strange land but in the end, Drew Brews tosses the football to the boy from some ledge above all the street action below.
Next, arrives in what appears to be New York. Under some elevated train station. Things really get rough for the boy in this new environment.He gets into a fight in the big city that involves a number of legendary players in the scene. A wild scene that the boy’s appearance his football that he has inspired. He escapes from the fight and continues on his journey to the “house.” Then he runs towards a great football stadium and then down the hallway under the stadium a player goes through before coming out onto the playing field. On all sides of the hallway are – again – all of the great heroes of the NFL telling the boy to “Take it to the house.”
At the end of the hallway, right before the hallway ends onto the background cheers of a great stadium at some huge event, there is an elderly woman who stops the boy briefly. The lady is the owner of the Chicago Bears. Legendary George Halas’ daughter Virginia Halas McCaskey an icon who still goes to all home and away Bears games. She gives him final approval to pass her and run out onto the light of the field. She is the perfect final “gate” the young boy needs to pass through on his way to taking the football to the house. (She almost possesses the symbolism in the commercial with a similar weight of those two women knitters who confront Marlowe as he garners supplies for his trip into Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness.)
The Young Boy Has Taken it to the House (The 2020 Superbowl)
The next second, he explodes with his football out of the hallway and into the football field. This all happens in the context of the real 2020 Superbowl as we watch the young boy come running out of the tunnel and onto the real live field of the Superbowl in Miami. One can see the 49ers on the sidelines and the stadium is full as it right before the beginning of the real Superbowl. A group of kids explode out of the stadium tunnel and onto the field behind the young boy.
The boy goes up to the referee for the game that is about to start and hands him the football he has been carrying since scoring the touchdown on the little field back home with his friends, perhaps thousands of miles away from this appearance of his in the Miami Superbowl.
In the end, he has taken the football he carried to the ultimate place in life to take it to. The “house” or the Superbowl.
The commercial takes a boy and shoots a commercial, using a first person one-take shot, much like the technique used by Mendes and Deakins in the film 1917. The camera stays on the young boy the entire commercial except dropping briefly away for us to see Joe Montana checking out some hotel with Jimmy Garoppolo carrying his bags. But, for the most part, it is really a one-shot scene. (See my review of 2017)
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Importantly, the commercial stays in real time so that the boy stays the same. He is just a boy, but he has been entrusted with “taking it to the house.” He is in possession of something important. For the football he carries represents the dreams of many young boys like him to become football players. And, of course the ultimate football player is one who plays in the “house” of the Superbowl game.
The small boy has run from the real world of his life in the football game, maybe in some small town in Kansas, an empty lot in the inner city, and run far and encouraged along the way by the icons of football. They encouraged him along his way. Appropriately, his encouragers begin with Jim Brown, sitting on the park bench.
A young football player can wonder from playing a football game to the real Superbowl, not one just created for the commercial. The 13-year-old boy carrying the ball is Maxell “Bunchie” Young, a young football running prodigy from Los Angeles. He was named Sports Illustrated Kidsmagazine’s Sportskid of the Year in 2017.
Maxwell Bunchei Young – What Better Kid Than to Take it to the House?
The image positioning of the NFL is symbolic and powerful. Whether it might regain the faith of its passionate sports fans in another question. But perhaps images like those in “Take it to the House Commercial” might subtly shape a number of minds. In a good way.
Here, the NFL is not elevating any false real NFL hero in the minds of the young boy and his football peers. The boy is the hero of the commercial, not Jim Brown or Joe Montana. Rather, it is Maxwell B. Young.
And, perhaps more than anything, it might touch many young football players out there and – for a moment – make them believe the particular ball they carry in their sport might be carried all the way to the “house” or the venue of the key event in their sport. The Superbowl of their sport. And they – like Maxwell – might in fact do the carrying.
John Fraim is author of Battle of Symbols: Global Dynamics of Advertising, Entertainment & Media (2003, Damen Verlag, Geneva) and recognized as a top symbologist. He applies his ideas and techniques to posts on Midnight Oil and particular activities and business ventures. More about John.