Mean Joe Greene spot finally gets award

Kevin Gorman
| Monday, Nov. 16, 2009

Joe Greene got his first taste of the impact of his Coca-Cola commercial at the 1980 NFL Pro Bowl, when Hawaiian school children ran past Roger Staubach, O.J. Simpson and Earl Campbell at recess.

"They came right to me, with Coke bottles, Coke cans, and they went right past all the stars," said Greene, the Steelers' Hall of Fame defensive tackle and special assistant for player personnel. "That was the first inkling where I thought: 'Maybe this Coca-Cola thing is something special.'"

Thirty years after swapping a Coke for a smile, Tommy Okon and Mean Joe Greene reunited Sunday before the Steelers-Bengals game at Heinz Field to accept a long overdue Clio award for their iconic commercial. They were presented by Steelers president Art Rooney II in a pre-game ceremony.

The ad, which first aired during the Major League Baseball playoffs Oct. 1, 1979, featured the 9-year-old Okon offering an ice-cold Coke bottle to Greene as he limped through a tunnel. Greene guzzled it, then tossed his No. 75 game jersey to the boy, who was thrilled with his souvenir.

It is considered one of the top 10 commercials of all time.

"To be able to bring them back together is special," said Bea Perez, Coca-Cola's senior vice president of integrated marketing. "They made it iconic. It was a special moment they shared. We call it the 'moment of happiness.'

"That can't be replicated."

Greene said there was no way he could have predicted its staying power and even said he enjoyed the recent remake, a Coke Zero spoof involving Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.

"It definitely changed some things that happened in my life," said Greene, 63. "It's amazing the impact that one spot has had on my life."

Okon, 39, owns a stone contracting fabrication business in West Chester County, N.Y., that did work at the new Yankee Stadium, has enjoyed being "along for the ride."

He has long been recognized for his role in the commercial, much the way John Gilchrist is for portraying "Mikey" in the 1972 Life commercial. Interestingly enough, they grew up in the same town and attended rival high schools — Okon went to Fordham Prep, Gilchrist to Iona Prep.

"It's an amazing thing to me that, after 30 years, it's still remembered and thought of," Okon said. "From the minute I met him, I could see what a nice, easy-going guy (Greene) was, that 'Mean Joe' was a name for the field, not directed at a 9-year-old boy."

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