Memorable Memorial Field Moment: The Filming Of The Mean Joe Greene Coke Commercial

Ok for the critics who thought I was being too hard with my stance on the stalled renovation of Memorial Field in Mount Vernon, I give you a great moment in Memorial Field and Mount Vernon history, The Filming Of The Mean Joe Greene Coke Commercial.

Mount Vernon’s 3,900 seat Memorial Field was home to football, baseball, even boxing, high school graduations and much much more. But for three days in May of 1979, its tunnel served as the set for the classic scene in which a young fan, offers an injured Greene a Coke, prompting the NFL tough guy to utter the iconic line, “Hey kid, catch,” as he tosses him his game jersey. Shot in Memorial Field, a smaller stadium than NFL stadiums to make Mean Joe look even bigger.

The 60-second commercial (which was part of the “Have a Coke and a Smile” ad campaign), won a Clio Award for being one of the best television commercials of 1979.

The commercial first aired in October of 1979 but became world-famous during Super Bowl XIV when it was shown during a break in the game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Los Angeles Rams. In the commercial, Following a football game, a child (played by 12-year-old actor, Tommy Okon – billed as The Kid) offers an injured Greene, a defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers at the time, a Coke, prompting “Mean” Joe to grab the bottle and guzzle it down, before turning to limp away.

He then turns back toward the child, smiles and tosses the kid his team jersey with the now – famous punchline, “Hey Kid, Catch!.”

“Wow, thanks, Mean Joe!” says Okun, after the NFL-er chugged the soda and gifted him with the shirt.

The heartwarming commercial became immensely popular, listed as one of the top ten commercials of all time by multiple sources, including TV Guide magazine. The ad was also shown in many other countries (including the UK) even where Greene was not well-known.

They was even a movie made about it. In 1981, NBC expanded the Coke commercial into a made-for-TV movie called The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid, with Greene playing himself and the kid played by Henry Thomas, who soon after starred as Elliot in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Constructed as a state of the art facility, the 83-year-old stadium has eroded to the point that the city’s high school football team has moved across town to a newly built field. With plans for a more modern athletic complex on the site, the city broke ground a few year ago on a project that included the demolition of the current structure.

“It was a great commercial, but I’m prejudice of course,” the Mayor confesses a few years ago. “I think just artistically, I think it was a great commercial and it made it even better because it was shot in Mount Vernon.”

One more bit of Mean Joe commercial trivia: Greene says Cowboys superstars Roger Staubach, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and Tony Dorsett, as well as his Steelers teammate Jack Lambert were among the competition he beat out to star in the Coke ad.

Mount Vernon, New York has such a rich history and this is just one of the great moments in Mount Vernon and Memorial Field history. How many of you knew the commercial was shot in the tunnels of Memorial Field?

AJ Woodson
Black Westchester