It's rare that you get the rowdy fellows of the Miller Lite all-star team (credo: "Sell, sell, sell!") in one room together. But the business of the all-stars has always been business and so, Tuesday evening, in anticipation of their annual group beer commercial, they gathered cheerily in New York.
Boom Boom Geoffrion was there, and Steve Mizerak, and Bubba Smith and Deacon Jones and Dick Butkus and John Madden. There were nonjocks Rodney Dangerfield and Mickey Spillane, and the sole female of the commercials, Lee (Vroom Vroom) Meredith, the blond who hardly ever speaks a word.
As usual when old jocks gather, there was lots of talk of the splendor of bygone days. Billy Martin, legendary on this team for a commercial in which he was clad in western garb and defended his much-maligned rep ("I didn't punch that dogie"), sidled up to the bar and recalled other great plays and great contracts, if in other leagues.
"You can get $8,500 for one commercial, up front, without residuals," he said. "Varies from guy to guy. I've been paid better. Got $35,000 for a commercial that they never even used. Doing a $50,000 commercial next week. Carpeting."
Everyone out there know the Miller Lite commercials? They're often broadcast Saturday and Sunday afternoons in prime time. In between, you might get a minute or two of the Redskins or the Jets.
They're top-rated on Madison Avenue, and why not? Who out there doesn't feel a thrill, Sunday afternoon, when, in one famed spot, Martin starts shooting off his famed mouth and somebody yells, 'Knock it off, Billy, you need the job.' These are the moments of which sports history are made.
And Tuesday night, atop the Time-Life Building, at a dinner sponsored by the company, the Miller Lite team recalled those days.
Many jocks swore they had been part of the first Miller team. Matt Snell confided to a dinner companion that he had "started the whole thing," market-testing Miller Lite. Former Oakland Raider Ben Davidson, in from San Francisco, said that he was pleased to be here for this reunion, having missed the one last year. He was in Spain filming "Conan the Barbarian," the sort of role one also gets when one is 6 feet 8.
"I'm the leader of a whole bunch of men. I've got 32 men on horses behind me. In fact, I have Max von Sydow killed," said Davidson, who, in other pursuits, once broke Joe Namath's jaw. He acts quite a bit these days, he says, in addition to being a landlord and making appearances for Miller Lite. Weirdest commercial, he said, took him to the Southwest Washington State Fair, where he participated in a tug-of-war but nixed the lawn-mower race.
"How many people in this room know anything about lawn-mower racing?" he asked. "Miller gave me that opportunity."
Elsewhere in the room, Marvelous Marv Throneberry -- who has long ceased playing major-league ball -- was discussing what Miller had done for him and fielding questions from the press. Pathos and irony seemed to be what the press sought. Throneberry seems to say, in the commercials, that he'd never been such a great player (in fact, he was dreadful for the Mets), and that these days, nobody seems to know who he is. ("Cheer up, Billy," Marv says to Martin in one spot, "One day you'll be famous like me.")
Marv was having little of it, however.
"You the greatest writer who ever was?" he asked the reporter, who asked about greats. And to a question of fame: "Well, you fade out, even George Washington . . . you hear about him, once in a while."
He said, however, that the income from his Miller commercials had allowed him to quit his job managing a glass factory in Memphis, that he made more doing those Miller ads than he had playing baseball.