Any sports fan who has tuned into ESPN over the last few decades has likely seen a “This is SportsCenter” commercial: a quick ad for the network’s flagship show, usually featuring some of the program’s anchors and either one or multiple athletes.
With 25 years of commercials under their belt, ESPN has been able to compile a who’s who of “This is SportsCenter” alumni like basketball stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, football fan favorites like Adrian Peterson and Rob Gronkowski, baseball icons like Albert Pujols and Clayton Kershaw, and many, many more.
Considering the multitude of material that the network has at their disposal, ESPN was even able to make hourlong specials to remember the ad campaign’s history, helping to fill the void left when live sports were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help celebrate the commercials reaching the quarter-century mark, it’s time to break down the top six “This is SportsCenter” ads of all time, with some honorable mentions to kick things off for optimized viewing pleasure.
There are so many stellar moments in “This is SportsCenter” history, and you can’t help but feel bad when a hilarious commercial gets left off the list. So, for this Pick-Six, we’re dusting off the “Honorable Mention” slot to give some of the best of the rest their due.
Whether it was Derek Jeter accusing a locker room full of ESPN talent when he finds some suspicious hair on his razor, Jimmie Johnson taking matters into his own hands after an incident in the parking lot, or the trio of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce looking for a new nickname as they got acquainted in Boston, there’s something for every sports fan.
For those who don’t have a strong opinion about any specific athlete and focus more on ESPN’s talent, there’s the classic commercial from John Clayton’s basement (which appears to be his mother’s basement).
After further review, these commercials just didn’t cut it when it came to the top six in “This is SportsCenter” history. However, they’re still linked here for anyone needing a good laugh to get through the day.
6. LeBron James and Scott Van Pelt in “Musical Chairs”
LeBron James, then in his first run with the Cavaliers, made multiple appearances in ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” campaign. But, nothing tops his appearance in “Musical Chairs” with SportsCenter anchor Scott Van Pelt.
As James returns back to his cubicle at the ESPN offices, he notices something is off with his seat, and then decides to head to his neighbor to investigate.
In one of the funniest reveals in “This is SportsCenter” history, you see Van Pelt lounging in a throne fit for a king, which would seemingly align with James’ moniker. A decade and a half later, you could say that Van Pelt is the king of SportsCenter, and now deserves that chair.
Van Pelt’s denial of the theft, and subsequent “Good luck finding your chair,” was all acted out perfectly, and proved that less is often more when it comes to a good ad. It was simple and subtle, and its quality-over-quantity approach earns it the opening spot on this Pick-Six.
5. Peyton Manning and Eli Manning in “Wet Willy”
Brothers always tend to fight, and becoming high-profile NFL quarterbacks apparently doesn’t change a thing if the Manning siblings are any indication.
In “Wet Willy,” Peyton and Eli Manning are accompanying their family on a tour of the ESPN offices, led by SportsCenter anchor John Anderson. However, the then-Colts quarterback and the Giants legend each find themselves holding things down in the rear of the group, and decide to do some brotherly ribbing in the process.
Some ear flicks, shoving and a “wet willy” garner the attention of the duo’s father, former NFL quarterback Archie Manning, and the two briefly calm down as a result. Then, when their father’s back is turned, Peyton sneaks up with a kick from behind to the…well…behind, to end the ad.
It proved the comedic timing that both of the Manning brothers have, evident by their appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and in other commercials, and also showcased just how perfect they were for the “This is SportsCenter” set-up. As a result, they wind up in the top five in this countdown.
4. The New Jersey Devils’ mascot and Jay Harris in “Going Up?”
Mascots tend to be some of the best actors when it comes to “This is SportsCenter” commercials, and the New Jersey Devils’ mascot proved that point in the best way possible in this ad with SportsCenter anchor Jay Harris.
As Harris gets into an elevator with the New Jersey Devil, the ESPN talent asks a simple question of his officemate: “Going up?”
A shaking of the head by the Devil sends the message loud and clear to Harris, who quickly hops off a ride down south that he has no intention of going on.
Again, simplicity tends to reign supreme when it comes to “This is SportsCenter” commercials, and that’s all the 15-second, two-word hit needed to get its punchline across.
3. David Ortiz and Jorge Posada in “Yankee Cap”
Baseball fans often wonder what catchers do with their hats, considering there aren’t any situations when they’re on the field and would need to don their team’s cap. Luckily for guys like former Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, there are friendly coworkers like Red Sox legend David Ortiz who can help out.
During the ad entitled “Yankee Cap,” SportsCenter anchor Stan Verrett sees Posada’s clean cap during a meeting with the catcher and Ortiz, and Verrett asks him about why the hat looks so brand new.
So, Ortiz decides to help his Yankees rival out, and tries to break the brand new cap in. When he dons the headwear with the infamous “NY” logo, however, Red Sox mascot Wally walks by with loads of papers in his hand. Unfortunately for Wally, those papers don’t last long after he drops them in shock.
Ortiz then delivers one of the best lines ever heard in “This is SportsCenter,” trying to assure his Red Sox mascot that he simply walked in at the wrong time.
“Hey Wally, Wally!” Ortiz yells. “It’s not what you think!”
The rivalry, the delivery, and the hilarity. It’s a perfect trio, and makes for a fitting No. 3 on this list.
2. Alex Ovechkin in “Spy”
Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin is one of the greatest players in NHL history, so it makes sense that he would translate his success into a spot as one of the best actors in “This is SportsCenter” history.
The ad shows the Russian hockey star going through files in the ESPN offices in complete darkness at 11:28 pm, all before SportsCenter anchor Steve Levy asks him what he’s doing.
“Nothing, just late-night filings,” Ovechkin tells Levy.
“Really? Late-night filings?” Levy replies. “What are you, a Russian spy or something?”
Both laugh at Levy’s joke before the ESPN mainstay leaves Ovechkin alone, and the one-time Stanley Cup champion’s facial expression suddenly turns serious as he looks up towards the ceiling. One of the tiles on the roof begins to move, and former Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov appears with a rope to help Ovechkin sneak out of the office.
“That was close!” Varlamov exclaims.
“Too close,” Ovechkin says.
Unfortunately, ESPN has caught some flack for the lack of hockey coverage on their network in recent years. But, hockey fans at least have the assurance that one of the best “This is SportsCenter” commercials is centered around one of the sport’s biggest stars.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson in “You’ve Got Mail”
Some jobs at any office weren’t exactly fan favorites, and back in the days before the Internet and emails were prevalent, getting stuck in the mailroom was one of those undesirable positions.
As Buddy the Elf showed kids in the movie “Elf,” it’s tough to keep your focus when your job is to retrieve and sort through mail for employees in the office. Sometimes, in the case of former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, it’s a hard job to do even when you devote your full attention to it.
Tomlinson, known for his tinted visor during his successful career in the NFL, gets stuck with the unwanted duty in the “This is SportsCenter” ad entitled “You’ve Got Mail,” and runs into some issues when he’s trying to see who each envelope is addressed to.
When SportsCenter anchor Steve Levy comes in to pick up his mail, he finds that none of it belongs to him, and hands the pile back to Tomlinson to redistribute. Still having trouble with his vision due to his visor, however, the Hall of Famer continues to leave it all up to fate, throwing mail up in the air nd hoping it lands in the right mailbox.
Sure, the humor isn’t as subtle or witty as some of the other memorable “This is SportsCenter” commercials, but sometimes, the best fruit is the lowest-hanging one that’s easiest to reach on the tree. Why throw a Hail Mary inside the 10-yard line when you can hand it off to Tomlinson and let him run it in himself?
That’s the mindset ESPN had with this all-time classic, and it was executed to perfection. It’s simple, provides continued laughs throughout the entirety of the 30-second ad, and sticks out in my memory as the best “This is SportsCenter” commercial of them all.