The Big Game Hall of Fame: Week 5

McDonald’s Holds Court

On February 4, two NFL teams will come together on the biggest stage in sports to vie for football supremacy. The day after, the cream of advertising’s creative crop will convene in New York to declare one Super Bowl ad the best of the year and will proudly honor it with the 4th annual Super Clio.

To help set the stage, we are going to spend the next few weeks leading up to the big game highlighting the greatest Super Bowl ads of all time. Those pop culture touchstones that are still referenced today, and which helped cement football’s championship showcase as the most important date on the calendar for agencies and brands.

WEEK FIVE: McDonald’s “The Showdown”

Air Date: January 31, 1993

Super Bowl XXVII (Dallas Cowboys 52/Buffalo Bills 17)

“America’s team” the Dallas Cowboys rode future hall of famer Troy Aikman’s 273 throwing yards to their first Super Bowl championship in fifteen years. No less than the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, performed during halftime. And the opening coin toss was presided over by future true crime poster boy O.J. Simpson.

There was a lot going on that year, is what we’re saying.

So it’s a testament to the power of McDonald’s simple idea – get two of the biggest basketball icons in the world together for a friendly game of HORSE –that it not only still remains one of the greatest Super Bowl ads of all time, but it also completely eclipsed the other Michael Jordan spot from that same year and that one went on to inspire the cult legend that is Space Jam. But “The Showdown,” with the young upstart Jordan challenging living legend Larry Bird with Big Macs as the prize, is the spot that has been endlessly referenced and reimagined since. Created by Leo Burnett Chicago, the ad saw the fast food chain boldly plant a flag in an area typically owned by athletic footwear. In fact, Nike eventually paid homage to the commercial that stole its Michael Jordan/Bugs Bunny thunder that year, doing a “Showdown”-like spot featuring golfers Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.

"The Showdown" - Bird vs. Jordan McDonald's ad - 1993

In a 2010 interview with NESN, Jim Ferguson, who was one of the creative leads on the campaign at Leo Burnett, admitted that casting had a huge influence on the creative. For one, Bird had to be the one to initiate the bet because of the gambling issues that had plagued Jordan from early on, and his “no dunking” line was an ad lib. And although camera trickery was involved, you couldn’t expect fierce competitors like Bird and Jordan to not accept some of the challenge.

“The two took the first two shots (over the backboard and on their knees),” said Ferguson. “After that, it was just editing though Larry didn’t necessarily want to do it that way. When the two of them are in the stands and Larry challenges Michael, Larry was actually trying to figure out if he could really make it off the scoreboard.”


Meet the 2018 Super Clio Jury, right here.