If the debut of yesterday’s new SportsCenter commercial starring Metallica taught us anything, it’s that ESPN still knows how to make us laugh. Even as a lot of us who grew up watching SportsCenter and the network’s other shows have grown tired of the “Embrace Debate” nonsense, sports personalities who think they’re bigger than athletes (*cough, Michael Wilbon, cough*) and ESPN simply wrapping its powerful hands around our throats and choking us to death with LeBron James and Tim Tebow news, the “This is SportsCenter” ad campaign is something that makes almost everyone smile. And what’s truly remarkable about it all is that this year marks 20 years of the same gimmick going strong and rarely ever losing steam.
Started in 1994, the “This is SportsCenter” campaign was created to introduce us to ESPN’s top personalities from its long-running sports news series by combining their faux-behind-the-scenes antics with hilarious interactions with some of the biggest athletes in all of professional sports. It began with an introductory commercial from Bob Ley, and soon we had guys like Keith Olbermann, Craig Kilborn and Dan Patrick making us believe that a studio in Bristol, Connecticut was the coolest place on Earth.
Obviously, superstar athletes and SportsCenter anchors would come and go, but the theme always remained the same, and the commercials have remained the funniest on TV… especially those with hilarious and adorable mascots. I tried to pick a Top 20 off the top of my head and before I knew it, I had 32 commercials written down. Unfortunately, my immediate choice for No. 1, Adam Vinatieri and Jim Kelly walking through a metal detector together, was nowhere to be found on YouTube. But after realizing that ESPN readily keeps more than 100 “This is SportsCenter” commercials on its YouTube channel, I voted 1-0 in favor of no ranking. I’d rather just enjoy the hell out of something that I’ve always loved.
Keith Olbermann’s Pan Flute
Like most people, I was always pretty upset when Keith Olbermann left the world of sports broadcasting to take on cable news dipshittery, especially because he had such a commanding presence and powerful charm in his SportsCenter heyday. And even as he has since moved out of the political dumpster to sit in the gutter of hot sports takes (although he still does it better than most people), nothing will ever top his pan flute.
“Follow Me to Freedom!”
If I’m a gambling man, I’d wager that this 1999 spot is the commercial that most people think of when talking about old SportsCenter commercials. Mark McGwire bashing a computer with his bat like a caveman is just so… perfect.
Remember Lance Armstrong?
Long before he’d become Public Enemy No. 1 of both the cycling world and America in general, Lance Armstrong was just an incredible freak of nature and a hero to millions, as he’d overcome cancer to become the most dominant champion in Tour de France history. People who haven’t thrown away their LiveStrong bracelets will always have this early SportsCenter commercial.
There was Roger Clemens, Too
Speaking of semi-disgraced former star athletes, Roger Clemens once stopped by to throw a guy whose name I can’t remember against a wall. It’s funny because Clemens always threw really hard.
ESPN Clearly Had a Problem with PEDs
Between Armstrong and Clemens in early commercials and all of the embarrassing performance-enhancing drug use in actual sports, it was only right that SportsCenter eventually poked a little fun at cheaters by accusing Scott Van Pelt of juicing his brain.