Amid some of pro football’s greatest players, a Utah high school student and girls’ football advocate got the last word in a Super Bowl ad Sunday night.
Sam Gordon, a 15-year-old Herriman girl who started playing football when she was 9, delivered the punchline in the National Football League’s ad to launch NFL 100, the celebration of the league’s centennial. The two-minute ad aired just before the halftime show, which featured Maroon 5.
At school Monday morning, “a lot of people were kind of going crazy about it, but it was fun,” Gordon said. "Last night, after the commercial was aired, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so many notifications. Everybody was texting me and stuff. ‘Oh my gosh, I just saw you.’”
The ad included a roster of dozens of NFL greats of the past and present — Jim Brown, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Barry Sanders and so on — at a banquet presided over by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. At one point, Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch dislodges the decorative football atop a giant cake. Someone yells, “Fumble!” and mayhem begins, with players running, throwing and tackling across the banquet hall.
At the end of the ad, the football is thrown to Gordon. Richard Sherman, the San Francisco 49ers and former Seattle Seahawks cornerback, politely asks her, “Can I have the ball please?” She replies, “You want this? Come and get it.” Gordon then makes a spin move to elude Sherman, and tosses the ball to New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley.
Brent Gordon, Sam’s father, said Monday the league contacted them in mid-January about appearing in the ad. “Apparently, it was a last-minute idea they had,” Gordon said, “to get the big names in football together for this shoot. Almost every single player they reached out to said yes." (Most of the stars were filmed in Los Angeles, though a few — like New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady — were shot elsewhere and their scenes edited into the final ad.)
“We didn’t actually get the script until we were in the hotel [in Los Angeles],” Sam Gordon said. “That’s when it really hit us, like, ‘Oh, this is like a big deal. Like, there’s a lot of really great football players in this commercial.’”
The concept, Brent Gordon said, was to show a century of NFL history, pivoting at the end to “What’s the future going to be like? It’s Sam pitching the ball to the rookie, Saquon Barkley."
It was a three-day shoot, and Sam Gordon’s part was shot at the end of the production. “There were broken tables everywhere, there was a giant cake that was smashed, glasses on the floor, totally wrecked," Sam Gordon said.
Gordon worked with Sherman and Barkley on their scene together. “[Sherman] was a super-nice person,” Gordon said. “We had to reshoot the scene from different angles. I feel like we did it hundreds of times. So [I was] getting to interact with him, and joke around with him, and conversate with him. And Saquon Barkley, too. … They were both really nice and thought I was really cool that I was in this.”
She also got to hang around when Ndamukong Suh, the Los Angeles Rams' nose tackle, shot his scenes. Director Peter Berg, who made movies such as “Patriots Day” and “Deepwater Horizon,” had Sam sit behind the camera with him during Suh’s scenes, her father said.
Berg “took Sam under his wing, to give her a real great behind-the-scenes look at what filming a TV commercial was like,” Brent Gordon said.
Sam Gordon — who also plays soccer, and is a sophomore at the RSL Academy in Herriman — is popular with the NFL brass. As part of last year’s Super Bowl festivities in Minneapolis, Gordon received the league’s first “Game Changer” award, given to people moving the game forward and making positive contributions to the sport in their communities.
At age 9, Gordon started competing in Ute Conference football, outrunning boys on opposing defenses, and her exploits have been seen worldwide via YouTube. In 2015, she and her father were instrumental in starting the Utah Girls Tackle Football League, which has inspired similar leagues in other states.
Brent Gordon, a personal-injury attorney, is a plaintiff in a Title IX lawsuit filed in June 2017 against the Granite, Jordan and Canyons school districts and the Utah High School Athletics Association, urging them to field girls football teams at the high school level. The case is ongoing.