Bubba Smith was an All American football player at Michigan State. He is one of only three players from that program to have his jersey number retired. Following his collegiate career, he was the #1 overall pick of the 1967 NFL draft. He played for three NFL teams (the Colts, the Raiders, and the Oilers) over his successful nine-year career, winning a Super Bowl title with the Colts in 1970.
When his NFL days were finished, Smith eased into acting and landed several minor roles in television shows and movies. For example, if you remember the campy Police Academy movies from the 1980s, his 6’7 height made him a natural to play Officer Moses Hightower. Still, Smith became best known as an actor for a couple of Miller Lite beer commercials in which he played himself.
Those commercials rank among the most successful ads ever. In the early 1970s, lite beer was a fledgling product trying to find its foothold in the marketplace. The executives at Miller Lite knew they needed to make a splash. They had what they believed was a good product, but what they wanted were commercials that would resonate with the public.
Their advertising company’s brilliant solution was to employ famous sports figures to hawk the product. Bubba Smith became one of those guys. At the close of his best-known commercial, he ripped the top completely off a Miller Lite beer can and said, “I also like the easy-opening cans.” In a followup, which he did with retired Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus, he ripped the top off a can of tennis balls and asked, “Tennis, anyone?” In a matter of only a couple of years, the catchy slogan attached to the Miller Lite commercials — “Tastes great!” Less filling!” — became a phenomenon.
Interestingly, the ironic thing about Bubba Smith selling beer was the fact that he didn’t even drink it. He never did. To him, the commercials were nothing more than harmless ways to make some money, keep his name in the spotlight, and hang out with some of his jock friends. He really didn’t understand the national effect his commercials were having.
That changed, though, on a day when Smith returned to his alma mater of Michigan State to serve as the grand marshal of the homecoming parade. There he was, riding in the backseat of a convertible, waving to throngs of Michigan State fans as the car made its way down the street. People on both sides of the street were yelling at him, but they weren’t yelling, “Go, State, go” or anything of that sort. The fans on one side of the street were yelling, “Tastes great,” and the fans on the other side were yelling, “Less filling.”
Things only got worse when Smith arrived at the stadium for the homecoming game. As he later recalled,
The older folks are yelling, “Kill, Bubba, kill!” (their old chant from Smith’s playing days). But the students are yelling, “Tastes great! Less filling!” Everyone in the stands is drunk. It was like I was contributing to alcohol, and I don’t drink. It made me realize I was doing something I didn’t want to do. I was with my brother, Tody, who is my agent. I told him, “Tody, I’ll never do another Lite beer commercial.”
Unfortunately for Smith, his advertising legacy was already sealed. Because of those commercials, kids would constantly come up to him on the street and recite the lines, verbatim, from those Miller Lite commercials. The kids remembered the lines better than Smith did. Smith would also go to popular spring break locations such as Daytona Beach and Fort Lauderdale as a paid spokesman for the brewery and be shocked to see just how drunk the college kids would get.
Bubba Smith learned too late that your actions have lasting consequences and the more influence you have, the more responsibility you have to use it wisely. In summing up his decision to stop doing beer commercials, he said, “As the years wear on, you stop compromising your principles.” Smith died in 2011 at the age of 66. As for the Miller Lite advertising campaign, it ran from 1974 to 1991 and is responsible for making lite beer a staple of American life.
Bubba Smith’s story reminds me of a passage from Philippians 4:8. That verse says:
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. (N.K.J.V.)
True. Noble. Just. Pure. Lovely. Of good report. Virtuous. Praiseworthy. Boy, talk about a list! These are the kinds of matters upon which you should meditate, with which you should get involved, and around which you should build your life. As best you can, keep yourself separate from anything that is false, ignoble, unjust, impure, ugly, disreputable, unethical, and scandalous. The simple takeaway here is that there is a lot that is wholesome and worthy about life. So why spend your time polluting yourself with stuff that is unprincipled, unwholesome, corrupt, and even downright evil? God has better for you than that.