The Bud Bowl: A Definitive History

On the subject of the greatest football dynasties of all-time, the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, 1980s San Francisco 49ers, 1990s Dallas Cowboys and 2000s New England Patriots likely all come to mind. You would be remiss, however, if you failed to mention a less heralded and, uh, less human team that dominated its competition in, quite frankly, unbelievable fashion: Budweiser.

From 1989-1997, the self-anointed "King of Beers" dominated Anheuser-Busch's Bud Bowl, the yearly clash between animated bottles of Bud and Bud Light that was featured in a series of commercials during the Super Bowl. The advertising campaign, which persists today in the form of Bud Bowl-themed packaging and promotional events, remains one of the most popular ever.

The Bud Bowl Architect

Grant Pace wrote the six original Bud Bowl ads that appeared in 1989 while working at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Pace said he developed the ads under the assumption that Bud Bowl would be a one-year phenomenon, but Anheuser-Busch representatives liked the prototype so much that Pace actually changed the original ending to leave open the possibility for a sequel. We interviewed Pace this week—here's a transcript.

More Exciting Than The Actual Super Bowl

bud-light.jpgThe first spots were an instant hit with viewers, as reflected by an amazing 17% surge in January beer sales. This guaranteed a grudge match the following year. As the cost of air time, production and other expenses grew from $5 million in 1989 to $8 million in 1991, so too did sales and Bud Bowl's popularity. Inflatable helmets and other related paraphernalia dominated liquor store and supermarket displays, while fans and sports columnists opined that the annual "Battle of the Bottles" was more exciting than the actual Super Bowl. (Considering that the average margin of victory in Bud Bowl history was less than three points, that notion held more than a little bit of truth.)

Tapped Out

By 1994, when Bud announced a new advertising deal with DDB Needham Worldwide, it was clear that the Bud Bowl idea as Pace and his colleagues had originally conceived it was nearly tapped out. The game took a one-year hiatus in 1996 before making an unsuccessful comeback attempt in 1997. The buildup to Bud Bowl 8 featured a sweepstakes, inviting fans to go online and vote for their all-time favorite Bud Bowl players and moments. Though I was only 13, I managed to score an official football.


Television spots for the Bud Bowl were abandoned for good in 1998, as Anheuser-Busch brought back the Budweiser frogs campaign, which debuted two years earlier.

Today, the Bud Bowl's legacy endures in stores [photo courtesy of MauryStory]...


...on eBay...



...and even in Glendale, Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XLII. Snoop Dogg and Kid Rock will headline the Block Party at

Bud Bowl 2008, while the Budweiser Clydesdales will also make an appearance. Similar events have been held in other Super Bowl host cities in recent years, including a 2006 shindig at Detroit's Tiger Stadium. But while the modern Bud Bowl remains a marketing success, it hardly compares to the stop-action awesomeness that fans came to know and love in the events formative years. To watch every Bud Bowl commercial in its entirety, along with thousands of other commercials, I highly recommend the nominal one-week membership to The fine folks behind that site have granted us permission to use their screenshots.


Continue reading for a look back at Bud Bowls I-VIII...

Bud Bowl I
January 22, 1989: Budweiser 27, Bud Light 24


Narrated by Bob Costas and Paul Maguire, the game that started it all unfolded over six spots during Super Bowl XXIII and proved almost as riveting as the Joe Montana-led San Francisco 49ers' 20-16 comeback win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The inaugural Bud Bowl was billed as a thunder and lightning showdown between two beers with contrasting styles. Bud, which boasted the vaunted "Beechwood Backs," favored a rushing attack, while Bud Light's pass first, ask questions later attack was led by a QB with Tom Brady-like numbers (49 touchdowns, 8 interceptions).

The back-and-forth game featured all sorts of excitement. Bud Light executed a flea-flicker to perfection, while Bud's "Appliance of Defiance," the Freezer, gave Bud Light defenders headaches all night. With two seconds remaining and the game tied at 24, Budsky, Bud's seven-ounce "nip" bottle placekicker, wobbled onto the field to attempt a 42-yard field goal. The kick bounced off the crossbar and left upright before falling through, sending the boozed-up crowd of Bud beer cans into a tizzy, or fizzy as it were.


Watch Bud Bowl I at

Bud Bowl II
January 28, 1990: Budweiser 36, Bud Light 34

The following year proved no better for the bottles in blue. Bud, no doubt fired up by an emotional pre-game speech that concluded with the line, "You guys are the king, now let's go turn out their lights," earned its second consecutive dramatic win in the series. This one was wrought with controversy.

In snowy conditions at scale-sized Busch Stadium, Budweiser overcame a gritty performance by Bud Light quarterback Budway Joe and scored the winning touchdown as time expired when an offensive player advanced a fumble, which is illegal by NFL rules. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Anheuser-Busch received hundreds of telephone calls about the play over the course of the next week, prompting the St. Louis-based brewery to respond thusly:

"In the National Football League, of course, the offensive team cannot advance a fumble in the final two minutes of a game unless the ball is recovered by the same player who fumbled it. However, no such rule exists in the BFL (Budweiser Football League)."

I was unable to get my hands on a copy of the official BFL rulebook, but there are some other subtle hints that the Bud Bowl wasn't governed by NFL rules. Like, for instance, the fact that its participants didn't have any hands.

Watch Bud Bowl II at

Bud Bowl 3
January 27, 1991: Bud Light 23, Budweiser 21


By the time the foam settled in one of two Bud Bowls to shun the use of Roman numerals (Bud Bowl 8 was the other), there was a new ruler of the cooler. Don Meredith and Keith Jackson called the action, while Chris Berman handled studio duties for the game. Bud Light scored first, using a bottle opener as a spear to clear a path to the end zone.


Filling in for the injured Budway Joe, top draft pick Bud Dry staked Bud Light to a fourth quarter lead, but a Longneck caught a touchdown pass with 3 seconds remaining, giving Bud a 21-17 edge and setting up the most memorable finish in Bud Bowl history.

In a parody of "The Play" at the end of Cal's victory over Stanford in the 1982 Big Game, Bud Light used multiple laterals to weave its way up the field and through the Bud band, which had wandered onto the field prematurely to celebrate what they thought was a sure third straight title. Jackson bellowed, "The band is on the field!" seconds before a Bud Light bottle sporting a tuba reached the end zone. Bud fans have lamented the fluke loss to this day, but like their Stanford brethren, can find solace in their team's superior all-time record against its rival.


Watch Bud Bowl 3 at Retrojunk.

Bud Bowl IV
January 26, 1992: Budweiser 27, Bud Light 24

By previous Bud Bowl standards, this was one to forget. Rather than showing bottles run and throw footballs across a field for a fourth straight year, Chris Berman narrated one fan's quest to retrieve a Bud Bowl sweepstakes ticket that his girlfriend had mistakenly thrown away. (Fans had a chance to win up to a million dollars if the final score of the Bud Bowl matched the score on their game card were a staple of the later Bud Bowls.)

After a predictably disastrous turn of events that involved a trashcan, a police car and a pigeon, the pitiful hero managed to retrieve his ticket and arrived home just in time to catch the final score of the Bud Bowl. Lo and behold, he was a winner! After he put the ticket down to celebrate with an ice cold Budweiser and began recounting his ridiculous story to some friends, the shot panned to an adorable dog that had wandered into the room. You can guess what happened next.

Watch Bud Bowl IV at

Bud Bowl V
January 31, 1993: Budweiser 35, Bud Light 31

General Hospital heartthrob Corbin Bernsen led Bud Light into Bud Bowl V, while the Bud team and head coach Joe Namath arrived in the Budweiser blimp just minutes before kickoff. Ahmad Rashad and former MTV VJ Karen "Duff" Duffy provided quarter-by-quarter updates of the game, which featured some of the most absurd characters and events in the series' history.

Bud answered a touchdown reception by Bud "Neon" Light with a kickoff return for a touchdown by Namath's secret weapon, the Budweiser Rocket. After Bud built a 35-7 lead, Rashad asked a stone-faced Bernsen, "Coach, is there light at the end of the tunnel?" Help arrived in the form of a runaway Bud Light beer truck, which transformed into the Aluminator, an unstoppable offensive weapon.


Trailing 35-31, there was no question who would get the ball for Bud Light on the final play of the game. As the Aluminator barreled through would-be Bud tacklers, an improbable, come-from-behind Bud Light victory seemed inevitable. Instead, a conniving Namath signaled to the Budweiser blimp above. A mechanized claw descended from the blimp and snatched the Aluminator into the air, which led to a fumble that Bud recovered to preserve the win.

After the game, Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Bud Bowl V had big-league special effects and bold commentary by MTV's Duff, looking buff in black, but this never-ending battle of the bottles has become a real clinker."

Watch Bud Bowl V at

Bud Bowl VI
January 30, 1994: Bud Light 20, Budweiser 14


With Marv Albert in the Bud Bowl studio and Mike Ditka and Bum Phillips as the head coaches of Bud and Bud Light, respectively, this game had the makings of a classic. It wasn't. Bud Light took an early lead on a "Naked Reverse" after its quarterback shed his label at the line of scrimmage. Bud countered with a kickoff return for a touchdown by the Basher, a 24-ounce can of aluminum dominance, who was penalized for excessive celebration and then ejected for cursing at the referee.

A windstorm blew into the stadium early in the second half, making things difficult for both offenses. The situation at a nearby bar, where patrons were nearly out of Budweiser, was more serious. Several Bud blimps combined forces to physically lift the stadium into the cozy confines of the bar, leading Albert to deadpan, "I don't know where this game is headed, but this is what I call a beer run!" Predictably, Bud Light scored the winning touchdown after a man in the bar grabbed a Bud defender from the playing field and proceeded to quench his thirst.


"My biggest problem with the whole Bud Bowl thing is that they never really have any good teams playing," syndicated sports humor columnist Norman Chad once wrote. "I mean, if the Anheuser-Busch bigwigs had any brass at all, they'd get, say, Heineken and Samuel Adams every once in a while. Heck, Bud Lite's (sic) like Notre Dame "“ it doesn't matter what their record is, they're bowl-bound." The Bud Light-Notre Dame comparisons don't end there. Like the Fighting Irish, Bud Light's last bowl win came in 1994.

Watch Bud Bowl VI at or

Bud Bowl VII
January 29, 1995: Budweiser 26, Bud Light 24


Anheuser-Busch probably should've sent its bottles to the recycling plant after Bud Bowl VI. Instead, they gave us 60 seconds of Iggy, Biff, and Frank, castaways who watched Bud Bowl VII unfold from a desert island. With Bud trailing late in the game, Iggy was transported off the island and into the game, where he caught a pass and began rumbling toward the end zone. Eighty yards later, following a dream-like montage of press clippings and cereal boxes commemorating his newfound celebrity, Iggy gave Bud its fifth Bud Bowl win.

Watch Bud Bowl VII at

Bud Bowl 8
January 26, 1997


After a one-year hiatus, Bud Bowl VIII returned with another single, forgettable spot. Howie Long and Ronnie Lott provided coverage, holding Fox Sports microphones no less, from a bar in the Louisana bayou. After a fan stole his microphone and opened a fridge to reveal the Bud Bowl in action, Lott threw him out of a bar window and into a swamp. Lott proceeded to reveal the final score before the spot ended with a familiar refrain from the fan, who was sharing space in the swamp with an alligator: "I love you, man."

How does the Bud Bowl stack up in your hierarchy of greatest Super Bowl commercials? Share your thoughts below, and check out the transcript of Scott's e-mail exchange with Bud Bowl writer Grant Pace.

Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
10 Monster Facts About Pacific Rim
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Legendary Pictures took a gamble on Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro’s 2013 monster/robot slugfest. Since it wasn’t based on a preexisting franchise, it lacked a built-in fanbase. That can be a serious drawback in our current age of blockbuster remakes and reboots. The movie underperformed domestically; in America, it grossed just over $100 million against its $180 million budget. Yet Pacific Rim was a huge hit overseas and acquired enough fans to earn itself a sequel, Pacific Rim Uprising, which arrives in theaters this week. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the movie that started it all.


Idris Elba in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Warner Bros.

One foggy day in 2007, Beacham—who’d recently moved to California—was walking along Santa Monica Beach. As he looked out at the Ferris wheel on the city’s eponymous pier, he pictured a looming sea monster. Then he imagined an equally large robot gearing up to fight the beast. “They just sort of materialized out of the fog, these vast godlike things,” Beacham said. He decided to pursue the concept further after coming up with the idea of human co-pilots who’d need to operate their robot as a team, which added a new thematic dimension.

“I didn’t know I had something I wanted to write until I realized these robots are driven by two pilots, and what happens when one of those people dies? What happens to the leftovers? Then it became a story about loss, moving on after loss, and dealing with survivor’s guilt," Beacham said. "That made the monsters scarier because now you care about the people who are in these robots.”


Pacific Rim was picked up by Legendary Pictures and handed over to director Guillermo del Toro. A huge fan of monster cinema, del Toro enthusiastically co-wrote the final screenplay with Beacham. Sixteen concept artists were hired to sketch original robot and creature designs for the film. “We would get together every day like kids and draw all day,” del Toro told the New York Daily News. “We designed about a hundred Kaijus and about a hundred Jaegers and every week we would do an American Idol and we would vote [some of] them out.”


In “Charlie Kelly: King of the Rats,” the tenth episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's sixth season, Charlie Day’s character gives us a darkly comedic monologue about rodent extermination. Little did the actor know that the performance would open a big opportunity for him. Impressed by the rat speech, del Toro offered Day the part of Dr. Newton Geizler, Pacific Rim’s socially-inept kaiju expert. “He said to himself, ‘That’s my guy. That guy should be in my next movie because if he killed rats, he can kill the monster,’” Day recalled during an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the movie set, del Toro often joked about how much he enjoys It’s Always Sunny. As a way of repaying his director, Day helped get del Toro a minor role in the series.


Most of the film’s special effects were computer-generated, but not everything was digital. For the robot cockpit scenes, del Toro had his team build the interior of a full-scale Jaeger head. The finished product stood four stories tall and weighed 20 tons. And like a Tilt-A-Whirl from hell, it was designed to rock around violently on its platform via a network of hydraulics. Once inside, the actors were forced to don 40-pound suits of armor. Then the crew strapped their feet into an apparatus that Charlie Hunnam has compared to a high-resistance elliptical machine.

Certain shots also required del Toro to dump gallons of water all over his exhausted, physically-strained stars. So yeah, the experience wasn’t much fun. “We saw every one of the actors break down on that set except for the female lead actress Rinko Kikuchi," del Toro said. "She’s the only actor that didn’t snap."


Del Toro wanted Gipsy Danger, his ‘bot, to have the self-confident air of a wild west gunslinger. To that end, he and concept artist Oscar Chichoni developed a swaggering gait that was based on John Wayne’s signature hip movements. The Jaeger’s Art Deco-like design was influenced by the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings.


Hailed as the “fortieth greatest guitarist of all time” by Rolling Stone, Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello rocked the MTV generation with hits like “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name.” Pacific Rim bears his mark as well. The film’s lead composer was Ramin Djawadi, whose other works include the Game of Thrones theme. Wanting to add a “rock element” to the Pacific Rim soundtrack, he and del Toro reached out to Morello. The guitarist didn’t need much persuading.

“When they asked me to put some giant robot riffs and screaming underwater monster licks on the film score, I was all in,” Morello said. Djwadi was pleased with the rocker's contributions to the project. As he told the press: “Tom’s unique style and sounds really defined our robots.”


A definite highlight of this movie is Gipsy Danger’s duel with the winged kaiju Otachi in downtown Hong Kong. Both characters were computer-generated, as were the majority of the streets, cars, and towers in this epic sequence. However, there is one moment which was at least partly realized with practical effects. Gipsy punches through the wall of an office building early in the fight. We see her fist rip through a series of cubicles and gradually decelerate until it lightly taps a chair with just enough force to set off a Newton’s Cradle desktop toy. For that shot, effects artists at 32Ten Studios constructed a miniature office building interior featuring 1/4-scale desks, cubicles, and padded chairs. The level of detail here was amazing: 32Ten’s staff adorned each individual workspace with lamps, computers, wastebaskets, and teeny, tiny Post-it notes.


Rinko Kikuchi in 'Pacific Rim' (2013)
Kerry Hayes, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Legendary Pictures

Audiences reacted strongly to Kikuchi’s character Mako Mori, who inspired an alternative to the famous Bechdel test. Some critics praised the culmination of her relationship with Raleigh Beckett (Hunnam). Although it’s common practice for the male and female leads in an action flick to end their movie with a smooch, Mori and Beckett share a platonic hug as Pacific Rim draws to a close. Del Toro revealed that he shot three different versions of that final scene. “We did one version where they kiss and it almost felt weird. They’re good friends, they’re pals, good colleagues,” del Toro said.


At the end of the credits, there’s a tribute that reads: “This film is dedicated to the memories of monster masters Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda.” Harryhausen passed away on May 7, 2013—two months before Pacific Rim’s release. A great stop-motion animator, he breathed life into such creatures as the towering Rhedosaurus in 1953’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.

Ishiro Honda was another giant of the kaiju genre, having directed Rodan, War of the Gargantuas, and numerous Godzilla films. Del Toro has great respect for both men. When Harryhausen died, the director said, “I lost a member of my family today, a man who was as present in my childhood as any of my relatives.” He also adores the Japanese monster classics and says he’d love to see a Pacific Rim-Godzilla crossover someday. Maybe it’ll happen.


If you’re not familiar with the practice of “Sweding,” let us fill you in: The 2008 comedy Be Kind, Rewind is about two co-workers at a VHS rental store who accidentally erase every tape in stock. Hoping to save their skins, they create ultra low-budget remakes of all the films they’ve destroyed using cardboard sets and cheap costumes. It’s a process these guys call “Sweding” as a ploy to convince everyone that their (unintentionally hilarious) knockoffs were produced in Sweden. Since Be Kind, Rewind was released, Sweding has become a legitimate art form.

When Pacific Rim’s first trailer debuted in 2013, YouTubers Brian Harley and Brodie Mash created a shot-for-shot, Sweded duplicate of the preview. Instead of state-of-the-art CG effects, their version used toy helicopters, duct-tape monster masks, and an ocean of packing peanuts—and del Toro loved it. At WonderCon 2013, he praised the video, saying that it inspired the editing used in Pacific Rim’s third trailer. Harley and Mash happened to be at the same gathering. When del Toro met the comedic duo, he exclaimed “I loved it! My daughters loved it, we watched it a bunch of times!” Then he invited the Sweding duo to attend Pacific Rim’s premiere in Hollywood.

Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
The DEA Crackdown on Thomas Jefferson's Poppy Plants
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.
Composite by Mental Floss. Illustrations, iStock.

The bloom has come off Papaver somniferum in recent years, as the innocuous-looking plant has come under new scrutiny for its role as a building block in many pain-blunting opiates—and, by association, the opioid epidemic. That this 3-foot-tall plant harbors a pod that can be crushed and mixed with water to produce a euphoric high has resulted in a stigma regarding its growth. Not even gardens honoring our nation's Founding Fathers are exempt, which is how the estate of Thomas Jefferson once found itself in a bizarre dialogue with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) over its poppy plants and whether the gift shop clerks were becoming inadvertent drug dealers.

Jefferson, the nation's third president, was an avowed horticulturist. He spent years tending to vegetable and flower gardens, recording the fates of more than 300 varieties of 90 different plants in meticulous detail. At Monticello, his Charlottesville, Virginia plantation, Jefferson devoted much of his free time to his sprawling soil. Among the vast selection of plants were several poppies, including the much-maligned Papaver somniferum.

The front view of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate
Thomas Jefferson's Monticello estate.

"He was growing them for ornamental purposes,” Peggy Cornett, Monticello’s historic gardener and curator of plants, tells Mental Floss. “It was very common in early American gardens, early Colonial gardens. Poppies are annuals and come up easily.”

Following Jefferson’s death in 1826, the flower garden at Monticello was largely abandoned, and his estate was sold off to help repay the debts he had left behind. Around 115 years later, the Garden Club of Virginia began to restore the plot with the help of Jefferson’s own sketches of his flower borders and some highly resilient bulbs.

In 1987, Monticello’s caretakers opened the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants, complete with a greenhouse, garden, and retail store. The aim was to educate period-accurate gardeners and sell rare seeds to help populate their efforts. Papaver somniferum was among the offerings.

This didn’t appear to be of concern to anyone until 1991, when local reporters began to obsess over narcotics tips following a drug bust at the University of Virginia. Suddenly, the Center for Historic Plants was fielding queries about the “opium poppies” in residence at Monticello.

The Center had never tried to hide it. “We had labels on all the plants,” says Cornett, who has worked at Monticello since 1983 and remembers the ensuing political scuffle. “We didn’t grow them at the Center. We just collected and sold the seeds that came from Monticello.”

At the time, the legality of growing the poppy was frustratingly vague for the Center’s governing board, who tried repeatedly to get clarification on whether they were breaking the law. A representative for the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw no issue with it, but couldn’t cite a specific law exempting the Center. The Office of the Attorney General in Virginia had no answer. It seemed as though no authority wanted to commit to a decision.

Eventually, the board called the DEA and insisted on instructions. Despite the ubiquity of the seeds—they can spring up anywhere, anytime—the DEA felt the Jefferson estate was playing with fire. Though they were not a clandestine opium den, they elected to take action in June of 1991.

“We pulled up the plants," Cornett says. “And we stopped selling the seeds, too.”

Today, Papaver somniferum is no longer in residence at Monticello, and its legal status is still murky at best. (While seeds can be sold and planting them should not typically land gardeners in trouble, opium poppy is a Schedule II drug and growing it is actually illegal—whether or not it's for the express purpose of making heroin or other drugs.) The Center does grow other plants in the Papaver genus, all of which have varying and usually low levels of opium.

As for Jefferson himself: While he may not have crushed his poppies personally, he did benefit from the plant’s medicinal effects. His personal physician, Robley Dunglison, prescribed laudanum, a tincture of opium, for recurring gastric issues. Jefferson took it until the day prior to his death, when he rejected another dose and told Dunglison, “No, doctor, nothing more.”


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