The tagline for Bud Bowl I was simple: This time, it's for real!
And it was tough to disagree. After all, what could be more real than bottles of beer playing football?
We were lucky enough to witness six gripping editions of Bud Bowl, the all-important Budweiser Football League game that decided who would be that year's Ruler of the Cooler. (Technically, there was also a Bud Bowl VII and VIII. They have been excluded from this list and stricken from the record. They were not good. Let us never speak of them again.)
What made Bud Bowl so great? For one, it gave us true heroes of the gridiron: The Appliance of Defiance! The Beechwood Twins! Budway Joe!
It gave us great moments: The snow fumble in Bud Bowl II! The ball-in-the-tuba in Bud Bowl III! Mike Ditka's wind-blown face in Bud Bowl VI!
And above all, it gave us what we wanted most: Beer and football, together in a Super Bowl ad that Americans could gamble on during breaks from a real football game that we were also gambling on. It was the best of times; it was the best of times.
These are the six Bud Bowls, ranked in order of greatness:
6. Bud Bowl IV
Game summary: This was the first Bud Bowl ad to focus almost entirely on the $1 million grand prize for home viewers. (Bud gave away Lotto-style Bud Bowl tickets via retailers nationwide.) Sadly, that took the emphasis away from the action on the field. We see one of the Beechwood Twins running in a score early in the game, but that's the only in-game action. At the end of the game, Chris Berman's yelling that Bud's made a big 27–24 comeback. We'll have to take your word for it, Chris.
Announcer: Chris Berman
Best quote: Berman throws out pretty much every catchphrase in this one. ("Rumbling, bumbling, stumbling!" "He. Could. Go. All. The. Way!" "Baaaaaack back-back-back-back-baaack!") "FUM-BULLLLL!" is the best line in here almost by default.
Memorable moment: The time a man flies through a window and lands on his own couch, and no one in his house thinks to call an ambulance.
MVP? The guy with the ticket? The dog? Chris Berman's agent for lining up a really easy paycheck? There truly are no winners in Bud Bowl IV. It's by far the worst of the Bud Bowls.
Is at least one character dressed as Bear Bryant? No.
Did the game end in ridiculous fashion? Apparently! But it's never clear how.
Was it better than the actual Super Bowl that year? Mark Rypien and the Washington Redskins beat the Buffalo Bills, 37–24. Brian Boitano performed at halftime in a tribute to winter, which was followed by the music of Gloria Estefan. Bizarre, but still better than a bad Bud Bowl. Edge: Super Bowl.
5. Bud Bowl V
Game summary: Bud Bowl V is the first Bud Bowl to feature human coaches. Those coaches are…Corbin Bernsen and Joe Namath! And it gets a little stranger when Bud enters the stadium by having a blimp drop the team at midfield.
Bud gets off to an early 7–0 lead. Then quarterback Bud Dry throws a long TD pass to wide receiver Bud "Neon" Light. Namath responds by sending in the Budweiser Rocket, a jetpack-wearing player who returns a kick for a touchdown, and it's 14–7 Bud at the half. It gets worse for Bud Light early in the second half, as Bud scores 21 straight to take a commanding 35–7 lead. That's when Corbin Bernsen calls in the Aluminator, a beer truck that turns Transformer-style into Bud Light's best player. Bud Light scores 24 straight, and on the last play of the game, the Aluminator's running in for the game-winning score. But a claw from the Bud blimp comes down and knocks the ball out of his hands, and Bud recovers on the 1. Budweiser wins, 35–31, in what's easily the most complicated and least plausible Bud Bowl ever.
Announcers: Ahmad Rashad and Karen Duffy. Duffy was a onetime VJ at MTV, and she's the only female announcer to call a Bud Bowl.
Best quote: "Whoa, this game is slamming!"
Memorable moment: When, with Bud up 35–31, Joe Namath gazes wistfully to the sky and signals to the Budweiser blimp.
MVP? The blimp claw that forced the fumble.
Is at least one character dressed as Bear Bryant? No.
Did the game end in ridiculous fashion? There's an old lady in a blimp who uses a giant claw to force a fumble at the one-yard line, so yes.
Was it better than the actual Super Bowl? That year's game: Cowboys, 52; Bills, 17. A bad game, but this was the Super Bowl where Leon Lett had the ball stolen from him as he tried to strut into the end zone. That game narrowly beats out Joe Namath's coaching performance in Bud Bowl. Edge: Super Bowl.
4. Bud Bowl VI
Game summary: Bud Light goes up 7–0 on a naked reverse, but Budweiser ties it on a fake field goal. Bud brings in their 24-ounce workhorse, the Basher, for a kickoff return, but the Basher's thrown out for excessive celebration. It's 14–7 at the half. In the third, Bud Light's unnamed quarterback catches his own pass and runs in the ball for the score. In the fourth quarter, things get wild as Budweiser blimps pick up the stadium and drop the entire game into a bar. (Blimp interference was a surprisingly frequent Bud Bowl plotline.) A fan reaches onto the field and grabs a Bud defensive back, freeing Bud Light for a game-winning touchdown. Bud Light wins, 20–14.
Announcer: Marv Albert
Best quote: "That was almost indecent procedure!"
Memorable moment: When The Basher bursts through the wall, Kool-Aid man–style, to berate Marv Albert.
MVP? The Basher, mostly for being the only player in Bud Bowl history to do a touchdown dance.
Is at least one character dressed as Bear Bryant? No.
Did the game end in ridiculous fashion? Yes. Also, the unusual fourth quarter raises the question, is Marv Albert so small that he can fit inside an already miniature stadium?
Was it better than the actual Super Bowl? Kris Kross played the pre-game show. Naomi and Wynonna Judd sang at halftime. Emmitt Smith ran for two touchdowns as Dallas beat Buffalo, 30–13. A weird Super Bowl Sunday all around. Edge: Super Bowl.
3. Bud Bowl I
Game summary: No full video of Bud Bowl I survives on the web. But media reports of the game describe a tense affair, as Bud kicker Budsky booted a 42-yard field at the gun to give Budweiser a 27–24 win. (An alternate version of the game, seen above but never aired, gave viewers a "Heidi Game" ending.)
Announcers: Bob Costas and Paul Maguire
Best quote: Costas and Maguire frantically screaming, "Call the commissioner! Call the police! Call somebody!"
Memorable moment: When the armless Budweiser coach still manages to throw his clipboard. That's a pro effort.
MVP? Budsky, for his game-winning field goal.
Is at least one character dressed as Bear Bryant? Yes!
Did the game end in ridiculous fashion? In the version of the ad that aired during the Super Bowl, Budsky's kick hits the crossbar and goes through for the win. In the alternate version, it turns out that the game is being played inside a home refrigerator. Either way, the answer is yes.
Was it better than the actual Super Bowl? Joe Montana led a game-winning 92-yard touchdown drive, culminating in a touchdown pass with 34 seconds left. It's one of the great finishes in Super Bowl history. Even the drama of Bud Bowl I couldn't top that. Edge: Super Bowl.
2. Bud Bowl II
Game summary: Bud Bowl II is one of four Bud Bowls played in what appears to be St. Louis' Busch Stadium. (Whether it's Busch Stadium or just a Busch-like stadium is unclear. Some Bud Bowl questions will likely never be answered — though the temperature does hit 40 below in this game, so it's definitely not Miami.) Bud Light jumps out to an early 13–3 lead. Budway Joe, wearing giant black-rimmed glasses, throws a deep ball for a touchdown, pushing the lead to 20–13. In the third, on 4th-and-goal from the 3, Budweiser brings in The Freezer, and Bud Light responds with their six-pack defense of The Washer, The Dryer, and The Kitchen Sink. But Budweiser fakes the draw and pitches to Bobby Bud for an easy score. It's 34–30 going into the fourth quarter, when blizzard conditions set in at Bud Bowl II. On the final play, Bud's still down 4, but they recover their own fumble in the end zone for a 36–34 win.
Announcers: Brent Musberger and Terry Bradshaw, who appear in this ad as beer bottles. Musberger is a Budweiser wearing a fedora. Bradshaw is a Bud Light in a cowboy hat and a fur-lined jacket. Midway through the game, they start wearing scarves.
Best quote: "Folks, they're throwing everything at him, but… No! He's here too! The Kitchen Sink!"
Memorable moment: Any time Musberger and Bradshaw appear in bottle form. They steal every scene in this game.
MVP? The Freezer. He appears to be the one who recovers the game-winning score for Budweiser, clinching their second Bud Bowl. (Bud Bowl announcers were notorious for failing to issue proper attribution on scoring plays.)
Is at least one character dressed as Bear Bryant? Yes! He even gives a pump-up speech to the Bud Light team!
Did the game end in ridiculous fashion? Absolutely.
Was it better than the actual Super Bowl? The 49ers beat the Broncos, 55–10. It had nothing on the cold-weather victory that Budweiser edged out in Bud Bowl II. Edge: Bud Bowl.
1. Bud Bowl III
Game summary: Bud Light opens up a big first quarter lead on Bud. But the King of Beers roars back behind Billy Bud and Bobby Bud. A second half TD from the Freezer, aka the Appliance of Defiance, ties the game. Bud Light gets a field goal to take a 17–14 lead, but a late touchdown from Budweiser's Grabs gives Bud a four-point lead with just seconds to go. Then Bud Light returns the kickoff for the touchdown, going Cal-style through the Budweiser band for the TD. It's an upset 23–21 win — the first ever for Bud Light.
Announcers: Keith Jackson, Don Meredith, and Chris Berman. Jackson even throws in not one but two whoa, Nellies! A Hall of Fame announcing effort from these three.
Best quote: So many to choose from: "You could drive a beer truck through that hole!" "Oh, he's down the sideline like a team of Clydesdales!" "Bud Light's inside the 20! Inside the 15! Inside the…tuba? I don't BEEEELIEVE it!" But in the end, nothing comes close to this classic call from Jackson: "Bud laterals to Bud, Bud pitches to Bud, Bud flips it to Ralph! RALPH?!"
Memorable moment: Bobby Bud getting caught checking out the Bud cheerleaders via his helmetcam, followed by a cutaway to a bar in his hometown of Cerveza, Texas. Shame, really, that Brent Musberger wasn't on the call for that moment.
MVP? It's tough to believe that Budweiser didn't pull this one out. From a pure talent perspective, Bud was an obvious favorite. But the MVP has to be quarterback Bud Dry. His second-quarter bootleg gave Bud Light the 14–0 lead, and he threw the first lateral on the game-winning kickoff return.
Did it feature at least one bottle of beer dressed as Bear Bryant? Yes!
Did the game end in ridiculous fashion? A Bud Light bottle named Ralph scores a game-winning touchdown while holding a sousaphone. So yes.
Was it better than the actual Super Bowl? Scott Norwood missed wide right for the Bills, and the Giants beat Buffalo, 20–19. The Bud Bowl featured a last-second kickoff return for a touchdown as the Budweiser band swarmed on the field. Edge: Bud Bowl, in the greatest Bud Bowl of all time.