Well, 2013 is almost in the books, which means it's time to look back on the year that was in the NFL. But rather than focusing on topics like the 2014 Pro Bowl or the upcoming NFL Honors awards, I wanted to take a different approach to all things NFL for 2013: By turning my critical lens on the NFL's many crossovers with pop culture. From humorous ads to musical numbers to guest appearances in TV shows, the NFL players, coaches and even owners had a pretty remarkable year from a pop culture perspective. To get you in the mood, check out the official trailer for the upcoming film "Draft Day" starring Kevin Costner above. Now let's get to it.
From their ridiculous wigs to the ludicrous lines they sing -- "What happens when a football gets down with your phone?" -- everything about this early-season video courtesy of DIRECTV was just about perfect. The song is catchy, and Eli arguably steals the show from his big brother Peyton, a professional, at hamming it up. The only thing that could have made this video even better was a cameo from Justin Timberlake, but I'll settle for Archie Manning in a golden Elvis Presley knock-off costume.
This was a no brainer for interview of the year, and you could easily make a case for "Ice up, son!" being the quote of the year. Followed closely by Smith calling St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins "another notch in the bedpost." It was a great year for Smith on the field, as the Panthers made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, but an even better year for him behind a microphone. "Ice up, son" set Twitter on fire, and has spawned countless t-shirt designs. That's the mark of a game-changing quote right there. Smith suffered a sprained PCL in Sunday's win over the New Orleans Saints, and his status might be in doubt for the playoffs. I'm likely not alone in wishing Smith a speedy recovery, if only for the fact that he could set a new bar for awesomeness in playoff press conferences.
Let's not beat around the bush. The first State of Turbulence commercial featuring George Wendt and Robert Smigel as the Bears "Superfans" was pretty terrible. Grill class? Come on. However, the second ad in the series was absolutely fantastic. There was so much to love about this ad. Aaron Rodgers in a fat suit doing a terrible Midwest accent. Actual Coach Ditka giving a massage to George Wendt ... on a pillow made of sausage. I rolled my eyes at the first commercial, but lost it with this one. There was just too much greatness for any of the other national ads, or even a hilariously awkward local ad, to surpass this one for the award. The runner-up in my book was "Not Famous Andy," featuring Julio Jones and Arian Foster for Foot Locker and Under Armour, which you can be seen here.
Best touchdown dance: The Terio
Earlier this year, a little boy called "Cousin Terio" took Vine by storm when videos of him dancing went instantly viral. Clearly, NFL players were watching, as Tavon Austin, Justin Tucker and DeSean Jackson all flaunted their best "Terio" after touchdowns or field goals. Last year, Gangnam Style dominated NFL celebrations across the country, so it was refreshing to see players pay tribute to an everyday kid in 2013 instead of a Korean pop-sensation.
Joseph Fauia was an undrafted rookie out of UCLA who signed with the Detroit Lions this season. All he did through the first 15 games of his rookie season was catch 15 passes, seven of which went for touchdowns. Fauria caught our eye with his sensational dance moves after each score. However, he wins this award not just for his ability to groove on the gridiron, but for answering Jimmy Fallon's challenge to all NFL players. On his show, Fallon and Justin Timberlake did a skit on the evolution of end zone dancing, and at the end Fallon said he would donate $10,000 to a player's favorite charity if he performed *NSYNC's Bye Bye Bye dance after scoring a touchdown this season. Well, that Sunday, Fauria caught a touchdown pass and let Fallon know on Twitter that the deed was done.
"The League" on FXX was chock-full of superstar NFL guest appearances this season, but none of the players were as funny, or had as big of a role, as Vernon Davis. Davis was featured prominently in numerous scenes, and was quite funny to boot. He was a friend of Taco (Jon LaJoie), and played a part in a long-con where Andre (Paul Scheer) created a fake Vernon Davis Twitter account to mess with Pete (Mark Duplass) who owned him in their fantasy football league. I don't want to spoil much else, and there isn't a full clip online, but you can catch a quick glimpse of his performance in this episode preview video. Believe me, it was worthy of this highly official award.
Best NFL-related TV show pitch: The Gronks
Yes, you read that correctly. In case you missed it earlier this season, Deadspin got their hands of the sizzle reel for an animated show based on the life and times of the infamous Gronkowski clan. Love or hate the Gronks, this looks like a highly entertaining show straight out of the Seth MacFarlane wheelhouse. If this show ever made it to the TV screen in my living room, you can bet I'd be begrudgingly tuning in each and every week, fist-bumping my friends as the hilarity ensued.
Best book: Beautiful Unique Sparkleponies, by Chris Kluwe
There were a number of books published this year by past players about their journey to the top, or the tough nature of professional football. But you know what was better than those? Chris Kluwe's hilarious book "Beautiful Unique Sparkleponies," which touches on everything from football to time travel to gay marriage. Kluwe always had a way with words, so to see him flex that muscle for a few hundred pages is a joy. It'd be great to see more players flash their personality and opinions in books like this, as opposed to their personal narrative, but that's just not the way most players operate. Which is why Kluwe's book won this year's award, as he tried something different and knocked it out of the park.
Best Twitter account: Jim Irsay
From sending out cryptic tweets to hype the Trent Richardson trade to going on epic rants about the state of his team, Jim Irsay ran away with this year's Twitter award. Irsay was fiery, funny and candid on Twitter -- all attributes of a great follow on social media's favorite instant-reaciton medium. With the Colts tickets to the postseason already booked, we can expect some more great tweets from their entertaining owner in the coming weeks. Here are a few of his more memorable tweets in case you needed a refresher:
If you haven't seen or heard this magical piece of music, I suggest you take a few minutes and head here before reading on. I'm just ... at a loss for words. Why funk legend Bootsy Collins felt possessed to create an NFL rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" about Peyton Manning is beyond me. Granted, Bootsy has always had a flair for comic-timing and humorous lyrics, but this was still on another level. Or perhaps, another dimension all together. Nevertheless, it provided me with endless amounts of enjoyment I wasn't expecting, so I guess Bootsy won in the end afterall.
UGG for men ads aside, Tom Brady has typically been known as a man who likes to stay current with fashion trends. I mean, he is married to an international supermodel, after all. And he somehow pulled off a successful Cowardly Lion costume. Regardless, Brady took his post-game press conference attire to new heights this season. My personal favorite was this sweater/robe/suit he wore around midseason. What a look. You stay classy, Tom Brady.
Philip Rivers has taken some flack over the years, and was sort of an afterthought across much of the NFL and fantasy football leagues coming off a down year in 2012. However, Rivers bounced back in a huge way statistically in 2013, but more importantly, he landed on our pop culture radar. In case you missed it, check out his full interview on Thursday Night Football to the right, where he sported a bolo tie, embraced a "yee-haw" kind of attitude in the freezing cold and ripped off his boots to show the crew. Hopefully, the powers that be in the media were watching, because between Rivers' personality, seven children and ability to make amazing GIFs with his facial expressions (Exhibit A) he's primed for a turn in the pop culture limelight.
*Alex Gelhar writes features and fantasy pieces for NFL.com. You can follow him on Twitter @AlexGelhar. Although he keeps using the word "inconceivable" even though he's been told it doesn't mean what he thinks it means. To which he replies, "Inconceivable!" *