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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
A Coke and a Smile
Having cut nearly 50 commercials before he had cut his full set of adult teeth, nine-year-old Tommy Okon could only watch with a pro's smug detachment as his costar in a 1979 Coca-Cola ad—6'4", 260-pound Mean Joe Greene—had to slug down 27 bottles of Coke during dozens of takes until he got his part right. Okon, meanwhile, slipped easily into character as the smiling, wide-eyed kid who melts Greene's battle-weary heart by offering kind words and a bottle of the Real Thing after a tough game. "We were a Giants family, but my favorite AFC team was the Steelers," says Okon, 30, a Queens, N.Y., native. "Mean Joe was a hero to me."
Okon, the sales manager for a stone-importing company in College Point, N.Y., still talks to Greene, the Arizona Cardinals' defensive line coach. "I had no idea the commercial was going to affect people the way it did," says Okon, who has a 19-month-old daughter, Allie; his wife, Kristin, is expecting a second child in August. "It's beer and baby formula these days," he says, with a familiar grin.
Oh, the Agony of it All
Three's a Crowd
They were just a couple of crazy kids. But 17-year-olds Cliff Courtenay (below) and Britt Gaston became intruders on the most famous home run trot of all time: Hank Aaron's circling the bases at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium on April 8, 1974, after hitting his 715th home run to break Babe Ruth's career record.
"There's a debate now between the two of us about how much we planned this," says Courtenay, now 44 and an optometrist in Valdosta, Ga. "I don't remember much of a plan, but Britt does. Whatever the case, it was a classic example of thinking with a 17-year-old brain." Gaston says the South-wood School seniors crouched in the aisle near the field along the first base line. When Hammerin' Hank connected, they vaulted a railing, stepped on a conveniently placed rolled-up tarp and ran past a security force that had all turned the other way, watching Aaron. Courtenay and Gaston caught up with Aaron near second base; after slapping the slugger on the back, they tried to peel off toward the third base stands and jump back into the crowd. They didn't make it. They were apprehended, brought to a holding area under the stadium and then taken to a downtown jail, from which they were bailed out at 2 a.m. by Gaston's irate father. ("He was not a happy camper," Gaston says. "It was a long, quiet ride home.") All charges were dismissed.
"We didn't mean any harm," Courtenay says. "We didn't know about any of the threats and letters that Aaron had been getting. I thought a lot of people probably would run onto the field. That's a kid thinking, right there. But when we got out there, it was just us."
The pair were roommates for a couple of years at Mercer University, then at Georgia, but are linked now mostly by their 17-year-old moment. "My kids have seen the tape a bunch of times," says Gaston, 44, who owns a sign supply company, Regional Graphics, in Mount Pleasant, S.C. "They tell me they're going to run on the field when Ken Griffey Jr. breaks Aaron's record. They're nine and 11, so I guess by the time Griffey's ready, they'll be ready. I don't encourage 'em, but if they wanted to do it, well, I probably wouldn't be a good one to tell them that they shouldn't."
My Dinner with Marvin