It took all summer for the big finale to come together in the movie “Dirty Dancing.” Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. learned the routine in two days.
In a National Football League ad that quickly went viral, the Giants’ quarterback and wide receiver recreated that film’s final scene with some help from a Broadway choreographer. With its potent mix of comedy, pop-culture nostalgia and sympathy for a quarterback who had a rough season, the ad captured the imagination of fans.
The advertisement, created by the agency Grey New York, was in a way a celebration of celebrations. The 2017-18 season was the first since the N.F.L. lifted its ban on dancing after touchdowns, and all season, teams outdid each other with entertaining routines in the end zones. One team mimicked playing hide-and-seek using the goal post. Others got in formation for leapfrog and duck-duck-goose. There were pretend naps — and versions of the popular dance move, the Floss.
“We had so many breakout moments where players showed their creativity together,” said Dawn Hudson, chief marketing officer of the N.F.L. “We wanted to keep that fun going for the Super Bowl and give our fans something to smile and laugh at.”
But Sunday night’s ad raised the bar. The tagline “To all the touchdowns to come” appears as Beckham is held aloft in the classic “Dirty Dancing” lift by Manning. (And no, that moment did not involve body doubles, said Jeff Stamp, a deputy chief creative officer of Grey New York.)
To help turn football players into dancers, the ad’s director Aaron Stoller brought in a choreographer, Stephanie Klemons, an original cast member and associate choreographer of the Broadway musical “Hamilton.” (She is now supervising the show’s dancers on stages beyond New York.)
As a choreographer, Klemons has given dance steps to all kinds of movers, including puppets, on a coming episode of “Sesame Street,” and Victoria’s Secret models. With the Giants, she was able to get the job done quickly: She had one day to work with the full group, and an extra rehearsal with Manning. In that limited time, she said, the players exhibited dancerlike speed in absorbing the movement and repeating it as instructed.
Why the Giants? They were selected from a list of possible teams partly because of Manning and Beckham’s personalities, Stamp said. Manning’s comic timing had proven effective in past Grey ads, and a recent locker-room video showed him dancing, with modest flair. “Who doesn’t love someone earnest trying to get down?” said Stamp. And Beckham’s cool, modern edge made a great pairing with Manning.
Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Klemons on the morning after the Super Bowl.
You work with professional dancers all the time. How do professional athletes compare?
They are so coachable and have so much physical acuity. Their ability to go on the field and memorize plays is totally akin to the way a Broadway performer’s brain works. I thought, ‘Wow, you have an exceptional set of physical and mental skills.’
Did you have to break the dance into successive shots, or did the players memorize the steps so you could shoot straight through?
They had to memorize the choreography, and at first they thought they would need separate shots. But once we got to dancing, they had it.
What was Eli like to work with?
I love working with people who don’t identify as dancers. Maybe his outward movements aren’t as smooth as Patrick Swayze’s, but they way he was able to execute the moves, on the beat? That’s not easy!
He was up for whatever. When it came to getting the lift, it was important that we got that shot, and so we started with that. You see why these guys are so great under pressure. When the camera was on, it was like 3, 2, 1, and it was perfect.
And they danced well together?
They are unbelievable partners. I saw the relationship between this quarterback and a wide receiver right in front of me. It was so present in their interaction. They were better together.
How closely do Eli’s moves reflect Patrick Swayze’s steps?
It’s based on the original choreography. It just looks so different because of the way he and Patrick do it. Everything from the floor work is based on the moves that Patrick Swayze did, and Eli added his own touch.
Did anyone object to anything?
There was some day-of negotiation. There were a couple moments that Odell felt were questionable. He recently had reconstructive ankle surgery, and it was about figuring out how to execute these classic movements.
About that lift, how did you teach the mechanics of it?
I have to keep that to myself [laughing].
And Odell was O.K. with being in the Jennifer Grey role?
Grey and the N.F.L. had the whole thing planned. They decided that for them. This was their brainchild.