“We’ve never beaten Ghana,” explains a very deep, slightly familiar voice. It’s terrorist-annihilator Jack Bauer—er, actor Kiefer Sutherland—the ominous narrator of ESPN’s World Cup promos for the American soccer team. He informs viewers that the first round “is called the Group of Death,” not because the U.S. will lose, “but because we’re in it.” This time, the enemy of the state is a “West African nation about the size of Oregon.” They knocked our team out of the last two World Cups “and really seemed to enjoy it.” Once that’s explained, the spot morphs into an over-the-top advertisement for the U.S., complete with waving flags, saluting marines, and many guitars—when they’re not strumming, you hear the cries of soaring eagles. A similar promo ran about a week later, before the U.S. tied Portugal.
Sports fans are accustomed to such schmaltzy montages, which usually run during commercial breaks to sell products. Rarely do they invoke national security. In 2006, John Mellencamp shilled for Chevrolet by singing Our Country in front of a pickup truck while images of Rosa Parks and the Katrina floodwaters flashed onscreen. For the 2012 Super Bowl, Chrysler rolled out its “Halftime in America” campaign, in which Clint Eastwood lifted up a downtrodden Detroit. At this year’s Super Bowl, the company reprised that campaign, getting a grizzled Bob Dylan to remind us to buy American: “Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland assemble your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone. We will build your car.”