(Whoa! The NFL would shudder to see itself linked with the very concept. But fact is that's why the show is so addicting, it encourages people to roll the dice and turn away hundreds of thousands in hopes of landing $1 million.)
The Sept. 19 episode became a quasi NFL infomercial. Contestants wore team jerseys. Prizes included a behind-the-scenes tour of the NFL-owned NFL Network and season tickets to a favorite team's games. The league logo covered part of the set's floor - visible from overhead -- and appeared alongside the "Deal or No Deal" moniker on a billboard.
Even Rice played a big role.
For the NFL, of course, it was added exposure. The league usually doesn't need any, but it's had some PR issues lately -- so an affiliation with a feel-good game show might have offered some benefits.
Besides the NFL, the other brand weaved into the show was GMC and its Sierra Denali SUV, the "official vehicle of the NFL" (one of the top product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX). A contestant - donning a Peyton Manning #18 Colts jersey - had the option of accepting a wad of cash along with the SUV (which also came with the tickets and the tour and tailgating gear.)
He seemed eager as the gleaming, sleek, horsepowered-up Sierra Denali rolled on stage. It was a potential boon for GMC, even though vehicles are so common as potential prizes on reality TV it's hard to believe viewers can remember which is which ... is that the official vehicle of the NFL or IFL, American League or American Idol ... ?
"You have a huge decision," host Howie Mandel told him.
The contestant, George Barnes, resisted the temptation and decided to gamble by passing on the cash cum vehicle. But not before he offered up the kind of declaration that would have given Mandel plenty to riff off of in his alter ego as ribald comedian: "This experience alone is worth more than $1 million, so I can walk away a champion."
As it played out, GMC probably built some goodwill as an audience member with an Oakland Raiders jersey was given the vehicle instead.
Barnes then went on to take home a tidy $189,000 - and keeping with the NFL theme, gets congratulations from Rice as the ex-wide receiver runs on stage with a Gatorade bucket and dumps dollar bills all over him.
In the end, however, with all the NFL hoopla, the winner wasn't Barnes so much as NBC. Reason being the line-up of NFL greats from Rice to Marcus Allen to Terrell Davis and more who appeared on the episode.
They sat rapt and totally immersed as Barnes placed his bets ... smiling at times, shaking their heads at others, ooh-ing and ah-ing at every twist, seemingly wiping sweat from their brows as the tension mounted. They weren't there just to collect their appearance fees, or at least seemed to forget if they were.
In NFL parlance, they looked as if the game was tied and their kicker was lining up for the winning field goal with the clock reading :01.
Just what would happen next? The risk and hope and prayers for Barnes were palpable on their faces.
Once Barnes landed his $189K, Mandel did the customary scrimmage where the contestant goes through the motions to see whether he made a good deal or not. As it turned out, Barnes would have won the $1 million.
The NFL greats probably could have earned that much signing autographs for an afternoon. But when Barnes' hard luck was revealed, they were shocked, incredulous - their kicker had sailed it wide left. Rice actually jumped up and down in frustration, Allen was beside himself. Both have won Super Bowls, this was a big Deal. The show was a thrill ride.