When the Super Bowl begins Feb. 5, it will be a tense time for the Willson family.
Huntington Beach residents Connie and Tom will watch the telecast at a local restaurant, while their son Kevin will experience the game live in Indianapolis. The suspense will start with the pregame show, grow more intense during the coin toss and may induce peals of sweat by halftime.
It's not that the Willsons have a family member in the game — or frankly, that they care which side wins at all. But when the TV cuts to a commercial break, they'll be fixated on the screen.
Kevin, a longtime documentary and commercial director, has a 30-second Doritos spot entered in Crash the Super Bowl, an annual contest in which filmmakers across the country compete for Super Bowl air time. Kevin's ad, titled "Sling Baby," is one of five finalists in the online voting contest, and he and his family will find out during the game if it made the cut.
"The game we care about is the commercials," said Kevin, who spent most of his childhood in Huntington Beach. "It's the exact opposite of what most football fans are doing."
Crash the Super Bowl, which got 6,100 submissions this year, will accept online votes for its five finalists through Jan. 29. The top vote-getter will play during the Super Bowl, while Doritos will choose a runner-up that will also show during the game.
The two winning Doritos ads will compete alongside all other Super Bowl commercials on the USA Today Super Bowl Ad Meter, in which people vote online during the game for their favorite ads. If one of the Doritos spots places first, second or third on the meter, its maker will be awarded $1 million, $600,000 or $400,000 respectively.
So while football fans nationwide are organizing betting pools and breaking out pennants for their favorite teams, the Willsons are conducting a rally of their own. The family has decorated its home on Ravenwood Lane with a banner and yard signs, and Connie, a preschool teacher, enlisted four neighborhood girls to bring fliers door to door asking people to vote for her son's video.
Kevin also screened the ad at Christ Lutheran School in Costa Mesa, where he gave a 20-minute seminar on filmmaking. And although Crash the Super Bowl has its own website, he's set up a personal one, http://www.vote4slingbaby.com, to help drum up support.
It's the Los Angeles resident's third attempt at winning Crash the Super Bowl, and not the first time he's come close. Two years ago, his ad placed in the top five and got aired once during the game; last year, it made the list of finalists but didn't appear on screen.
Connie, who watched the Super Bowl at Acapulco restaurant the last two years, still vividly remembers her reaction when Kevin's ad aired in 2010.
"We lost control," she said. "I was jumping and screaming. The chefs came out from the back."
For this year's submission, Kevin brainstormed with friends and thought about character types that would appeal to a mass audience. Eventually, they hit on a grandmother and an infant. "Sling Baby," which Kevin filmed in November, portrays a young bully who stands in a treehouse and arrogantly flaunts a bag of Doritos, before a grandmother on the porch below propels a baby in a massive slingshot to snatch the bag.
The baby in question is Jonah Folk, the 1-year-old son of the film's special-effects coordinator. According to Kevin, the tyke will watch the Super Bowl at a party in El Segundo — and probably be oblivious to the attention focused on him.
"For him, it'll be no big deal," he said.