OAKLAND -- From prominent athletes pitching everything from cat food to cars to random groups of people playing in a town square, sports and advertising have long gone together, even for products that have little to do with sports.
Some members of the Montclair Soccer Club Fire Dragons under-8 boys team have gotten into the advertising act, too.
On Oct. 2, six Fire Dragons players and coach Robert Jacobs made their way to San Francisco to film an American Express commercial, airing nationally this month.
"The kids -- there was another team from San Francisco there -- had a lot of fun together," Jacobs said. "(The film crew) shot about 45 minutes of footage (though ultimately, only a few seconds made the final cut)."
Not every Fire Dragons player could make the shoot. But those who did -- along with their coach -- had a most adventurous experience.
"Before the shoot, we went to the Civic Center parking lot, where a bus was waiting to take us to a park in the Mission District," Jacobs said.
Upon arriving to the appointed park at around 9 a.m., the young players learned some of the realities of the acting and film production business as the crew did not show up until some 90 minutes later.
In Jacobs, though, they had more than just a soccer coach. A graduate of Morehouse College, who lists his day job as a self-employed marketing consultant, Jacobs also has an acting resume dating back to his work as extra in 1979.
And it was through their coach's show business connections that the Fire Dragons landed the American Express gig.
"The agency I'm with sent me a note asking if I knew a youth soccer team," Jacobs said. "They didn't know that I coach a youth soccer team."
A relative newcomer to soccer coaching, Jacobs took on the task of leading the Fire Dragons when son Liam, then 5, wanted to join a soccer team.
The elder Jacobs saw this as an opportunity to keep himself involved. And even without having previously played or coached soccer, Jacobs still can boast an athletic background, having run track through his junior year at Morehouse, where he counted Olympic hurdling great Edwin Moses among his teammates.
For the shoot, however, it was Jacobs's acting background that proved invaluable not only to the Fire Dragons but to the San Francisco team and film crew as well.
"I've done a lot of TV commercials, parts in films and industrial films," said Jacobs, who helped guide the Fire Dragons players and parents through the process.
Much like tryouts in more competitive sports, the players had to audition to get the part.
"It was a real logistical nightmare to get the kids out of school and their parents over to San Francisco," Jacobs said. "But when they got there, the kids were animated, and the director noticed that."
But other gremlins soon popped up. Originally, Jacobs arranged to have seven Fire Dragons audition, the minimum number requested. However, it came to light that one player actually was a Canadian citizen and did not have a Social Security number. Seven thus became six. And there were other hurdles to clear.
"The next logistical nightmare was the paperwork," Jacobs said. "By law (in California and some other states), all kids who are in the entertainment business have to have a Coogan Account (a blocked trust account named for the late child actor Jackie Coogan, who as a child was in the 1921 silent movie, "The Kid," with Charlie Chaplin). We had to have all that done (before the shoot)."
Then came the shoot itself. A customary endeavor for Jacobs, perhaps, but a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the young players.
"During the shooting, all the kids we're great," Jacobs said. "They were all very proud, very happy -- especially when they got paid (in late October)."