The Breakfast of Champions: 15 Iconic (and, or Ironic) Wheaties Boxes
“Better eat your Wheaties,” was once a common response to a child saying they wished to be a professional athlete. Originally, it was a marketing slogan, but it became a popular refrain, which must have put the Wheaties ad guys on cloud nine. Few products are so closely linked with champions (sorry, Buick) as Wheaties, the wholewheat breakfast cereal. Before athletes got their own shoes, they dreamed of gracing a Wheaties box. Well, the following athletes are living the dream, having accomplished enough to enter the pantheon of Wheaties poster boys and girls.
15. Danny Gagarin
Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of this guy. No one had. Until this middle-aged orienteer made the cover of the box during their “Search for Champions” contest. They found a, uh, champion in this regular Joe who had a vaguely athletic background. Nonetheless, he found 15 minutes of fame. All hail the orange box.
14. Michael Jordan
Don’t worry, this isn’t MJ’s only appearance here. But it is one of the only Wheaties boxes I ever saw that had a player out of uniform, save for coaches. Here he’s wearing a lovely purple and teal ensemble that shows not even Wheaties were safe from the marketing tentacles of Nike.
13. 1987 Twins
While the 1987 Twins are not one of the most iconic teams in sports, or even the most iconic teams of 1987, this cover is indicative of the way Wheaties boxes captured a championship moment. The “team dogpile” photo was one of their go-to’s, for obvious reasons.
12. Kevin Garnett
Garnett was the leader of the 2008 Championship Celtics, so it’s no surprise he made the box. What was surprising is how they put him in a very Jordan like pose. They must miss their cash cow so much they’re making modern athletes pose like him.
11. Shaun White
Shaun White, despite looking like a cross between Eric Stoltz in “Mask” and, well, nothing, got a big boost from the boom of extreme sports earlier in the decade and the inclusion of snowboarding to the Olympics. Who eats cereal? Kids. Who likes Shaun White? Kids. Somewhere, Lee Trevino sobs.
10. David Beckham
Now we enter the “whoops” section of the list with the next two entries. Beckham made a splash upon his arrival (hence the Wheaties box), but floundered quickly after an injury-stricken tenure with the Galaxy. It proved the answer to the question posed on the box was a resounding “NO.”
9. 1993 Cowboys
Hindsight is 20/20. These guys may have been champions in the literal sense (they won a championship), but the following years would quickly reveal many of these to have less-than-savory proclivities. It’s a little hard to make out, but I’m pretty sure there’s only one guy that got arrested naked with a crack pipe on the box. Hint: Not Aikman.
8. Larry Bird
Larry Legend was no stranger to the cover of the orange box, as his decade-long rivalry with Magic helped save the NBA from a slump of talent and image in the late-70’s. Save a league, get a Wheaties box. Sounds fair.
7. Michael Phelps
The year was 2008, and a lanky American stoner named Michael Phelps reminded us of a little thing called hope. After winning eight golds, he was all but contractually obligated to be the cover boy for the little brown flakes.
6. Joe Montana
Joe Montana in the mid-80’s was like Peyton Manning four years ago. He couldn’t say no to an endorsement. So it’s no wonder we see #16 gracing the cover here, in between filming an LA Gear commercial or throwing his name on a crappy Sega football game.
5. 2004 Red Sox
While the cache of of the Wheaties box has waned in the past couple decades (for some reason I want to blame the internet for this), the “Red Sox Champions” box cover managed to stick out in the recent past. These guys were seemingly everywhere after their win, with some players even appearing on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” but the Wheaties box didn’t seem contrived or forced. In fact, it seemed to legitimize it all.
4. Bruce Jenner
Like the next guy on this list, Bruce Jenner has a certain undefinable Wheaties look. But his presence here can’t be solely attributed to aesthetics, as this guy set a world record in the decathlon and scored a gold medal in 1976, which, during the cold war, was the equivalent of a Purple Heart.
3. Pete Rose
Has anyone ever looked more at home on a box of cereal? This guy could be Wheaties’ Tony the Tiger. Pete Rose, aka Charlie Hustle, looks like the type of guy that eats Wheaties about 15 times per day, believing it has medicinal qualities.
2. Michael Jordan
During the late 80’s and early 90’s, Michael Jordan got his mail forwarded to the cover of Wheaties boxes. Gracing the box at least four times (and that’s by himself), he’s certainly the champion of appearances. And he would have topped this list had it not been for one enduring image.
1. Mary Lou Retton
The man on top is a woman. No one really comes close in this contest. Overnight, Mary Lou became America’s sweetheart, and nowhere is that more indicative than on the orange cover of this cereal box from 1984..