Ex-Giant Benson has become star pitchman on WFAN

May 1, 2009

Brad Benson was sitting in the office of his central New Jersey car dealership Wednesday when his cell phone began to beep urgently. He looked at the caller ID.

"That's the missus now," he said. "Maybe she heard it."

"It" was the latest of his famously wacky -- and notoriously politically incorrect -- radio advertisements. It had debuted just that morning on WFAN.

This time, Benson took a vow of celibacy until he moves from No. 2 to No. 1 in sales among Hyundai dealers in the United States. Alas, he didn't bother to consult beforehand with Lisa, his wife of 26 years.

"I want it to be a surprise," he said, not answering the call.

It is difficult to tell how serious Benson is about all this. He has a deadpan wit that helped make him a locker- room prankster in his decade as a Giants lineman -- including with the Super Bowl XXI champs -- and now has made him a star radio pitchman.

Roughly once an hour in both morning and afternoon drive time on WFAN, he relentlessly peddles his wares, offering deals that seem irresistible -- after reeling you in by making you wonder what he'll say next.

Such as, for example, poking fun at everyone from Michael Vick to Rosie O'Donnell to Eliot Spitzer to Hugh Hefner to football players to Mormons to gay people to, well, the list goes on and on.

"We're an equal-opportunity offender," he said.

That doesn't mean everyone is in on the joke, and at times the FAN has asked Benson to alter his content.

A spot featuring an old teammate, Lawrence Taylor, used the term "light in the loafers," a euphemism for homosexual men. The station got complaints, and the term was edited out after three days.

Sometimes offenses are legal rather than personal, as when Flintstones demanded an ad be pulled that jokingly referred to Benson's staff using steroids as if they were the children's vitamins.

Then there was the spot that followed Plaxico Burress accidentally shooting himself in the leg, which included the sound of gunshots in its script.

A few weeks later, Benson introduced himself to a man who appeared to be an athlete whom he had run into after both visited Giants team doctor Russ Warren.

"The guy gives me a very limp handshake and turns and walks away and I am thinking, 'Wow, this guy is kind of an -- -- ," Benson said, adding he did not recognize the fellow.

Only later did he learn who it was: Burress. "I'm like, 'Oh! No wonder he didn't want to talk to me,"' Benson said.

Mostly, he shrugs off complaints. He has heard them from the first ad he did, in February 2003, when he promised Saddam Hussein a free Mitsubishi Outlander if he would leave Iraq. Benson simultaneously taped a follow-up spot apologizing to anyone offended.

Sure enough, he angered some people with the first ad and others with the second, and he knew he was on to something.

Six years later, he has gone from selling 40 or 50 cars per month to 300, benefiting both from his own efforts -- he was up 30 percent over last April -- and those of Hyundai, which has bucked the downtrend of the auto industry.

It was only two years ago that what he calls his "crazy commercials" began appearing on WFAN (his other main radio outlet is 101.5-FM in New Jersey).

At $500 to $1,500 per, the cost adds up quickly, but Benson believes repetition is key. Each ad runs for about two weeks.

"We feel they have to be heard three times in a week to be effective," he said.

At 53, Benson has had three hip replacements and two spinal fusions but still remains active, including riding quarter horses competitively and working his 300-acre farm in Hillsborough, N.J.

Benson wrote the first Hussein advertisement himself, but now more often comes up with the basic concept and has a professional adman, D.J. O'Neil, fill in the details.

That was what happened when Benson heard about tomorrow's Pacquaio-Hatton bout, and "a switch went on in my brain, thinking about how some boxers turn to celibacy during training."

Naturally, that got him to thinking about his next ad, and a vow that Long Islanders can play a direct role in making easier or more difficult for him to keep.

The only thing standing between Lisa and Brad is the dealer Benson said is No. 1 on Hyundai's list: Atlantic of West Islip. Gentlemen, start your engines.

Strange but true: New site is sweet tweet

Sort of fun, sort of scary: AthleteTweets.com, a nine-day-old feature of SportsFanLive.com, compiles the tweets of 142 jocks -- refreshed every minute or so! -- to keep fans' fingers on the pulses of America's athletic heroes. For example . . .

Natalie Coughlin: "Mani/pedi party was awesome (complete with breakfast & mimosas)!"

Shaquille O'Neal: "bout to get my shaqlite/micheal phelps (without the bong) lol, swim wrkout on, 20 laps , one hr of swimming< calvin klein here i come."

Terrell Owens: "n the bahamas chillin 4 a couple days!! ladies if u're n need of sum sun, come hang out w/me only if u bikini ready!"

Speedy Claxton: "guess ill grab some breakfast before practice . . . thinking ihop"

Donald Brashear: "I am eating sushi downtown Dc."

Wait . . . Donald Brashear eats sushi? That doesn't seem right.

Just wondering: One-two punch puts MSG on ice

Despite the moronic overlapping of two Game 7s in the same market Tuesday, the Rangers and Devils garnered solid ratings (for hockey).

The Rangers' 3.02 percent of area homes -- 4.42 in the final minutes -- was their highest rating on MSG in 12 years; the Devils' 1.64 was their best in eight.

That's nice, but the teams' losses were a blow to MSG and MSG Plus -- which, like Newsday, are owned by Cablevision -- signaling the start of their fourth long summer without baseball.

So what is left? Well, "Hockey Night Live" will go on every Saturday through the playoffs and there will be the usual assortment of "MSG Vaults," movies, pro wrestling, boxing, poker and such.

What about live events? Other than special events such as Knicks summer league games, MSG's marquee offseason teams are the Red Bulls and Liberty.

MSG has beefed up its Red Bulls coverage, adding a postgame show, but the Liberty is down from 26 games last year to 14. Why? Blunt answer: Their ratings make it economically difficult to justify doing more.