Why do Super Bowl winners go to Disney?

Matt Stroshane/Disneyland Resort via Getty Images

It started, as many great ad campaigns do, by accident -- a throwaway line at a celebrity rendezvous at "The Happiest Place on Earth." Within weeks, it blossomed into a world-famous ad campaign and sparked one of the more iconic phrases in sports: "I'm going to Disney World!" (or to Disneyland).

You've likely heard the line before: As the Super Bowl MVP celebrates on the field with his team, an unseen voice asks him what he plans to do next after winning the championship, to which he recites the classic tagline. But what is the origin of the tradition? Do famous athletes really celebrate championship victories at Disney theme parks? Who has celebrated with Mickey Mouse over the years?

How did the tradition start?

In January 1987, Disney CEO Michael Eisner and his wife, Jane Breckenridge, hosted a dinner at Disneyland with filmmaker George Lucas and other celebrities to promote the opening of the park's new Star Tours attraction. Among those in attendance were aviators Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager, who had recently co-piloted the first aircraft (Voyager) to fly nonstop around the world on a single tank of gas.

According to Eisner's 1998 memoir, his wife asked the pilots what they were going to do next after doing "the most adventurous thing imaginable" just a few weeks earlier. Rutan replied: "Well, we're going to Disneyland." Soon after, Breckenridge pulled Eisner aside and said the line would make a great advertising campaign. Within weeks, Disney set in motion its now-famous "What's next?" campaign, arranging for the Super Bowl MVP to say the iconic phrase in the immediate aftermath of his team's victory.

Who was the first athlete to say it?

Two weeks after that dinner, New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms led his team to a 39-20 win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI (1987) to earn MVP honors. As he walked off the field, a camera crew approached the winning quarterback and asked what he was going to do next. "I'm going to go to Disney World!" he exclaimed. Simms later said he was paid $50,000 to say the line, which aired the next day in the first commercial of the legendary ad campaign. He and his family were also treated to an all-day experience at the Magic Kingdom, which has become part of the tradition for the Super Bowl MVP.

Has it happened every year since?

Almost. Since Simms became the first Super Bowl MVP to go to Disney in 1987, at least one player has uttered the line in all but one year (2005), when there was no commercial following Super Bowl XXXIX. It was a brief hiatus for the campaign, which has continued every year in the nearly two decades since.

Do players actually go to Disney parks?

Yes, they do. The day after the Super Bowl, the chosen player usually takes part in a parade at either Disneyland or Disney World. One notable exception was in 2021, when Tampa Bay Buccaneers stars Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski had to forgo the parade, which was canceled due to COVID-19. But the longtime teammates still enjoyed a day at the Magic Kingdom with their families. A year later, three Los Angeles Rams players -- Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald and Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp -- rode down Main Street, U.S.A., at nearby Disneyland. In 2023, Super Bowl LVII MVP Patrick Mahomes enjoyed his second post-victory parade at Disneyland.

Is it always the Super Bowl MVP?

Typically, the Super Bowl MVP is the one who says the iconic catchphrase after the game and is treated to a subsequent trip to Disneyland or Disney World. But that isn't always the case. The most recent exception was in 2017, when Brady won his fourth of a record-setting five Super Bowl MVP trophies. Having already enjoyed a celebratory trip to Disney World before, he gifted the experience to James White, who had scored three touchdowns in Super Bowl LI -- including the only overtime score in Super Bowl history to cap off the Patriots' epic 25-point comeback win.

Do only football players say it?

While the tradition started with the Super Bowl MVP, its cultural impact has extended far beyond football. Over the years, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are among the NBA stars who have declared their intentions to go to Disney following a championship win. The most recent was 2006 NBA Finals MVP Dwyane Wade, who joined teammate Udonis Haslem as grand marshals for a Miami Heat victory parade at Disney World.

In 2004, three stars for the Boston Red Sox -- Curt Schilling, Pedro Martínez and David Ortiz -- took a trip to Disney World after breaking their team's 86-year title drought. We've even seen non-athletes take part in the famous ad campaign. From 2008 to 2011, the winner of "American Idol" was treated to a trip to Disney World as part of the "What's next?" campaign. Santa Claus also joined in on the fun in the late 1990s.

Who was the last player to say it?

After his Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LVIII in February 2024, MVP Patrick Mahomes declared he was "going to Disneyland." Ironically, a 17-year-old Mahomes once posted on X (then known as Twitter): "I bet it feels amazing to be the quarterback who says 'I'm going to Disney World' after winning the Super Bowl." That wish came true. The Chiefs superstar made his first Super Bowl trip to Disney World in 2020.

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