Did the New York Giants originate the Gatorade shower?

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FOOTBALL URBAN LEGEND: The New York Giants originated the ‘Gatorade shower.’

During the 1986 National Football League (NFL) season, the New York Giants dominated the league as a whole. They went 14-2 and crushed their three playoff opponents on their way to a Super Bowl victory in January 1987 (their smallest margin of victory in the playoffs was seventeen points). After every one of the Giants’ seventeen victories, the Giants would pour a bucket or cooler of Gatorade on head coach Bill Parcells. This ‘Gatorade shower’ (or ‘Gatorade dunk’ or ‘Gatorade bath,’ the act has been given a lot of different names over the years) became a national sensation in 1987, popping up from everywhere to sporting events (like the 1987 World Series) and Presidential celebrations (President Ronald Reagan was given a drawing for his 76th birthday party depicting Reagan receiving a Gatorade shower). Bill Schmidt, head of sports marketing for Gatorade, did not see the Giants do their celebration until the first round of the playoffs (where the Giants defeated the 49ers 49-3). When he did, Schmidt later recalled that he thought, ‘What the hell? I think I have died and gone to heaven.’ Gatorade naturally latched on to the celebration and marketed it heavily. It has now become a longstanding sports tradition, especially in the world of football.


But where did the tradition start? In his excellent book, First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat Into a Cultural Phenomenon, Darren Rovell wrote about how the Giants first began doing the celebration in a section titled “The Inaugural Dunk.” Amazingly enough, it began as somewhat of an act of aggression! You see, in 1985 the Giants started the season 3-3. They hosted their divisional rival Washington Redskins on October 20, 1985 in a big game for both teams (the Redskins had also started the season 3-3). In the week leading up to the game, Bill Parcells gave Giants starting nose guard Jim Burt a lot of grief, telling him that Redskins offensive lineman Jeff Bostic was going to eat him up. So when the Giants won the game 17-3, Burt decided to celebrate/take his anger out on his coach by pouring the Gatorade cooler on Parcells’ head. The next week, the Giants won again. This time, Burt enlisted Giants Pro Bowl linebacker Harry Carson, one of the most respected members of the team (and a favorite of Parcells) to do the dunk, figuring that if Carson did it, Parcells could not get mad. Burt did not really have to worry, as Parcells did not mind the dunks (the coach stated, “It’s fun. If you have fun, fine. It’s not all life and death”). The following season, while Burt felt that the bit was no longer original and did not want to do it anymore, Carson continued doing it after every Giants victory (Carson noted that Parcells was a superstitious man, so he would not want them to stop doing something that had “worked” before).

As a result, Carson and Parcells became the face of the dunk (Carson even ended up signing a $20,000 deal with Gatorade where they would use his image on a ‘How to dunk’ promotional poster!). So clearly, the New York Giants, Harry Carson and Bill Parcells are what people think of when it comes to the ‘Gatorade dunk,’ and Rovell is quite correct as to the origins of how the Giants came to do the dunk. But was it actually the ORIGINATION of the Gatorade shower?

Let’s find out!

Quite simply, no, it was not. The previous season, on November 25, 1984, the Chicago Bears were on the verge of clinching the Central Division of the National Football Conference (NFC) via a 39-3 thrashing of the Minnesota Vikings. Defensive tackle Steve McMichael grabbed head coach Mike Ditka and defensive tackle Mike Hampton and linebacker Mike Singletary (both Pro Bowlers that year) poured the Gatorade cooler over Ditka’s head in celebration of the Bears clinching the division (which capped an impressive three-year turnaround for the franchise). This particular Gatorade shower was even included in NFL Film’s 1984 Yearbook for the Bears, so it was not an obscure incident. I think that it is very believable that Burt had no idea that the Bears had done the Gatorade shower the previous season when he did it to Parcells, but whether he was inspired by the Bears’ celebration or not, the Bears clearly did do it first. So when you see an article refer to the Giants as originating the Gatorade shower, you now know better.

STATUS: False.

Thanks to Darren Rovell for his excellent book and the quotes from Parcells and Carson.

--Brian Cronin

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