How the Gatorade Shower Was Born
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because your day to get dumped on is surely coming.
By Kevin Fixler
He’d been coach Bill Parcells’ whipping boy in the media all week, so when his New York Giants were just two minutes from completing a 37-13 blowout of the rival Washington Redskins on Oct. 28, 1984, nose tackle Jim Burt decided it was time to get even. The 6-foot-1, 260-pound player grabbed one of the big orange Gatorade buckets from a sideline table, sneaked up behind Parcells and giddily dumped it over his head. The unsuspecting victim was soaked from headphones to toes, and Burt had unwittingly inaugurated a sports tradition: the game-ending Gatorade shower.
Thirty-one years later, such dousings have become a sports cliché, acted out even on peewee soccer fields. But the one that started it all was not a celebration so much as an act of sweet revenge. In the years since, other origin stories have surfaced, but a flickering 33-second video of that moment in 1984 proves to be the Zapruder film of sideline soakings — complete with John Madden commentary.
I’ve got to get him back. You know what, I’m gonna dunk his ass.
It might never have happened without Burt, then a stubby but fierce 25-year-old undrafted free agent from the University of Miami. Parcells had ridden him hard all week about facing Washington’s new “secret weapon,” center Rick Donnalley. Donnalley was making his first start for the Redskins and had some sexy credentials: He’d been part of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ awesome offensive line, and had won a 1982 strongman competition among NFL players. Parcells, then a second-year coach, told reporters he worried whether Burt could handle Donnalley well enough to stop Washington’s running attack, headed by All-Pro John Riggins.
Today, at age 56, Burt jokes about it. The Giants held the Redskins to 79 rushing yards and forced two turnovers. Donnalley had a short, unremarkable career, while Burt won two Super Bowls and made a Pro Bowl. He and Parcells remain close, but Burt still sounds annoyed when he talks about the Hall of Fame coach putting a target on his back. “Parcells basically was making noise,” Burt says in his upstate New York accent. “I didn’t want to make any noise. You want to, like, lay low with that and see how it goes, ya know? I look at the paper and I’m like, ‘Holy shit!’ ”
If Parcells meant to motivate Burt, it worked. Burt didn’t just want to beat Washington, he wanted to prove his coach wrong. And he’d warned Parcells at one practice that what goes around comes around. So on the sideline of Giants Stadium near game’s end, Burt had a sudden inspiration: “When we had the game won, I said, ‘OK, I’ve got to get him back. You know what, I’m gonna dunk his ass.’ ” He had no idea how Parcells would react, but admits, “I truly didn’t care.” In the video, Madden, a former coach himself, says: “Watch this — that’s what you get when you win!”
Unplanned and impulsive then, the sideline shower has become almost compulsory after big wins. “You look at some coaches and think, ‘Boy, there’s no way you could ever dunk Gatorade on that guy,’ ” says Pete Fierle, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s VP of communications. “And they end up laughing and smiling about the moment. It’s become a pretty cool tradition.”
But back on the Giants’ sideline in 1984, nobody knew what to think about the first baptism by sports drink. Burt’s teammates looked anxious, if not astonished. But then a dripping Parcells flashed a huge grin, and everyone laughed. Parcells couldn’t be reached for this story, but said in 2012: “I had to really laugh because it was funny, and it was his way of telling me that I was a little bit of a jerk.”
One of Burt’s teammates, future Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, embraced the new ritual. He did it win after win during his Giants career, even dumping a ceremonial bucket of popcorn on President Ronald Reagan during the Giants’ White House visit. That’s why Carson is often incorrectly credited as the shower’s originator, and why he, not Burt, received a Brooks Brothers gift certificate from Gatorade after the dunkings boosted the brand.
“It wasn’t rehearsed, or it wasn’t something I planned to get notoriety for or anything like that,” Burt says. And he never took part in another dousing. Since retiring in 1991, he has been inducted into halls of fame at the University of Miami and in his hometown of Buffalo, and he’s proudest of helping establish winning cultures with both the Hurricanes and the Giants. But he doesn’t mind if he’s remembered for his random act of unkindness. “Now it’s this thing that colleges, high schools, they all do it … I like that. I think it’s a good legacy.”