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The Western New Yorker who invented the Gatorade celebration

Between NFL playoffs and college bowl games, chances are over the next few days and weeks, you’re bound to see a football coach or two have a big bucket of Gatorade or water dumped on his head as a part of a game-winning celebration.

If your first instinct is that this traditional celebration looks more like something you’d do in anger more than triumph, you really aren’t too far off.

In the 35 years since New York Giants coach Bill Parcells was hit with the first Gatorade shower in 1984, nose tackle Jim Burt has offered several different explanations and motivations on that original drenching.

First, there were claims that there was an earlier dunking of Mike Ditka by Chicago Bears players, but the Ditka shower came about a month after Burt nailed Parcells in the video clip shown from an October 1984 Giants game against the Washington Redskins.

Parcells and Burt had a confrontational relationship from the very beginning.

Burt, an All-Western New York pick for the Orchard Park Quakers in 1977, played as defensive line mates with future Steelers great Craig Wolfley and Larry Pfohl — the future pro wrestler Lex Luger— for the Quakers.

In college at the University of Miami, he played with Jim Kelly. Burt was the defensive MVP for the Hurricanes in the Peach Bowl his senior year, but he went undrafted.

Parcells was the defensive coordinator for the Giants, where Burt had signed. The Big Tuna started riding Burt almost immediately — which fostered at least as much anger as it did motivation in the player.

Burt was in on this 1987 Gatorade dump.

That was 1981. By 1984, Burt was a regular in the Giants lineup and Parcells was head coach. To motivate the Giants against the tough Redskins, Parcells made an example of Burt — forcing him to punch 20-pound dumbbells into a padded wall for 45 minutes.

“He had to pay a price,” Burt told the Los Angeles Times in 2008, while admitting that Parcells told him later that he was the only member of the team who could endure the mental and physical toll of those enhanced workouts.

Burt said the Gatorade dump wasn’t planned that day — it just occurred to him as a funny way to get back at Parcells, even in the midst of the jubilation over a big win.

Coaches and teammates were momentarily worried, but when a smile emerged on Parcells’ face, a new tradition was born.

“Guys are throwing stuff at you and you’re getting soaked, but you’re still smiling, that must mean you’re winning,” said CBS NFL analyst John Madden when the game broadcast showed that first coolerful of thirst-quencher being spilled.

“Jim just likes to have fun,” Parcells said later. “Nothing wrong with that. He’s an excitable guy.”

Burt hurled the first cooler of Gatorade, but it was his teammate Harry Carson who kept up the tradition — which became forever linked to Parcells, eventually earning him a three-year, $120,000 endorsement contract with Gatorade.

The height of the whole affair might have come after the Giants Super Bowl victory in 1987, when President Reagan poured a bucket of popcorn on Carson’s head — and Carson reciprocated, all because Burt had a crazy impulse to get even with his legendary coach.

 

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