Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Super Bowl Moment XII: The Gatorade bath enters football's lexicon...

That takes a serious blend of guts and crazy to pull off...

The very brief disclaimer: this isn’t a list that’s ranked in any order other than chronological…so don’t judge too much. It’s Super Bowl moment number 12 on the list of the top 25.

After the Super Bowl this Sunday, the attention of the NFL will turn inevitably to next season (that is, if there is one). A big part of thinking about “next year” is always the impact of free agency.

What most people (especially people my age) tend to forget is that for a long time, there was no free agency in the NFL. If you were a talented player who got drafted by a bad team, you were stuck.

This was precisely what happened to middle-linebacker Harry Carson of the New York Giants for the first eight years of his career. In that span, from 1976 (when the Giants drafted him in the 4th round) to 1984, New York had just one winning season.

So you might imagine his unending joy when 1986 rolled around and his New York Giants found themselves, for the first time, in the Super Bowl.

One of the NFL’s older franchises had gone through drastic changes in the early 80’s. The cornerstone of that was, obviously, drafting Lawrence Taylor.

And LT (not to be confused with that wussy, nickname-stealing running back for the Jets) had his finest season in 1986, slaughtering quarterbacks to the tune of 20.5 sacks (my favorite hit is at 2:15 into the clip) and winning league MVP.

Yet it was the team’s middle linebacker, Carson, who was the leader. Taylor, for all his on the field heroics, was too busy doing, umm, other things (hint: it wasn’t charity work) to lead his teammates when the game was over.

On their way to the Super Bowl that season, enigmatic Coach Bill Parcells never relented in his typically abrasive approach. Even as the best team in the league, he found many problems with the Giants on a regular basis.

His most volatile moment came during halftime against the Green Bay Packers in the final week of the regular season. Though the Giants were already sitting pretty in the standings at 13-2, Parcells could’ve cared less. After going ahead 24-0, the Giants had surrendered 17 unanswered points to enter the half leading only 24-17.

After telling the offense “If we score 45 points, we might be able to tie this game,” he turned to his defense for a more hands-on pep talk.

Carrying a large barrel of garbage into the room where his defense was meeting, Parcells proceeded to dump garbage on his players. He told them, in no short terms, that this was what he thought about their play.

Such an unsparing visual aid was the shot in the arm New York’s “Big Blue Wrecking Crew” defense needed. They allowed only one more Green Bay score and the offense rolled to 31 additional points, guiding the Giants to a runaway 55-24 victory.

After the contest, Carson decided it was time for some revenge on his coach.

In a moment of pure insanity, he grabbed the Gatorade cooler and dumped it on Parcells.

Now, keep in mind Bill Parcells was the same man who once unleashed Lawrence Taylor on rookie quarterback in training camp just because he thought it was funny. He wasn’t normally the kind of man you dumped Gatorade on…

But Carson was a strong willed leader (and, more importantly, he was now gratefully part of the best team in the league).

Being a superstitious man, Parcells decided the Gatorade douse would be a tradition.

So with minutes left in Super Bowl XXI and New York leading John Elway’s Broncos by a wide margin, Carson decided it was time.

And at that moment, the world was introduced to one of the most nonsensical traditions in all of football: the Gatorade bath.

Though he tried mightily to avoid it (knowing it was coming), Parcells couldn’t escape Carson’s final contribution to the finest season of his career. His coach was now not only Super Bowl champion, but also drenched in Gatorade.

After years of misery and losing, Carson was a winner. So were the Giants, who had notched their first Super Bowl win. And Parcells, though he would never fully change his coaching demeanor, probably thought twice about ever dumping anything on his players again.

(In a related note, this was the same night I was born. And since the Giants are my family's team, it's my go-to fun fact whenever I'm forced into playing inevitably awkward "name-games" in orientation for school or work. For some reason I always think people will be more impressed than they ever actually are, but then I generally under-appreciate how huge a dork I am. Either way, an amazing night for my dad.)

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