Friday, February 3, 2012

The Origin of the Gatorade Dunk

Sometimes the best product endorsements are the ones that happen organically. Take the Gatorade Dunk, for instance. A beloved form of victory celebration across the nation, this unlikely tradition began in 1984 when Chicago Bears defensive tackles Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael and linebacker Mike Singletary doused their head coach, Mike Ditka, following a big win.

"I stood in front of him as the game was still going on, and he was protesting, 'Get away from me,'" McMichael recalls. "He couldn't figure out why I was talking to him when he was trying to run a game. I actually had to grab his shoulders and hold him, and Dan came from behind and just doused him. That's when the Gatorade baths started."

Ditka’s rather frosty reception prevented the prank from becoming a tradition in Chicago, but it was adopted the following season in New York City, where Giants linebacker Harry Carson made a habit of splashing his head coach, Bill Parcells, after every victory.

"Coach Parcells was very superstitious," Carson explains. "If we did something one week and it worked, we did it again. So I kept the Gatorade showers coming, and by the end I think he started to look forward to it."

So did Gatorade. The brand received tons of free publicity every time Parcells was doused on national TV. Sportscasters began drawing attention to the ritual at the end of every game and fans even began creating their own handmade “Gatorade Dunk” t-shirts, hats and pins. “I [thought I'd] died and gone to heaven,'" says Gatorade’s former head of sports marketing, Bill Schmidt.

Gatorade understood a big part of the phenomenon’s appeal was its organic nature and happily stayed on the sidelines while the Gatorade Dunk took on a life of its own. "If a marketer ever tried to create that [Gatorade dunk] moment, it would look fake and phony and contrived," says Gatorade senior executive Tom Fox.

Interestingly, Parcells was part of advertising history again in 1987 when Giants quarterback Phil Simms became the first athlete to utter the phrase “I’m going to Disney World!” following New York’s victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.