As the last Gatorade shower of the bowl season finished raining down weakly onto Nick Saban Monday night in Miami, I did worry. Are we devolving? Almost three decades into this exhausted victory practice, we've had nary a hint of any new innovations.
You'd think today's generation might try to develop their own creative tradition, but no. Full on into the 21st century, they keep going with the Gatorade. They keep hoisting that bucket and sneaking up behind their coaches with expressions that suggest they find this mildly clever or maybe even original.
It's often believed that this tradition began with Jim Burt and Harry Carson of the New York Giants dousing Bill Parcells after a big game against the Redskins in 1985 (although Chicago Bears fans can point to the season before that, when Mike Ditka got dunked by Mike Singletary and Mike Hampton after clinching the division). According to legend, Burt felt peeved at Parcells after getting called out by his coach, and did the stunt partly out of anger -- but Parcells took it in stride ("If you have fun, fine," he said). In fact, during that remarkable Super Bowl run of 1986-87, John Madden would occasionally diagram the path of the Gatorade bucket being hauled toward the unsuspecting coach.
By 2013, it may be a testament to focus that any coach can remain unsuspecting.
Myself, I went abroad for six years and barely thought about the American Gatorade tradition, then returned to a bit of a jolt. In September, Penn State players soaked Bill O'Brien after their first win, and while any lunkhead could feel happy for them given their campus horror, there was a millisecond of, Wait, 20-year-olds still do this?
Oh, they do, and it carried on through the voluminous bowl season. Photographic evidence shows it. Saban got the appropriately red deluge that didn't quite make a direct hit, odd for yet another great Alabama team that doesn't miss much in blocking or tackling. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher got drenched for beating Northern Illinois. And the liquid came cascading down in New Orleans on Charlie Strong, after his outstanding Louisville win against wretched Florida. Then it soaked Chip Kelly in the desert when Oregon beat a worthy Kansas State bunch, back when Kelly's future at the school was still in doubt.
You might think Stanford players might come up with something fresh given the global reputation and general awesomeness of their university, but nope -- more Gatorade, at the end of another meaningful Rose Bowl, raining down on the excellent David Shaw, who then shivered in the Pasadena twilight thanks to the good aim spearheaded in part by linebacker Shayne Skov. And Northwestern? Couldn't they think of something more original given their academic prowess and first bowl win since dinosaurs roamed the Earth in 1949? Not quite. The Gator Bowl saw more Gatorade, down upon Pat Fitzgerald, showering him in blue instead of the more appropriate purple.
A bigger problem than the proliferation of cliched Gatorade rituals may be the arcane bowls in which they take place.
Syracuse's Doug Marrone -- who recently accepted the head coaching job for the Buffalo Bills -- was showered with the stuff after Syracuse beat West Virginia 38-14 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium (you can question whether coaches who win New Era Pinstripe Bowls warrant Gatorade baths -- and I wouldn't argue). Meanwhile, photographic evidence also showed that an attempt to douse Central Florida head coach George O'Leary whiffed almost completely as UCF finished off Ball State in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl. Which could lead to one philosophical question: If a Gatorade shower falls in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl, does anyone hear it?
Nobody would call Georgia thoroughly satisfied to win the Capital One Bowl given Georgia's reasonable designs on the whole BCS chimichanga, yet reportedly Mark Richt got soggy (I missed it, and if you want to accuse me of a cranky personal aversion to Capital One Bowl Gatorade showers, you wouldn't be totally out of line). And when Baylor finished obliterating UCLA in the Holiday Bowl, the Gatorade bath apparently ensnared both a head coach and an innocent bypassing referee. In a word: sheesh. And, according to the Tallahassee Democrat, the same monotonous beverage was poured all over Florida State defensive ends coach D.J. Eliot, who had stayed around to help flummox Northern Illinois before leaving to join Mark Stoops at Kentucky.
Even a prig could appreciate that, I guess.
In the NFL, Denver's John Fox reportedly also got a bath after clinching that No. 1 seed on December 30 against Kansas City, but that is not my concern. I'm looking for true deliverance from this same-old-same-old sight -- so I nominate the collegians. Surely they can come up with some variation to advance the narrative. Surely they can cook up a surprise in the year 2013, even one that addles the coaches. Surely they can embrace their youthful pioneering spirit and restore that sense of American ingenuity.
More specifically? Let's put our hopes in the bright minds at Stanford as they hope to build on their Rose Bowl success. Surely any school capable of "Fear The Tree" T-shirts can lead us past the tired paradigm.