Who Is Responsible for the Liquid Traditions We See in Sports Victory Celebrations?

For this article, I researched the history of three iconic liquids used by athletes to celebrate their victories. It was not easy. I discovered conflicting accounts of who initiated the various traditions and/ or when the traditions were initiated. I also discovered that some of the so-called facts were fiercely debated. So to be fair, I included everyone’s take on who started the milk-drinking, champagne showers, and Gatorade showers victory celebrations as well as accounts of when they began.

Rainy 2007 Indianapolis 500 auto race
Rainy 2007 Indianapolis 500 auto race | Source
Milking cows
Milking cows | Source

The Milk Tradition

As the story goes, race car driver and winner of three Indianapolis 500 (Indy 500) auto races, Louis Meyer, is most credited with starting the milk-drinking tradition. After each race, win or lose, he apparently rewarded himself with a glass of buttermilk. The ritual drew attention after his second victory at the 1933 Indy 500 race. He made the same request when he won the event for the third time in 1936. But instead of a glass of buttermilk, he received the liquid in a bottle. Meyer was photographed drinking from that bottle. When it was seen by a local dairy farmer, the light bulb went on. The photo, it seemed, had sparked an idea for a sure-fire marketing opportunity.

The following year, 1937, the dairy farmer sent a bottle of regular whole milk to that year’s winner, who was Wilbur Shaw. It was a bottle of regular whole milk because he was not aware that Meyer’s drink of choice was buttermilk. From that point on, the Indianapolis 500 winner received a bottle of regular milk from the dairy each year. No races were held between 1942 and 1945 because of World War II, but the milk award was presented after the war in 1946 and again in 1947. It took another hiatus until the 1956 Indy 500 race. That was the year the tradition was installed.

Today the Milk Promotions Board of the American Dairy Association of Indiana chooses two dairy farmers each year, including a first-timer, to supply milk to the Indianapolis 500 race. The senior dairy farm presents the milk to the Indy 500 winner in victory lane and the first-timer supplies the winning car’s owner and the chief mechanic. The following year, the new dairy farm graduates to supply milk to the winner, and another newcomer is chosen to make the other presentations.

Today’s Indy 500 winners receive their milk in commemorative bottles and have the choice of regular whole milk, 2 percent milk, or skim milk. Most winners welcome the ice-cold liquid, but there have been detractors. The tradition has spread to other auto races, even on the college level.

Champagne shower celebrating a golf victory.
Champagne shower celebrating a golf victory. | Source
1899 Ink & water color poster designed for Moet et Chandon by Alfons Mucha (1860-1939)
1899 Ink & watercolor poster designed for Moet et Chandon by Alfons Mucha (1860-1939) | Source

The Champagne Shower Tradition

Champagne showers have been synonymous with victory celebrations in sport for a very long time. Some, including the former 24 Hours Le Mans champion Dan Gurney, say he was the one responsible for the tradition. He sprayed it on himself and others after winning the auto race in 1967. The article “Spraying the Champagne” from the website http://allamericanracers.com, includes a statement from Gurney. In it, he states that the immense excitement he was experiencing from his victory led him to shake then spray the bottle of Moet et Chandon champagne he received on “photographers, drivers, Henry Ford II, Carroll Shelby and their wives.” Basically, it was the crowd surrounding him. Every Le Mans winner since then has performed the act.

Other sources point to the autobiography of Scottish Formula One driver Jackie Stewart. In it, Stewart claimed to have started the champagne shower ritual after his victory at the 1969 French Formula One Grand Prix motor race. Others attribute the tradition to British Formula One racer Graham Hill. He reportedly sprayed champagne after his 1966 Grand Prix victory at Lakeside International Raceway in Catalina, Australia. The latter information is somewhat sketchy, but as determined by some, one could say that Stewart was the first to start the champagne shower tradition at Grand Prix races, while Gurney did it at Le Mans.

The champagne shower tradition spread to other sports across the globe, such as the North American Major League Baseball. The ritual once performed exclusively by the World Series championship teams, is now employed by Division Series winners, wildcard winners, and even teams who have found out they have won a spot in the wildcard playoffs.

Champagne showers also occur in the victory celebrations of the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), National Football League (NFL), among others.

Gatorade shower
Gatorade shower | Source
Gatorade in original glass botle
Gatorade in original glass botle | Source

The Gatorade Shower Tradition

This sports celebration tradition is also known as the Gatorade bath and the Gatorade dunk. It is more of an American creation; as American as football. In fact, the ritual found its beginnings in the arenas of victorious football teams.

As reported by many and recorded in the book “First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat into a Cultural Phenomenon” written by sports business reporter and author Darren Rovell, it was a member of the New York Giants Football team that started Gatorade dunking. Jim Burt, a nose tackle on the poor-performing 1985 team, wanted to avenge the terrible treatment he felt he was receiving from then Giants head coach Bill Parcells. So when the Giants beat the Washington Redskins (17-3) in an October game, Burt took the opportunity to dunk their cooler of Gatorade over Parcells’ head.

Harry Carson, linebacker and teammate of Burt picked up the mantle, so-to-speak, and showered Parcells after every win right through the Giant’s 1986 Super Bowl victory. Bill Schmidt, who was the head honcho of sports marketing at Gatorade at the time, heard of the Giants’ victory showers through a televised account of their playoff game with the San Francisco 49ers. He immediately saw the dollar signs of victory for the company.

There is another claim to the Gatorade shower initiation. It comes from the Chicago Bears defensive tackle Dan Hampton, who said he started the tradition in 1984. He and two teammates showered the Bears head coach after a win. Now some sources report that win to be the Central Division playoff, while others report it to be a regular season game between the Bears and the Minnesota Vikings. Regardless of where the credit belongs, the Gatorade shower is now an integral part of Super Bowl victory celebrations.

Gatorade baths skipped over to the NBA in 2008 when the Boston Celtics won their first title after 22 years. Small forward and shooting guard Paul Pierce dunked the bucket over the head of Doc Rivers, their coach at the time. Gatorade-dunking did not stop there. It hopped all the way down to Australia. Players in the Melbourne Storm club, of the National Rugby League (NRL), first employed the tradition by dumping the cold beverage on their coach Craig Bellamy after their 2007 and 2012 victories.

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Other Liquids Used in Sports Victory Celebrations

In German football (known as soccer to Americans), winning teams celebrate by showering their coaches, managers, and each other with beer. The tradition started when Borussia Dortmund won the Bundesliga title in 2012 after a 2-0 victory over the Nurnberg team.

Some teams are conscientious of players with alcoholic problems, underage teammates, and sponsors whose religion may prohibit the use of alcohol. They celebrate their victories with non-alcoholic sparkling wine and beer or water. Others forego the liquids for something else. For instance, when Michigan State University won their game with Penn State in 2010, they dunked their head coach with a Gatorade cooler of green and white confetti.

Not every sports fan is on board with liquid (shower) celebrations by athletes. Many see them as childish activities. I do not see the rituals being retired anytime soon. So, dissenting fans will have to endure a while longer.

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