14 things you didn't know about Gatorade

In the dark, pre-sports-drink days, athletes had to stay hydrated on nothing but water. Then Gatorade came along and rendered H2O obsolete with its electrolytes and sweet fluorescent colors. We haven't looked back since... not through the advent of Gatorade showers, or brief existence of GatorGum, or commercials that foolishly made us think we could be anything like Michael Jordan. To say thanks to Gatorade for powering all those Little League games, we rounded up some fascinating trivia on the drink of actual champions. One day, maybe we'll finally sweat orange like they promised.

Gatorade with UF Gators helmet

1. It was developed to save lives

Surprisingly, a lot of people don't realize that Gatorade takes its name from the University of Florida Gators. Back in the '60s, an assistant coach for the football team voiced his concerns over the number of players in the hospital for dehydration and heat exhaustion. Physicians realized it was due to loss of carbohydrates and electrolytes, and developed Gatorade to help the guys replenish. Good thing, too, because it was desperately needed at the time -- up to 25 football players in America were dying each year because of heat-induced ailments.

Lemon juice
Flickr/Helen Lynn

2. One of the inventors' wives saved it by suggesting lemon juice

The first batch of Gatorade wasn't exactly lemon-lime-flavored. It was actually so bad that a player who tried it spat it out, and, as The New York Times so delicately put it, "more than hinted that it tasted like bodily waste". That was when Dr. J. Robert Cade's wife, Mary, suggested they add lemon juice to the concoction. It was a vast improvement, and we assume Mary got a very nice gift for the save. That gift was probably Gatorade.

Super Bowl IV Kansas City Chiefs
Pinterest/sharon thomson

3. Gatorade helped clinch an Orange Bowl and a Super Bowl almost immediately

Once the Gators started drinking their special juice, they saw stats instantly. Their first season with Gatorade ended at 7-4, and the next year they did even better, hitting 9-2 and winning their first Orange Bowl. (The losing Georgia Tech coach straight-up attributed the win to Gatorade.) But the real proof came in 1969. Gators coach Ray Graves suggested the magical elixir to the Kansas City Chiefs' management, which started serving it during summer training. The team continued guzzling the stuff all the way to a Super Bowl IV victory over the Vikings.

Chicago Cubs 1984 N.L. East Champions sign
Pinterest/Tom Thompson

4. But it cost the Cubs a shot at the World Series

While facing the Padres in the 1984 National League playoffs, Cubs first baseman Leon Durham made a critical error in the seventh inning that many say cost them the game, and subsequent World Series slot. Why did he mess up? Apparently, his teammate Ryne Sandberg spilled a bunch of Gatorade on his glove by accident minutes before the game, making the thing super sticky. 

Old Gatorade bottle

5. It sparked a bitter legal feud

When Dr. Cade asked the University of Florida about marketing the revolutionary drink, they declined, so he sold the formula to Stokely-Van Camp. The company dished a nice cut of royalties to Cade and his team, which pissed off the school. They took the researchers to court, alleging all the money belonged to them since the drink was developed on their grounds. The eventual settlement gave UF a percentage of the loot, but Cade did not have nice words for his employers during the fight. As he put it, "They told me it belonged to them and all the royalties were theirs. I told them to go to hell."

Fold-Away Disaster Shelter

6. It spurred other innovations

As nostalgic gum-chewers will remember, Gatorade spawned "GatorGum", an athletic stick that died out after a brief moment of popularity in the '80s. But Cade also tried to get a boozy, fruity drink called Hop 'n Gator off the ground in the '70s. It did not catch on.

Gatorade shower

7. The "Gatorade shower" was invented by the New York Giants

Most people attribute the first celebratory "shower" to former Giants nose tackle Jim Burt. Burt thought coach Bill Parcells was being unreasonably hard on him in the lead-up to a game against the Redskins. When the Giants won, Burt dumped a bucket of Gatorade on Parcells in an act of good-natured revenge. Over the next few years, it caught on everywhere. A few contrarian Bears fans insist they actually invented the practice, but no one really believes them.

Horse drinking from fountain
Flickr/Paul Gorbould

8. Even horses swear by the stuff

In the mid-'80s, a horse with the most German name in recorded history -- Manfred Hanover -- took the racetracks by storm. According to First in Thirst, he won 24 out of 46 of his races in 1985, and was profiled in Sports Illustrated the following year when he nabbed 16 consecutive victories. Can you guess what this über-equine drank? Roughly 200gal of orange Gatorade each year.

click to play video

9. Gatorade gave Michael Jordan some free entrance music

When they created their iconic "Be Like Mike" commercial, Gatorade put four versions of the jingle on cassettes. They later sold some of those cassettes to the public (with the proceeds going to the Michael Jordan Foundation). Well, the stadium staffs for opposing basketball teams got their hands on the cassettes and started playing them as entrance music for Michael when the Bulls came to play, because they knew everyone in the crowd was there for him. Which is hilarious. And also a little sad. But mostly hilarious.

Michael Jordan cigar

10. But he got way nicer freebies than that

Ever mindful of MJ's happiness, the Gatorade peeps made sure he had a box of 25 Montecristo No. 2 Cuban torpedo cigars at every single commercial shoot. Each box cost $500, but Gatorade's parent company, Quaker Oats, knew to expect the expense every time.

Opera singer
Flickr/Larry Lamsa

11. Opera singers drink it, too

As one dispatch from Virginia's Wolf Trap theater pointed out, opera stars performing outdoors in the summer while wearing obnoxious costumes sweat enough to make their mic packs short-circuit. Which means they require a hefty supply of Gatorade to survive even the first act... without it, Die Fledermaus would be super, super short. Which, well, would probably be better for the audience.


12. Some people sincerely believe it's made with alligator juice

When Gatorade conducted a 2002 customer survey, they found that 60% of the people didn't know the drink's true origins at UF. Fair enough, but some people were really off-base. Over a quarter of the respondents thought it was invented by Dr. Lawrence Gator, and 2.1% thought the brand derived its name from a secret ingredient: alligator juice.

Race cars crossing finish line

13. The Gatorade In-Car Drinking System keeps NASCAR fueled

Sitting in a car might not seem like a workout, but when you're steering a race car in 100-degree heat without proper A/C, the sweat stains add up. To help professional racers battle heatstroke, Gatorade developed the Gatorade In-Car Drinking System, which attaches a 3qt sack of the sports drink to the car frame. Drivers can take a sip at any time through a nozzle piped into their helmets, allowing them to return to Walker and Texas Ranger completely refreshed.

Polishing furniture
How to Make Furniture Polish Clean

14. It's a great furniture polish

Just make sure you buy the orange kind.

Kristin Hunt is a Food/Drink staff writer for Thrillist, and drank a good amount of Gatorade in her youth despite being the most athletically challenged girl on the block. Follow her to aspirational sipping at @kristin_hunt.