Update: Credence To 'Seminole Firewater'
CNBC Sports Business Reporter
So earlier today, I told you about the debate over who invented Gatorade, after ABC mentioned last weekend during the game that Florida State had a concoction called "Seminole Firewater" three years before Gatorade came out.
Having done more research than anyone in the world on the history of Gatorade, I called it myth, since I had never heard of anything of the sort. Neither had the University of Florida officials I've been in touch with or one of the Gatorade inventors.
The one thing that made me nervous, I said, was that there was someone claiming to have an article from the Tampa Tribune that talked about this "Seminole Firewater." If the article existed, I asked fans to send it to me.
Well, I got a pretty convincing looking document labeled, "Tampa Tribune, 9/25/62," which I'll quote from here:
"To combat the deadly combination of high temperature coupled with high humidity, Dr. Johnson came up with a concoction known as "Seminole Firewater," which consists of a lime drink fortified with sugar and salt."
I'm definitely surprised that I never saw this in all of my research. But I think it's a stretch to say it was Gatorade. Before FSU fans say the Gatorade doctors stole this, I should mention that these guys from the University of Florida weren't necessarily the first. The idea of essentially sweetening a salt pill in water and giving it to athletes was not, in fact, novel. At the time, Rutgers was drinking a concoction called Sportade, but it failed partly because the team wasn't good.
The reason Gatorade was successful was because the year it was invented the Gators were as good as they've ever been—that added to the mystique of it all. Guess what Florida State's record was in 1962? 4-3-3. Who'd want to use that product? It didn't have the aspirational qualities of the drink that was given to the Florida Gators and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Steve Spurrier (who actually liked Coca-Cola instead).
So now you see why it turned out that the trademark of "Gatorade" was more important than the patent of the idea of salt and sugar in a drink for athletes. Finally, if this R.A. Johnson really did invent what became Gatorade, why didn't he ever sue? Did he ever even speak up? The University of Florida did for what it believed was its fair share, given that the doctors were school employees. And they got their piece of the business.
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And how long were the Seminoles using this stuff? It couldn't have been for a long time since references to it are so rare. So since my last challenge worked, I'm issuing another challenge.
If you yourself have ever ingested "Seminole firewater," we want to know at SportsBiz@cnbc.com. We have plenty of anecdotes from people who had Gatorade in the early days.
This from reader Neil McMullen:
"I was a student at Jesuit High School in Tampa and a member of their track team in the winter of 1967...The Jesuit Invitational Track Meet included college teams and the UF team brought coolers of their "secret weapon" called Gatorade. Since we were representatives of the hosting institution, we Jesuit trackies felt entitled to try this new concoction and the UF trackies obliged (Dr. Cade knew product marketing!). Though being a strong 'Nole now (but then "unaligned"), I do not recollect that FSU had "Seminole Firewater" or anything comparable to Gatorade with the team in 1967."
One more thing. If you read the whole article, you'll find that R.A. Johnson is a University of Florida graduate. Is the debate completely over now?
Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com