FRED LIEF, UPI Sports Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The ritual and romance of sports take an odd turn in the swamplands of New Jersey.

This may be the home of what some say is the best team in professional football. But should the New York Giants beat the Washington Redksins Sunday to advance to the Super Bowl, it will not be the golden notes of trumpets to herald the latest victory.


Instead, it will a bucket of Gatorade. And it will be dumped with all the subtlety of a blindside sack on the head of Coach Bill Parcells, and maybe an unsuspecting assistant coach or two.

It makes no difference if it's a balmy afternoon in September or as cold as a meat locker in January. If the Giants win, Parcells gets it.

'It's fun,' says linebacker Harry Carson, one of the prime culprits in the Gatorade caper. 'It's different, it's cute.'

It has also become the team trademark. After each victory -- and there have been 10 straight including last week's 49-3 blitz of the San Francisco 49ers -- the television cameras have found a soaked but jublilant Parcells scampering for cover as the bucket of electrolytes and fortified gook comes splashing down.

The Giants, of course, are not the first team to incorporate ritual into their identity.

Maybe the best example is the victory cigar of Red Auerbach, who for years would light up one of his malodorous stogies when he was confident the Boston Celtics had won another basketball game.

The Philadelphia Flyers set their own standard when the late Kate Smith sang 'God Bless America' before hockey games instead of the national anthem. Shortstop Ozzie Smith used to provide a rallying call of sorts for the St. Louis Cardinals with his pregame backflips.

And a couple of seasons back, St. John's basketball coach Lou Carnesecca became something of a rage with his crudely striped lucky sweater that some believed carried the Redmen to the Final Four. It remains to be seen if St. John's had won the NCAA title whether Carnesecca would have become the first winning coach ever to be doused with Woolite.

The Giants' Gatorade antics began in 1984 with the team struggling at 4-4 and facing the Redskins that week. During practice Parcells had been particularly hard on nose tackle Jim Burt. But Burt got even when the game ended, and a tradition was born.

'We started throwing sponges filled with water at other players,' Carson says. 'Gradually, it graduated to throwing water on Bill. He knows I won't dump him as long as he has the headphones on. Once the headphones come off, he's open game.'

Whether Carson is afraid of electrocuting Parcells or ruining a set of headphones is not entirely clear. But the fact remains, the gambit has been good for the Giants and football. In a sport where strategy is akin to military maneuvers and where players are outfitted in armor worthy of the Crusades, a human touch goes a long way.

'What are you gonna do?' asks Parcells. 'It's fun. If you have fun, fine. It's not all life and death.'

Parcells, who claims unconvincingly that he wears so much clothing he doesn't feel the postgame bath, insists the practice does not endanger his health.

'No water is gonna make me sick,' he says.

Wellington Mara, the team president, likes the idea of victory celebrations. But he suspects he's not missing anything when the Gatorade comes flying and he's in the safety of his private owner's box.

'It's great,' he says, 'as long as I'm not the victim and Bill doesn't get pneumonia.'

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