While researcher J. Robert Cade was eulogized far and wide this week, the New York Times’ Neil Admur provides compelling testimony the late scientist’s biggest contribution to society wasn’t the image of Bill Parcells drenched in tight clothing.

I wrote the first article on Gatorade, for The Miami Herald, on Nov. 30, 1966. In his typically unaffected fashion, Cade was astonished about the fuss.

œThere is nothing revolutionary or harmful about Gatorade, he told me at the time, adding, œGatorade doesn™t make a good football player out of a bad one.

But when 26 gallons of Gatorade were mysteriously stolen from a truck on the way to Jacksonville from Gainesville several days before the Florida-Georgia game that year, Florida players went without Gatorade on game day. Leading by 10-3 at halftime, Florida was beaten decisively, 27-10.

Shy and soft-spoken but with an inquisitive mind, Cade played down his role as a sports-medicine visionary and the role that Gatorade would play in redefining competitive sports. At a time when many coaches felt two-a-day drills and water deprivation produced tougher athletes, Cade™s research provided a gateway to the many physiological secrets that confront athletes searching for greatness.

His early entry into the world of carbohydrate loading is often overlooked. At the start of fall football drills in 1967, Cade wanted to determine whether pancakes and waffles were preferable to the traditional steak for a pregame meal to aid performance, a principle that Swedish researchers were dabbling with at the time.

Cade, a former high school runner, initially experimented on himself on a treadmill. He realized the performance benefits of high-carbohydrate content and saw almost half of the Florida team drop steaks for his milk-based concoction, called Gator Go. Today, pasta parties and carb loading are a tradition before marathons and other sports events.

Concussions were another source of Cade™s curiosity, well before the subject became a national concern. In the spring of 1968, he developed a handmade hydraulic helmet lined with eight plastic bags of oil and a sponge layer with a resilient plastic outer shell to dissipate the force of energy and protect the head.

To test its efficiency, Cade wore the hydraulic helmet, and the more conventional models, while one of his associates hit him over the head with a heavy club. His conclusion: his helmet reduced the shock by as much as a third to a half. The debate over concussions and helmet safety continues today.

For more musings on one of America’s more dominant (and undrinkable) brands, you might wanna peruse Darren Rovel’s dedicated Gatorade blog.