In his column on latimes.com, Brian Cronin examines the legend that Hall of Fame football coach George Allen got sick and died after being doused in gatorade by his team following a winning season.
Did a Gatorade shower kill George Allen?
After three straight losing seasons, Allen led the Long Beach 49ers to a season-ending victory over the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on November 17, 1990 that secured them a winning season.
Allen's team gave him a Gatorade shower (Allen noted that due to the budget issues, the team could not afford actual Gatorade, so it was just ice water). Six weeks later, Allen died. The story is most often told as "George Allen died from pneumonia that he caught from being doused with cold water and continuing to give interviews for a long time after the game."
There are a few problems with that story. First of all, as your middle school science teacher could tell you, being doused with cold water during a cold day does not cause pneumonia. Pneumonia is caused by a virus. It is an urban legend in and of itself that getting wet during a cold day causes pneumonia (or the common cold, for that matter). It does not. So Allen could not have caught pneumonia from the Gatorade shower. That's the first notable problem with that story. The second problem? George Allen did not die from pneumonia. Allen died from ventricular fibrillation, a variation of a cardiac arrest. Allen had a heart arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) and in late December 1990, Allen's heart began to quiver rather than contract properly. This led to his death. This was not caused by a Gatorade shower received more than a month earlier.
Allen himself fed the story a bit by giving an interview soon before his death where he noted that he had had not felt well since the Gatorade shower. Allen's son, former Virginia Senator and Governor George Allen Jr. told Sam Borden of the New York Times, "He got a cold from it, but that was not the cause of his death. He had a heart arrhythmia. It had nothing to do with the Gatorade shower."
It's always seemed to me to be splitting hairs a bit to insist that being cold doesn't cause you to get a cold. It's certainly true that colds are caused by a virus. But being cold can stress your immune system, making you more susceptible to the cold virus. So in that sense it's true that being cold can give you a cold.