Joey Chestnut's Stomach Is an American Hero

It's funny, about 25 years ago, right in the middle of my teenage years, I remember being figuratively beat over the head with constant reminders of "world hunger." If it wasn't the Band Aid video from a bunch of Euro artists making us feel bad about celebrating Christmas while people on the other side of the world were starving ("Well, tonight thank God it's them instead of yooouuu!" Uh yeah, pretty much.), then it was a bunch of American artists singing "We Are The World" and making us wonder, "Wait, Dan Aykroyd sings?"

Our passionate desire to feed the world culminated in 1985 around this time of year -- July 13, 1985, to be exact -- with Live-Aid, a day-long charity concert held on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean (JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and Wembley Stadium in London). Around July 4 that year, all the talk was of making sure hungry nations would have food in their collective belly.

Today, July 4, 2011, for the (I've lost track)-th consecutive year, I spent my holiday in front of my television glued to the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest.

My, how we've evolved in 26 short years!

Let me just say, up front, I dig gluttony. The freakery disguised as pageantry of the professional eating circuit (Major League Eating, if you're into official names) is appealing to me on a very primal level.

Dudes stand at a table and gorge themselves full of hot dogs (or burritos or hot wings or tiramisu or whatever the edible item du jour may be) for ten minutes. Dude who eats the most wins. It doesn't get any more clear than that. Its lack of subjectivity appeals to our quantitative side. Most is best, least is worst.

I have a special appreciation for the rigors that these "performers" put their bodies through. (I hesitate to call them "athletes," if only because the "Tiger Woods circa 2000" of the circuit is Joey Chestnut, a physically unimpressive everyman who holds the championship belt for the Nathan's event in his hands like an eighth grader holds his algebra book.)

In 2007, I competed in the Kolache Factory's first ever world kolache-eating championship at Minute Maid Park against, among others, Joey Chestnut. At the time, I was several tens of pounds heavier than I am now, and I figured that I would at least throw down a dozen or so kolaches (sausage and cheese, in case you're wondering) in the allotted eight minutes.

Well, I was full after five kolaches and finished with seven in my stomach, good enough for dead last out of ten participants. (My "performance" is recorded forever on eating summary site eatfeats.com; my grandkids' grandkids will be so proud someday.) I was a physical wreck the rest of the night, and my bathroom was a wreck of its own kind the next morning.

Meanwhile, Joey Chestnut finished in first place by downing 56 kolaches, then proceeded to walk across the street afterwards to the B.U.S. and get hammered, and then crushed about a dozen or so Jack In The Box tacos on his way back to the hotel (true story). Put simply, it takes a special kind of digestive tract to handle competitive eating.

Chestnut is special.

Now, take the gastrointestinal fortitude of the eaters, the name power of Nathan's hot dogs, the glitz of New York City and sprinkle in some good ol' fashioned July 4th patriotism and you've got the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest. The event has become woven into the fabric of Independence Day every year, to the point where when we thank our troops for all they do and sometimes refer to their bravery allowing us to be gluttonous jackasses...well, Exhibit A of said jackassery is this event.

Add in the fact that, up until 2007, the event had been dominated for years by Japanese eating machine Takeru Kobayashi before Chestnut finally cemented American hero status by wresting the title from Kobayashi, and quite frankly the whole thing makes me start humming "God Bless America."

In the last few years, the event has basically turned into the Joey Chestnut Invitational. Yesterday was no different. Chestnut jumped out in front early and never looked back, taking down 62 wieners and cruising past Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti, who ate 53.

The event has now become so predictable that two things have happened:

1. If you choose to get some wagering action down on the event (Further reminder of how great our country is -- not only can you watch people competitively eat, you can bet on it!), the bet is basically Chestnut (as a heavy favorite, like -400) versus everyone else (at like +250). To give a "dominance gauge," know this -- at the height of his stranglehold on golf, Tiger was about even money (betting talk for "50-50 bet") against the field to win majors. Joey is four times that level of favorite in eating. Four times.

2. Kobayashi, because he refuses to sign an exclusive eating contract with Major League Eating, has become the best kind of "persona non grata" at this event -- a vocal one who constantly does annoying things that make people hate him even more.

Last year, he was arrested after rushing the stage...

...and this year, he apparently held his own one-man hot dog eating contest on top of a bar in Manhattan a few miles from Coney Island.

I guess he was trying to make a statement.

Supposedly, Kobayashi ate 69 hot dogs yesterday, which would be a new record and all, except for the small detail that he was just, you know, sitting on top of a building eating hot dogs by himself with no judges, no competitors and no cameras around. Minor detail, I know.

Saying that Kobayashi broke the hot dog eating record would be the equivalent of Tiger going out and shooting a 62 for 18 holes on the course he lives on in Florida the same day the Masters starts and saying that he leads the Masters.

I'm not sure what chicanery Kobayashi has planned for next year's contest. Perhaps he can dress up in drag and enter the women's contest and rip off his wig after winning and hit Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas over the head with the belt. All I know is, on the most patriotic of holidays, Kobayashi will not ruin my day.

Our country's pride is still intact. God bless Joey Chestnut's stomach. A true American hero.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game and Sporting News Radio (Sirius 94, XM 208) from noon to 3 p.m. CDT weekdays, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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