Odd Ball: Weird NYC Sports
by Jonathan Zeller, 01/02/2013
Courtesy, Major League Eating
Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island
What is it? It's a credit to Major League Eating (MLE) and the power of ESPN coverage that most casual sports fans probably know exactly what the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest is. That doesn't make it any less bizarre that a group of grown men (and some women) get together every Fourth of July to gorge themselves on as many franks as possible—arguably more than a healthy person should eat in a lifetime—in a 10-minute span, employing funky techniques (dunking buns in water, cracking hot dogs in half) that remove all the joy from the act of eating. Tens of thousands of fans attend, while more than a million watch at home. The sport has its icons—perennial champ Joey Chestnut and powerhouse Takeru Kobayashi, who now competes in non-MLE events because of what he sees as onerous contract requirements by the sport's most powerful body. It may seem silly on one hand for any eater to try to become the Curt Flood of his discipline, but it's hard to argue that these guys aren't putting their bodies on the line.
Why should you go? Pat Bertoletti, currently the world's second-ranked eater, has a pretty novel pitch to fans: "Last year, if they were there, they would have seen me eating in a thong-back American flag Speedo." For some reason ESPN saw fit to scrub this outfit from its broadcast. Says "Deep Dish," as some have dubbed the dynamo, "At the end, like, 20,000 people—I don't know how many people—but there was a chant for me to put pants on, which made me very proud." There's a tremendous element of drama for Pat at this particular competition. Though he holds world records in the consumption of Slurpees, blueberry pie, pickles, pancakes, waffles, cannoli and plenty of other foods, a hot-dog championship still eludes him. "At this point, I just go in and try to do my best, but there's something about hot dogs I just can't…," he says, searching for the words to convey his inadequacy. "To be honest, I just can't do the hot dogs. I'm not as good with them as other foods." This from a man who's eaten as many as 55 in 10 minutes.