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Hoffman's adventures: Judging Famous Fourth of July hot dog-eating contest sparks fireworks

Hoffman: Judging Famous July 4 hot dog-eating contest sparks fireworks

Houston, Nathans hot dog eating contest, July 2017
Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York takes place July 4.  Courtesy of Nathan's Famous/Facebook

Every year, I head to New York City for July 4. If I’m dragging someone who’s never been there, we'll take the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan, which does a loop-de-loop around the Statue of Liberty. It’s an amazing feeling to see the Statue up close.

Tip: If you take the Circle Line, board early and claim a seat on the left side. The boat travels counter-clockwise around the island, so if you sit on the left, you’ll always be closer to the shoreline.

Of course, for me the main attraction of July 4 in New York is Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island. This will be my 11th year judging America’s most distinguished sporting event. I don’t have much going for me journalistically, but I am the undisputed king of counting hot dogs. Last year, I completed the only three-peat in Coney Island hot dog history.

In 2015, I counted the franks inhaled by Matt “Megatoad” Stonie when he toppled 8-time defending champion Joey Chestnut. Many experts and crazy people consider this the greatest upset in sports history. 

After the final buzzer, CNN asked to interview me live on-air worldwide. The anchor, Jonathan Mann in London, asked me to explain how skinny Stonie could consume 66 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes. I did the interview still wearing my official Nathan’s striped judge jersey, with a small chunk of soggy bread and bit of hot dog on the collar. It wasn’t the first time I was hit in the line of duty. I was hoping to weasel some workman’s comp.

Last year, I was assigned Miki Sudo in the women’s division and redemption-minded Joey Chestnut in the men’s battle. Three winners in a row for me. Chestnut choked down 70 hot dogs and buns, setting a record on the 100th anniversary of the Coney Island clash.

ESPN will air the hot dog eating contest live at 11 am. Last year, more than nine million viewers tuned in. If you’re a complete lunatic and bet real money on the contest (yes, online gambling sites take action on this), be advised that Chestnut is the overwhelming favorite. You’d have to risk $500 to win $100. The over/under number of dogs for Chestnut is 70-1/2. If you bet the “field,” meaning anybody but Chestnut wins, you’ll get back $380 for every $100 you lay.

My pick: Take the under. The champ should win in a breeze, but I don’t see him going over 70. His legacy is secure, nothing left to prove.

Amazing fireworks 

Each year, after a post-hot dog Silkwood shower, I head to the banks of the East River for the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular. More than three million people will watch Macy’s shoot 60,000 fireworks shells from five barges in the river. It’s a breathtaking sight. You should do this at least once to 11 times in your life.

The Macy’s 'works will air live on Channel 2, starting at 7 pm. The headliner performers are Brad Paisley and Hailee Steinfeld.

I checked Macy’s website and found “Your Ultimate Fourth of July Anthem Playlist” to get excited about freedom ‘n’ fireworks.

Here’s the Top 10:

  1. “Party in the U.S.A.” – Miley Cyrus
  2. “God Bless the USA” – Lee Greenwood
  3. “Firework” – Katy Perry
  4. “Sweet Home Alabama” – Lynyrd Skynyrd
  5. “Small Town” – John Mellencamp
  6. “Born in the USA” – Bruce Springsteen
  7. “Philadelphia Freedom” – Elton John
  8. “Living in America” – James Brown
  9. “Made in the USA” – Demi Lovato
  10. “America the Beautiful” – Ray Charles

It’s an interesting list, and mostly good choices – but somebody at Macy’s needs to click on lyrics.com and see what Springsteen is saying in “Born in the USA.” It’s not exactly “Stars and Stripes Forever” or “God Bless America.” It’s the poignant story of a Vietnam Vet who comes home from war, can’t find a job and our government says thanks – but no thanks – we’re not helping you. 

“Born in the USA” is like “This Land is Your Land.” Protest folksinger Woody Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land” in 1940 as a sarcastic response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America" and somehow it's become a patriotic singalong.

Guthrie’s original lyrics had the verses:

“One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple, by the relief office I saw my people, as they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if this land was made for me.”


“There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me. The sign was painted ‘Private Property.’ But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing. This land was made for you and me.”

As mainstream singers covered it, the controversial lyrics vanished. But when Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen perform it, the original lines about hungry people and income inequality are intact.

I thought, if Macy’s has “Born in the USA” on its list of fun patriotic songs, it might as well put “This Land is Your Land” on there, too.

Wait, it’s No. 14.

Dallas vs. Houston: Round one billion

Tuesday at noon I'm going on "Houston Matters" on KUHF (88.7 FM) to represent Houston in a "city exchange" with a columnist from Dallas. First, they're going to interview the Dallas writer about developments up north on I-45 and then ask me "what, if any, lessons or insights might be gleaned for Houston?" I've been down this road before.

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