You were impressed by Tiger Woods playing 18 playoff holes on a broken leg to win the 2008 U.S. Open?
How about Muhammad Ali fighting 11 rounds with a broken jaw against Ken Norton in 1973?
Kirk Gibson limping around the bases on an injured leg after belting a game-winning homer in the 1988 World Series?
Or Cosmo Kramer taking over the wheel of a runaway bus, fighting off a mugger and continuing to make all the stops?
Sure there have been legendary displays of courage under pressure, but nothing will compare to the raw guts and intestinal magnificence that Joey “Jaws” Chestnut displayed Sunday, July 3 while winning his 15th title in the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island.
Chestnut entered the event at a disadvantage with his foot in a boot due to a ruptured tendon. Competitors were salivating at the chance to face a hobbled champion. Or perhaps it was the aroma of freshly grilled hot dogs that got their digestive juices flowing.
Then, as Chestnut was grabbing for his 11th HD&B (hot dog and bun), a protestor wearing a Darth Vader mask and carrying a sign reading “Expose Smithfield’s Deathstar” rushed the stage and bumped into Chestnut.
Smithfield is the biggest producer of pork products in America and has been accused of less than humane conditions on its pig farms in Utah. Chestnut reacted swiftly, grabbing the protestor in a rear naked choke that would make UFC champ Charles Oliveira envious.
The incident took only seconds, Chestnut barely broke his stride, and finished with 63 hot dogs in 10 minutes. His total was far below the record 76 franks he consumed last year, but still 20 dogs ahead of his nearest rival. It was Chestnut’s 15th title overall in Coney Island, a record that is unrivaled in major sports. Only Rafael Nadal’s 14 championships at the French Open tennis tournament is close.
Point of clarification and confusion. While the protestor referenced Smithfield’s pork production facility, Nathan’s hot dogs are 100-percent beef. Also, the Nathan’s skinless hot dogs you buy in supermarkets are not the same natural casing dogs you get at Nathan’s restaurant on the corner of Surf and Stillwell in Coney Island.
Nathan’s brand does produce natural casing dogs for supermarkets, but they’re expensive and difficult to find. I settle for Boar’s Head.
I’ve had several up close and personal experiences with the mighty Chestnut. I was his official “judge” and hot dog counter at five of his Coney Island victories. Plus I was his assistant at the 2009 World Kolache Eating Contest at Minute Maid Park. I carried his jug of Kool-Aid to the field and made sure his contractual needs were met. Chestnut won the kolache clash, downing 45 sausage kolaches in eight minutes. It was a tighter finish than expected as Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti threatened Chestnut right to the bitter end by inhaling 42 of the bready breakfast pastries.
The day before, I conducted an exhaustive 2-hour interview with Chestnut on radio. I didn’t hold back with my questions. Yes, I went there. His answer was … around 3 or 4 am and it ain’t pretty.
This year’s event wasn’t the first time there was civil disobedience at the Nathan’s Famous July 4 Hot Dog Contest.
In 2009, legendary Japanese competitor Takeru “The Tsunami” Kobyashi attempted to disrupt the event, considered the World Series of competitive eating, by challenging Chestnut to a showdown. Kobyashi had been barred from entering that year’s contest because he refused to sign an exclusive contract with the sponsoring Major League Eating group. With the crowd chanting “let him eat” Kobyashi went all Clubber Lang on Chestnut, yelling and screaming, questioning the champion’s courage and appetite for competition among other things.
Was it a publicity stunt? Did contest organizers know about Kobyashi’s plan? Nobody knows now and New York City police didn’t know then. They arrested Kobyashi for trespassing, resisting arrest and “obstructing government administration.” Police hauled his inexplicably skinny butt away kicking and flailing.
Before they could stuff Koby in the back of a paddy wagon, one of Kobyashi’s stray kicks struck my son who was watching in the VIP section. Prior to this, his favorite brush with celebrity was getting his hero Jeff Bagwell’s autograph at Minute Maid Park. Getting booted by Kobyashi was 10x cooler.
In 2017, animal rights protestors attempted to rush the stage. Thwarted by security, they threw red paint on spectators. I was on the stage during the disturbance. Later I learned that one of my entourage, wearing a souvenir Coney Island T-shirt, was splattered by the paint. He was not happy. I said, “Are you kidding? That shirt is a piece of history now. It belongs in the Smithsonian. Or in a Tide commercial.”