I'm flying high over Tupelo, Mississippi with the America's hottest competitive eaters, and we're all about to die. Actually no, I'm at Gallaghers Steak house for the first annual Stroehmann's Sandwich Slamm corned beef sandwich eating contest, it's 11:25 am on Monday morning, I'm hungover and there is open bar. You know exactly where this is going. After 25 seconds, I order a jack and coke, telling the bartender "it's 5 of clock somewhere" as he gives me a shifty look. I quickly feel like an idiot, not for ordering a drink but for giving the bartender an excuse. As if I give fuck what he thinks.
The place is barren. Just a few reps from Stroehmann (the sponsor), a scattering of competitive eaters, and me - the first member of the press. I learn from a rep, Jim Ostling, that Stroehmann was recently purchased by a conglomerate corporation named Bimbo. Jim hands me his old card and tells me to write bimbo on it and I tell him I'll remember it because I like bimbos. He doesn't get the joke. It wasn't a very good joke, so I don't mind.
There are ten eaters competing in the event. Most of the big names are here. Tim "Eater X" Janus, Crazy Legs Conti, Patrick Philbin, Hall "Hallelujah" Hunt, Pat Bertoletti are milling around, chatting with one another. All look hungry and focused, hoping to take home the $5000 purse. And of course, the no. 1 eater in the world and favorite to win, Joey Chestnut is there. Surprisingly, Takeru Kobayashi and Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas are missing. Rick the Manager introduces me to some young ladies from Spain that he had met the previous night. They speak very little English but I learn that they've been in the states for just two days. It's great to see that they're spending their time wisely and not visiting the fucking Empire State Building or some other such bullshit. They have no idea what they're in for. I've had three jack and cokes already and the competition shows no signs of being organized enough to begin.
Badlands Booker gives the Spanish chicks some culture. Probably right before he gave them some beef of his own.
Once the press shows up, Richard Shea - the godfather of the competitive eating circuit - waxes poetic on the sport, Stroehmann, grandpa Stroehmann, and life in general. He also talks about rap music and unapologetically tells the crowd that people know nothing about old school rap. This is the introduction for Eric Badlands Booker - conductor of the 7 line subway, today's judge, competitive eater and musician - to lay down some sick rhymes for the crowd. He's a true renaissance man.
I chat with Pat Bertoletti for a bit and he tells me the bread is going to be rough on his esophagus. He also asks me what I'm drinking and I say Jack Daniels. He gives me painful, yet respectful, look as if Jack is too much for him. This is the same guy who ingested a record 10.63 lbs of corned beef in 10 minutes exactly one year ago. Hey, to each his own, I guess. If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on Pat. Even Joey Chestnut tells me that the "mohawked guy" has a good chance of winning. He's right. Pat Bertoletti holds the corned beef sandwich and corned beef & cabbage eating records
There is a silly eating competition between members of Stroehmann's, prior to the main event. They are each given a few sandwiches and asked to eat them as quickly as possible in about 5 minutes. They are pathetic. I may be drunk, but I can demolish them in this competition. I'd also kill a few hundred people to win signed copies of Badlands Booker's rap albums - the purse in this event.
Once the pretenders finish up, Richard Shea asks everyone to leave the stage area so that he can introduce the contenders. Each eater files into their spot at the table while Richard Shea gives outrageous introductions. The press members aren 't sure what to do, as only a few laugh uncomfortably at Richard Shea's jokes. It should be noted that Richard Shea borderline gropes the attractive competitor Juliet Lee when introducing her. I don't blame him. I'd grope the fuck out of that Asian chick even with the knowledge of knowing that in a just a few minutes she'll be pounding corned beef sandwiches in her tiny gullet. I felt so strongly about this that I thought it important enough to note in my cell phone notepad that "I would fuck the corned beef out of Juliet Lee." As the eaters enter the press's field of vision, Richard Shea becomes more and more excited. He even says that he is getting "emotional". Me too, Richard. Me too.
I was so excited about Juliet Lee that I couldn't hold the camera steady enough to get a decent shot. Insert beef joke here. Hah, get it? Cause I'd like to insert my beef in her. Hot beef injection!
After each eater is introduced, they assemble their drinks - the esophageal lubricants - accordingly. Pat Bertoletti uses red Gatorade, but I like to think of it as blood. Crazy Legs Conti has an amber colored drink which I immediately and will forever assume is beer. Joe Chestnut uses water, I guess a testament to the purity of the sport. Sports writers like to philosophize about athletes doing mundane tasks as if they are earth shattering events. There is Michael Jordan lacing his shoes,, Wayne Gretzky taping his stick, David Berkowitz polishing his .44, and Tiger Woods handling a golf club. I get the same feeling watching Joey Chestnut meticulously arranging cups of water in front of him. He is also fierce about the setup in front of him, as merited by him telling Pat Bertoletti to "move his goddman stuff" out of Joey's way.
The event is set to begin in roughly 5 minutes and Pat Bertoletti, who remembers me from the Hot Dog eating contest, asks me to record the competition on his video camera. Yes, I'm bragging and no, I'm not a groupie. Nasty Nate, an eater not competing in the event, calls himself a groupie and calls me one too. I jokingly tell him to go fuck himself. Maybe he's right, though - unbeknownst to me at this time, a few hours from now I will be at yet another competitive eating after party.
This has been hanging over my bed for two years now. Yes, that's Pat Bertoletti's signature - the
sign was actually made by Bertoletti's family. We had our own "Bertoletti For President" sign created
from cardboard from an 18 pack of Budweiser, and they were so happy he had fans they exchanged
signs with us. Pat signed ours. They insisted we sign theirs. Pat says he still has it.
I'm not a groupie.
The contest begins with every press member frantically snapping photos of each contenders slamming sandwiches into their face. After about 6 minutes, some of them appear to be either bored or disgusted. The feverishly tired eaters are pushing themselves to the brink. They appear to be sweating, or crying, I can't tell. Pat Bertoletti, Eater X, "Humble Bob" Shoudt and Joey Chestnut are leading the pack as each has consumed over ten sandwiches. I'm trying to simultaneously drink my 5th jack and coke, record the event on Bertoletti's camera, and take pictures on my camera, but some fuckface keeps getting in my way. 2 or 3 more drinks and I might have the drunk courage to punch him in the fuckface's stupid fucking face.
Check out this fuckface's stupid fucking beard on his stupid fucking face.
The Sandwich Slamm ends with each eater having their faces absolutely stuffed, hoping that whatever they have will stay in their mouths and be counted as sandwiches eaten. Badlands Booker looks over his eaters plates and compiles the totals. After the totals are tallied, Richard Shea gives the order of eaters in ascending order. The tail end holds Beautiful Brian with 5 and a half sandwiches. That's a lot, but fails to register an applause from the crowd. The crowd is just waiting to hear how much Joey Chesnut ate. As the final few contenders are named, it's becoming clear that it's going to come down to Bob Shoudt, Joey Chestnut and Pat Bertoletti. Bob Shoudt threw down 13 for third place. Joey Chestnut - who ate 15 and a half, and was also the favorite - is upstaged by Pat Bertoletti who consumed an ongodly 16 and 3/4 sandwiches in 10 minutes. I should have bet on this, you know, if I was a degenerate gambler.
After it's over, Pat and Joey are interviewed by a few television and newspaper reporters. They ask the usual boring questions so I stick around for a few minutes and then go grab myself a beer or 3. A few reporters stick around to get some last quotes from Stroehmann reps and eaters while a choice few take advantage of the free food and booze. Patrick Philbin tells me he doesn't want to sign a bunch of t shirts after Richard Shea order all the eaters to do so. Philbin tells me "I feel like Ted Williams. You'll have to freeze me" to which I reply "I'll chop off your head". He laughs, but I'm dead serious. I talk with the proprietor of dsovideo.com for bit and we are asked by a new york post reporter if we are "real people". After telling him we are robots, he asks if we are disgusted with what we saw. I tell him that in no way am I disgusted with what I saw. It actually made me hungry. That could just be the booze though. The FREE booze. Open bar, dude.