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Harriet Beacher Stowe died on July 1, 1896 at the age of 85.

July 1, 2017

I have covered six Super Bowls, four World Series, four Final Fours, three CFP National Championship games, two political conventions, two Presidential debates and the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. But if you were to really break it down, the most fun event I’ve ever covered was the Hot Dog Eating Championships in Coney Island, Brooklyn.

I only covered it once, for Deadspin when I was still running everything there, 10 years ago this Tuesday. (Good Lord, 10 years.) Here is the full piece. A brief excerpt, which featured the following writing and the following picture:

Harold never listened when his friends told him that moving to New York City without a job was a mistake, that he was following his heart more than his head. But he knew the Big Apple was where he belonged. He’d show them; if he could make it there, he could make it anywhere. The city was just teeming with opportunity, wherever he looked, and if he kept his nose clean and his head down, worked his ass off and connected with the right people, the perfect job would just fall in his lap. Take that, Oak Lawn High School, Class of 1988. Who’s laughing now?

I do legitimately miss when willful absurdism and casual surrealism weren’t just welcome on blog posts, but sort of expected, even demanded. The world has become much more self-serious.

Anyway, a decade later, I still love the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, which is coming up, as always, at noon ET on July 4. You will always hear criticisms of the contest, that it’s indulgent, gluttonous, disgusting and, my favorite, Why They Hate Us. (This might have been true a half decade ago, but They have much better reasons now.) But, of course, that it is indulgent, gluttonous and disgusting is one of the contest’s best qualities. It’s what it’s about.

It’s not just about the eating of hot dogs, though, of course it is that. I will forward you to this fantastic 12-years-old story from Larry Getlen for The Black Table that explains how competitive eating has become a full-fledged sport almost in spite of itself. (Basically: Kobayashi was Babe Ruth.) Like with all sports, or pseudo-sports, the more you understand the context, the more you will enjoy the event.

But don’t worry: Context is not required. The fun of the Hot Dog Eating Contest — which is much better in person than it is on television, and that’s not solely because there are no closeups — is that it’s pure silly hucksterism, old-school showmanship that’s so inherently American it’s as patriotic on July 4 as fireworks. The contest is hosted by George Shea, who has basically modeled his whole schtick as a mix of P.T. Barnum and Vince McMahon, without the sexism and racism. It’s pure vaudeville, a lost American art form that’s still in our nation’s bones. He even dresses the part.

There was a wonderful New Yorker story about Shea last year, specifically his hilarious intros to each competitor. My favorite graph:

A great introduction must “ride the razor’s edge between joking and not joking,” he said. Over the years, he has developed a formula: start dramatically (“They say that competitive eating is the battleground upon which God and Lucifer wage war for men’s souls”); then, turn down the energy, and become ironic (“Ladies, a lot of you are feeling woozy right now. That’s not the heat. That’s my sexual chemistry. It’s very powerful. It’s like a Wi-Fi signal. I’m like a personal hotspot”); shift into the individual introductions, and mix up the styles—epic, plainspoken, jocular; and finally crank up the energy again to get the competition started.

I think I’m going to start calling myself a “Personal Hotspot.”

Anyway, the Hot Dog Eating Contest has always seemed specifically designed for July 4, a glorious cavalcade of Americana, with massive overconsumption, blatant unapologetic commercialism, incessant silliness, shirtless people at a beach and everyone flashing their own hashtags. It’s ridiculous and over-the-top and a fabulous good time. And then when it’s over you do your absolute best not to throw up.

Read the old piece, watch the (truncated, edited-for-TV) show on Tuesday and, most important, get out to Coney Island and see it yourself someday. I’m will get out there again at my earliest opportunity. It sure as hell beats spending three weeks in Sochi.

Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)

1. What Serena Williams Has Done Speaks For Itself, Sports On Earth. In defense of both Serena Williams and John McEnroe.

2. Jackson’s Knicks Damage Could Have Been Worse, Sports On Earth. I’m currently on a self-imposed no-writing-about-the-Cardinals ban, so indulging on my Knicks (and some actual good news!) will have to suffice.

3. Review: “Baby Driver,” Paste Magazine. I don’t like it as much as everybody else does, but it’s still good and you should go see it.

4. Dreams Redeemed, Sports Illustrated. This is a print-only essay about teams returning to their respective title games a year after they lost there. It’s the issue with Vince Young on the cover. I’m pretty sure I’m the only byline in this week’s issue blocked on Twitter by Richard Deitsch.

5. Will Ferrell Movies, Ranked, Vulture. We had to add in a few movies to update this, including the truly terrible The House.

6. Each MLB Team’s Unlikeliest All-Star This Century, Sports On Earth. Bryan LaHair, baby.

7. The Only MLB All-Star Ballot You Need, Sports On Earth. I do not want to see a single Cardinal. Look what it did to Aledmys Diaz!

8. The Best Home Run Derby Candidate on Every Team, Sports On Earth. Yep, the Braves’ is Matt Adams.

9. Dive Into Five, Sports On Earth. So much soccer, friends. So much soccer.

As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the three podcasts I do. You don’t even have to listen to them! Just download them. Here they are:

Grierson & Leitch, long, incredibly fun show looking at six movies: Baby Driver, The Big Sick, The Beguiled, Nobody Speak, Transformers: The Last Knight and Inside Moves. That Nobody Speak discussion gets a little emotional

The Will Leitch Experience, no show this week.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Enjoy your July 4. Eat as many hot dogs in three minutes as you can. And don’t be afraid to climb up that fence a little bit so you can see better.


Best,
Will