While most of us revel in the fireworks of the Fourth of July or the backyard barbeque, I for one take in a sporting event unlike any other. It is my favorite hour of television for the entire year. The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Championship.  2009 ushers in the 94th installment of this major eating event. The contest takes place every year where it all started at the company’s flagship store in Coney Island on July 4.  This year will be a fierce rematch of two-time champion Joey Chestnut against six-time champion Takeru Kobayashi.

According to legend, on July 4, 1916, four immigrants had a hot dog eating contest at the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog stand on Coney Island to settle an argument about who was the most patriotic. After ten minutes, Neer Sehgal had eaten thirteen hot dogs and was crowned the victor. The contest has been held nearly every year since, in conjunction with the fourth of July at the site.

To add to the dramatic theatre of the event, there is a weigh-in with the Mayor of New York City prior to the contest. On the day of the contest, the contestants arrive in the “bus of champions” and are announced to the eating stage much like Heavyweight boxing champions are announced in a Rocky Movie. Competitors arrive with props and the list of “eating accolades” which include world record holders in such culinary delights as hot wings, crab cakes, pickled pig’s feet and my personal favorite … mayonnaise.

It will be very hard to duplicate last years event, where Chestnut and Kobayashi wolfed it out bite for bite against one another. Kobayashi narrowly escaped a “reversal of fortune” at the buzzer, ( eating terminology for losing your lunch). After the end of the 10 minute regulation, both were tied at an amazing 59 hot dogs a piece. Next what ensued is one of the most exciting fifty seconds in the history of organized sport. This is way better than Elway’s’ drive against the Browns, MJ’s shot at the buzzer to beat the Utah Jazz, more climatic than Tiger Woods dropping in a long put to send the US Open Last year into a sudden death playoff. Heck I will even say it was better than the 1980 “Miracle on Ice”

I am talking about the monumental yet slightly constipating five hot dog overtime.  Chestnut won, but Kobayashi immediately vowed to return to reclaim the Coveted Mustard Yellow Belt which ranks up there with the WWE title belt in terms of prestige.

“Each July Fourth I am thrilled as an enormous crowd gathers in front of the original Nathan’s Famous,” said Wayne Norbitz, President and COO of Nathan’s Famous, Inc.  “We value our association with this great American holiday and I appreciate the fans, who come from around the world to witness the spectacle first hand while millions more watch on ESPN.”

Last year, Coney Island authorities stated that 40,000 fans crowded the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Coney Island to witness Joey Chestnut’s rematch with Takeru Kobayashi.  Amazingly, more than one million households tuned in to the contest’s live telecast on ESPN.

To add to the spectacle this year The 2009 contest will be preceded on July 3 by a hot dog bun eating contest, in which three professional eaters will take on three semi-professional eaters..elephants from Ringling Brothers Circus.

Vegas has the Pachyderms as the early morning line favorite.

I for one know exactly where I will be at high noon come this Saturday. Smack dab in the middle of my couch watching the battle for the bejeweled mustard belt…likely while enjoying a wonderful Johnsonville bratwurst and a beer.

Have a Happy and safe fourth of July!

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Johnny Goodman writes a weekly sports column for The Soap Boxers. His articles can be found in The Goodman File.

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