Tailgating a Tailgate: Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

By Brian Cullen

Guys, we’ve gotta talk.

We’ve vetted out tailgating from almost every conceivable angle here. We’ve talked about tailgating for movies, and for hockey. Hell, we’ve even talked about tailgating for video games! But we’re about to hit a whole new level of tailgating. We’re about to get recursive up in here.

We’re going to talk about tailgating a tailgate.

Yep. You heard me. We’re going to cipher out today whether or not you can drink beers, eat food, and enjoy the sunshine while watching other people do pretty much the same thing. And I think the answer is a conditional yes.

Now, I say conditional because, let’s be honest, if you’re grilling while watching people grill, that’s nothing specifically… Actually, that sounds pretty terrific. But really, the best tailgates happen in both preparation for — and anticipation of — an event. And there is no greater eating event on the planet than the Nathan’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Photo Credit: Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Without a doubt, this is the most American competition we have. Yes, more so than the Super Bowl. Just think — it’s held on the shores of the legendary Coney Island. It happens on the 4th of July. And it is a comparative, indiscriminate measure of who can eat the most things. Would you expect anything less from a nation that glorified a show called Man vs. Food? By the way, they’re still hungry in most third world nations.

Now, this write-up isn’t quite doing it justice. It’s not like the competitors are the equivalent of, like, the Padres and Royals in the World Series. No, the major players and their personalities are so intrinsically interwoven into their respective country’s national fabric that this may as well be the Rocky IV of eating.

On the one hand, you’ve got Takeru Kobayashi. He’s from Japan, was born with a stomach that’s set a little lower in his torso (so it doesn’t press against his organs, so he can fit more). He trains by eating vegetables and water (two totally un-American things). And last year, he lied and claimed that he ate a record-breaking 69 hot dogs (HAAAAAAAhahahahaha) in one sitting. All in all, a real bastard. An Ivan Drago of consumption.

Photo Credit: Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Michael Nagle/Getty Images

On the other hand, you’ve got Joey Chestnut, an American who unseated Kobayashi and routinely breaks or matches the world hotdog eating record. Of course, this fella is our Rocky.

Now, these two haven’t had the chance to go at it in a few years due to the usual expected red tape bureaucracy of the hot dog eating game, but when they did? It was charged, man. It was emotional and evoked national pride and instilled in everyone a sense of playful jingoism, like, “haha, I can’t get this riled up about two grown men cramming cooked pigeon tubes down their throats, right?” But you can, and people did, do and will.

Check out the Kobayashi vs. Chestnut Tale of the Tape.

In the past, this contest has pit a clear good guy versus a clear bad guy. It was pure, popcorn fun. And if you don’t think there’s a joy in cheering for nation vs. nation like this, then fine. I guess this video of Kobayashi vs. a Kodiak Bear isn’t for you. By the way, note the tasteful way that the Japanese flag hangs above Kobayashi while the good old Stars and Bars hangs above the bear, as if this massive bear somehow defends our national interests.

And by the way, those effing announcers…

Photo Credit: Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Michael Nagle/Getty Images

I bring all of this up because, as we’ve discussed, tailgating needs an event to build up to. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the more intense the event, the more impressive the tailgate. I’d bet the tailgating for the Rumble in the Jungle was noteworthy. I bet the tailgate for Super Bowl III was insane. And I bet this tailgate is, basically, out of this freaking world.

So. This event matters. And by the way, I’m not the kind of person who’s super-nostalgic for New York. And I don’t usually love hot dogs. But Nathan’s makes a damn fine dog, and Coney Island — for as weird and left-of-center as it is — is pretty sweet.

Now. How’s the tailgating?

Well, you really can’t do the normal “park your car and grill” business. But the good news is that the Boardwalk at Coney Island is fair game. And believe me, there’s plenty of carny folk that are more than willing to sell you all the beers, elephant ears, and corn dogs that you can eat. And that’s not to mention the novelty-sized daiquiris and margaritas. Just remember to bring cash. Most of these places won’t accept cards. Carny folk don’t take no credit cards.

Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images

So, here’s our proposed itinerary for the day:

Head down bright and early, and start hitting up every bar, restaurant and booze stand on the Boardwalk. (A heartbreaking aside, this would be a perfect time to try to catch a Brooklyn Cyclones game, so you could double your tailgating pleasure. But alas, they will be in Aberdeen that day. Probably not Scotland, but, science can’t be sure) From there, make your way to Nathan’s (in fact, if you can go early and score some grub for yourself — all the better).

Fight the crowds, throw some elbows, watch Joey Chestnut hopefully score another one for the good ol’ US of A, and then take to the rides. Oh, that’s right. Amidst all that drinking and eating, you might have forgotten that there’s a whole bunch of creaky, cool rides on Coney Island. Why not hop on the Wonder Wheel and see what all that swaying will do for your buzz?

And if that itinerary doesn’t work? That’s okay. Coney Island is on a beach. And in case you don’t remember, we’ve got a whole bunch of tips about beach tailgating too.

Happy Fourth of July, everybody!

Check out Brian’s Tailgating Top 10s.

Stop in at the Man Cave Daily, where the women are hot and the beer is cold.

Brian Cullen can’t make it to Coney for the 4th. But much like The Warriors, he’ll get back to his turf someday. Follow his nonsense and what-have-you on twitter @bucketcullen.


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