Stallard: Taking Mudbug Madness to a new level | Opinion

Editor’s note: Jack Stallard is taking a break this week. This column first published on July 12, 2020.

The caller wanted me to write something condemning Joey Chestnut and the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, held each Fourth of July.

“It’s nasty and wasteful, and it sets a bad example for our children,” he screamed.

The caller is not alone in his feelings about the event, which was won by Chestnut for the 13th time in his competitive eating career.

Longtime National Football League writer Peter King tweeted “The fact is, ESPN celebrates the birthday of our country by airing a gluttonous, vomitous and grotesque event. Eating is not a sport. Competitive eating is a sin.”

Full disclosure here. Back in 2008, I sinned. But, in my defense, I was not very good at it.

More on that later.

Chestnut, in case you missed it, crammed down a world-record 75 hot dogs to win the annual Independence Day event. Miki Sudo won the women’s competition with a record-setting 48.5 hot dogs. She’s now a seven-time champion.

The event was indeed televised, and you can probably find a replay somewhere. I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want to watch grown men and women jam food in their mouths at a remarkable pace while their eyes bulge, sweat and slobber flies and an explosion of epic and grotesque proportions seems likely at any moment

While I agree with the caller the contest is nasty and wasteful, I’m not really sure about the “bad example for children” part. If you have to tell your child NOT to eat 75 hot dogs in one sitting, there are probably other issues you need to confront first.

And, knock him if you want, but Chestnut made $10,000 for his Fourth of July victory. I’ve seen that he easily makes $500,000 a year thanks to a combination of his winnings and sponsorships.

My competitive eating career was much shorter and much less lucrative.

Back in 2008, my friend Charlie Chitwood — one of the best radio sports play-by-play men in the business — asked me to come to Jefferson and be part of a mudbug eating contest.

Charlie is a smart man. He knows Jefferson is one of my favorite towns in Texas, and — because he has spent much of his adult life hanging around sportswriters — he knew all he had to do to get my attention was mention food.

Here’s the problem.

I grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee, and what they call “mudbugs” here in Texas we called “crawdads.” We also called them “bait,” meaning I often put them on a hook in hopes of catching food, but had no idea folks actually considered them food.

Also, since I wasn’t aware of the edibility of mudbugs, I had no idea how to approach the things. Finally, I’m very competitive, so when the judges told us they would weigh the box of mudbugs before and after the contest and the winner would be determined by how much the box weighed when we were done, carnage ensued.

My competitive juices kicked in before my brain engaged, and when the whistle sounded to commence eating I popped a couple of mudbugs in my mouth — whole — and began to chew.

It’s hard to describe what happened next, but I do remember small children running away in fear, women fainting and a large group of burly, tattooed bikers climbing on their Harleys and calling it a day.

I also know the town of Jefferson, which used to host an annual Bigfoot convention and claims to be the home of a haunted hotel, decided I was too scary to invite back to the next mudbug eating contest.

Which was fine with me since I lost the contest, and my participation trophy was a bout of indigestion so mean it would make Joey Chestnut go on an all-liquid diet.


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