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Shell Shocked: ‘Jaws’ Chestnut’s 8-year reign ends

By Staff | Jul 15, 2015

Stop the presses. There’s breaking news out of Coney Island. A major sports upset has taken place. Matt Stonie beat the reigning hot dog eating champion Joey “Jaws” Chestnut at the Fourth of July annual hot dog eating contest in Coney Island, thwarting Chestnut’s bid for a ninth straight victory.

Stonie downed 62 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes, beating Chestnut by two. Stonie received a $10,000 prize and the coveted mustard yellow winner’s championship belt. During the process he consumed some 18,000 calories. Chestnut, the former champion still holds the world’s record of 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

Do any of you remember that old time TV show “What’s My Line” in which the panel tries to guess the occupation of a contestant? Most of the occupations presented to the panel were unusual and bizarre. But, no occupation is as bizarre as that of a professional hot dog eater. If I were to try to create off the beaten path contests I might include snoring, selfies, hair pulling and hide and go leak. But, to watch grown men jug-a-lug hot dogs? Leave it to Nathan’s Famous to come up with that idea.

Have you ever tried eating more than two hot dogs at a time let alone 62? Your stomach begins to rebel 10 percent of the way through and literally cries out in pain. “Don’t do this to me, please. Go back to yogurt and blueberries. No, not another hot dog. I’ll get even with you, I swear.”

But Chestnut, the proud now former champion has been a hero in his hometown of San Jose, California. Having won the contest eight years in a row, Chestnut has truly carved out a new sports dynasty. He can now be compared to the New York Yankees, the Boston Celtics and the UCLA college basketball team. He’s returned each year to his home town of San Jose, California a conquering hero. He is revered for his stamina, courage and fast jaws. Local hot dogs bear his name. His fast chops are the talk of the town.

So how did an upstart like Matt Stonie, who is only 23, have the gumption to take on a perennial champion? Was it the 15- minutes of fame? Was it the $10,000 prize? Stonie found his calling at an early age. While other kids played soccer, baseball and football, young Matt began eating eight or 10 hot dogs at a time.

His mom was puzzled that hot dogs had become his favorite food. He was hooked the moment he tasted his first hot dog and bun and sniffed the mustard. He rapidly became addicted. His mom was amazed that he couldn’t stop at two or three. When they went to local sports events young Matt would consume at least 10 or 12 hot dogs. His mom tried to persuade him that he should eat other foods as well, but Matt would shout and scream that he didn’t want other foods. He only wanted hot dogs one after the other.

As time passed, Matt began to realize he had a special talent. He could devour lots of hot dogs in almost one gulp. A friend of his mom read about the annual hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s Famous every July 4th. The moment Matt heard about this contest, he knew immediately that this was his life’s calling.

He read all about it and fancied himself winning this coveted prize one day. He read all about the instant fame that “Jaws” Chestnut had achieved during his record run. Chestnut became the darling of the media. He demonstrated his hot dog eating skills on all the TV talk shows and even started a children’s day camp that would teach young kids how to compete.

There was even talk about creating a reality show focusing on how Chestnut trained for the annual championship throughout the year. Nike became the official car for the Chestnut entourage and began producing athletic shoes in mustard yellow. Stephen Spielberg began to sketch out a movie idea based on the life of Chestnut. Endorsement offers of all kinds began to pour in, even one for a laxative that Chestnut was compelled to use following each year’s mammoth contest.

Young Matt read all about this and was determined to dethrone the champion. Matt trained hard and felt that he was ready. Last year he came in second to Chestnut, but old “Jaws” knew that he had a worthy competitor nipping at his heels. Both men eyed each other following the event and belched in each other’s face, the sport’s highest symbol of respect for an opponent.

Each man knew that the contest was going to be a close call this year. Both Matt and “Jaws” viewed this year’s contest as a seminal event in their lives. Reporters were prohibited at “Jaw’s” training camp, but there were rumors that he was able to devour 90 hot dogs without a sweat.

A lot was riding on the outcome. Could “Jaws” persevere for a ninth straight year? Could a young upstart who was still in high school when “Jaws” won the first of his eight consecutive mustard yellow championship belts have sufficient stomach range to pull off an upset?

The two opponents were ready. They were hot dog to hot dog throughout the contest. But, “Jaws” wavered slightly toward the end. A trickle of mustard on his nose upset his timing giving Matt enough time to gobble down two extra dogs. Jaw’s 60 hot dogs weren’t even close to his earlier record of 69. Maybe he is in the thrall of a mid-life hot dog crisis?

Now it’s Matt who gets to go on the “Today” show and tell Matt Lauer how winning this beloved sports classic has changed his life. And if you by chance bet on “Jaws” this year you may have lost a lot of mustard. It’s back to the bun for “Jaws” as young Matt celebrates his newfound fame. Long live the new champ.

-Art Stevens is a long-time columnist for The Islander. His tongue-in-cheek humor is always offered with a smile.