What would you consider to be the greatest feat in the history of sports?
Is it an athletic exploit? A moment in time? A longevity record that’ll never be broken? A stunning upset? What?
I have always put the U.S. Olympic hockey team’s defeat of the Soviets in 1980 on the Mt. Olympus of sports feats in my lifetime. There is no Mt. Rushmore. The “Miracle on Ice” comes first, and everything else is a distant second.
And why not? It had everything: a geopolitical drama draped in the American flag, with the good guys coming out on top — if not in the world arena at the time (remember, the Soviets had just invaded Afghanistan and were looking mighty smug), then certainly on the ice. Our college kids beat their quasi-professionals (some would say there was no “quasi” about it).
Does anything else even come close? Yes, of course. In the annals of world athletic events, there’s Roger Bannister’s sub 4-minute mile in 1954. At the time, that was huge. There’s Jim Ryun, the first high school runner to finish the mile in under four minutes.
I’ve always admired the track and swimming athletes. You have to include Michael Phelps in any conversation about astounding athletic feats, and if you neglect to mention Usain Bolt, who — in the course of three Olympiads, became generally known as the greatest sprinter of all time — then your list is not complete.
How about Serena Williams’ incredible one-woman dynasty in women’s tennis? Tiger Woods winning all four Grand Slam events within one calendar year? The UConn women’s basketball team’s 111-game winning streak? Or UCLA’s run of eight straight NCAA men’s basketball titles?
Do you want something a little bit more in tune with American professional sports? You can start with Cal Ripken Jr.’s 2,632 straight games, beating No. 2 Lou Gehrig pretty solidly (The Iron Horse had to stop at 2,130, but only because he began to have troubling symptoms of a disease that was considered so rare at the time that it was eventually named for him).
Where does the 2008 New York Giants’ Super Bowl upset over the heretofore undefeated New England Patriots come in? That was certainly astounding. As was the 1969 New York Jets win over the Baltimore Colts. Miracle Mets?
A personal favorite of mine, even though it didn’t involve a Boston team, was the 1970 New York Knicks, who beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games, with the injured Willis Reed limping onto the floor at the start of the game.
Reed only scored four points, but inspired his teammates, who managed to take it from there and beat L.A.
While the 2004 Red Sox broke the curse, the 2013 season was more astounding to me, because nobody saw it coming. Surely, the “Boston Strong” rallying cry had an awful lot to do with the team’s intense focus that season, but the Sox did it, and it’s in the books.
Well, folks, forget it. It turns out that none of these historic athletic exploits cut the mustard because yesterday, at Coney Island, Joey Chestnut woofed down 74 hot dogs to set a new world record.
Now, please, grammarians, I know “new world record” is redundant. I understand that all records, when they are set, are new. But this Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog-Eating Contest is such a magnet for bombastic hyperbole that it seems somehow right and fitting so say — as stentorian a way as possible while writing — that Joey Chestnut set a new world record.
This is big, people. Real big. The carny barker who got the crowd revved up for the big show said that this contest was the equivalent of God meeting Lucifer in an epic showdown. Is there any way possible to top that?
Another wonderful bit of purple prose was the line that professional eating led to the road to greatness (or something akin; it was probably worse, but I don’t remember the exact words because I was laughing too hard to write them down).
There was even fake news yesterday. The counters only tallied up 63 franks and buns to Joey Jaws’ credit. But there was some nonsense about a “missing plate” skewing the count, and next thing you know, Chestnut was up to 74 dogs when the broadcast came back from commercial. This rivaled Alex Trebek’s propensity for awarding money to contestants on Jeopardy after the judges consult on an answer that had been ruled incorrect.
I’m still not clear as to how and why this became sports, but ESPN broadcasts it so it must be. Then again, ESPN broadcasts the national spelling bee and cornhole tournaments too. But who am I to argue with the Worldwide Leader.
We live in tense times. We’re at each other’s throats over just about everything. Our No. 1 export is outrage.
Joey Chestnut and his glorious gang of gluttons at least afford us a little levity, even if it comes from such outrageous displays of excess.
Then again, nothing exceeds like excess. Right?