Everybody's Got a Hungry Heart (For the Hot Dog-Eating Contest)

Joey Chestnut
Kena Betancur/Getty Images

Fanless hot dog eating competition is a strong contender for one of those "write the saddest story possible with only five words" contests you see online. But only if you want it to be. They say every dark cloud has a silver lining and cracks only exist to let the light in. Life finds a way to forage on even in the most indomitable circumstances.

So Nathan's Famous and ESPN will join forces to broadcast the traditional Fourth of July event next week, enacting social-distancing measures and going forward with a slimmed-down field.

Richard Shea, a more perfect carnival barker than Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith combined, will be there. He won't be giving voice to overdramatic words at the corner of Stillwell and Surf per usual, but his spirit will remain unfettered and undeterred. He will equate shoving encased meat and soggy starch down one's gullet to the moon landing or the founding or America or someone swimming the English Channel for the first time. It'll be so overwrought it comes back around and understated.

Food enthusiast Mike Golic Jr. will provide play-by-play. Jason Fitz has drawn sideline reporting duties. They are in for the experience of a lifetime. We all are.

It will be glorious. Odd and dystopic and perhaps a bit melancholy, yet glorious nonetheless. There's just something about a hot dog eating contest that makes the outside world melt away for 10 minutes. Nothing really matters except Joey Chestnut's run at breaking his own record and the plucky upstarts trying to unseat him.

The phrase "tradition unlike any other" is overused yet in this case it is quite apropos. Try to compare the human experience of timed gluttony. You can't. There are no corollaries in sports or broader society.

So this year will be different. Hordes of freedom-loving dreamers won't get to stand on the Coney Island boardwalk with the sun on their shoulders and the Cyclone over their shoulder and feel alive. But we must squeeze that same feeling, that calorie-driven euphoria, out of the moment. The show must go on, carbs and cares be damned.

It's a minor setback for a major comeback. We're twinkling the black keys without eyes on the ivory and the next Fourth of July, when a happy song will ring out over the din of crowd star-struck by speed and stomach expansion.

Let us dig in with happy hearts and hunger for momentary normalcy. Together.