|Stocking the Fridge|
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist
Picture Pete Rose anteing into the World Series of Poker. Envision Anna Kournikova as "The Bachelorette." Imagine Larry Eustachy hosting MTV's Spring Break. Set your imagination on wild, but you still won't come close to this:
That's right, the most famous overeater in sports history, the man so large he is nicknamed for a household appliance, the former lineman bigger than the Oscar Mayer Wiener-Mobile, is joining the most famous eating contest in America. The Fridge qualified for the event by eating a dozen hot dogs in as many minutes and will take on the world the Fourth of July.
Trust me, you don't want to be anywhere near training camp during two-a-days.
"I'm going to eat hot dogs,'' the Fridge said of his training plan. "I'm just going to eat.''
Perry is 41 years old and eight years have passed since he last played in the NFL, but the Fridge has more than maintained his, er, playing shape. He tips the scales at 400 pounds.
"This shows people can play this sport into their later years," said Rich Shea, president of the International Federation of Competitive Eating. "Even if you have a bad knee, as long as you have your hand-to-mouth coordination, you're in good shape."
Media attention for the hot dog contest has grown significantly in recent years and Perry's participation virtually guarantees the crowds at the event will be choked as thick as the Fridge's arteries. ESPN may be forced to begin another channel just to handle the highlight tape demands. Which is just what the IFCE wants. "We've always maintained competitive eating is a sport, but there is still a parochial view out there," Shea said. "I hope this will convince people this is a sport."
I can't wait for the bobblehead dolls.
The Fridge is three times heavier than defending champ, 130-pound Takeru Kobayashi, but size means little in competitive eating, and no one compares to Kobayashi. His training and techniques helped him eat a world record 50 hot dogs last year, four times Perry's paltry total.
Kobayashi is such a force that his only hot dog-eating loss was to a grizzly bear on the Fox presentation, "Man versus Beast."
"No human can beat him," Shea said, acknowledging that any comparison between Perry and Kobayashi is a mismatch. "The Fridge has such fame and recognition that, when he qualifies, everyone instantly compares him to Kobayashi. Well, when Michael Jordan started playing baseball, people didn't expect him to be Sammy Sosa.''
Of course, back in 1993, people didn't expect Sammy Sosa to be Sammy Sosa, either. But you get Shea's point. "A lot of people don't think eating 12 hot dogs is that big a deal, but I'm impressed by anything north of 10 by a first-timer," he said. "That's nothing to sniff at. As Fridge goes on, he can clearly improve his numbers."
Like all good football players, Perry has prepared for the eat-off by reviewing film. He watched Kobayashi's 50 hot dog performance at last year's contest and succinctly summed up his opponent this way: "He can eat a whole lot of hot dogs."
But you never know. As Shea said, in his best promotional spin, "Not everyone is going to shine everyday. Kobayashi has shined the past two years, but look at Tiger lately. He's fallible. Michael Jordan had his losses. Everyone loses. All Kobayashi has to do is have a bad day and someone can beat them. It's just one day. And you're looking at 12 minutes of eating, so things can happen."
And Perry isn't worrying.
"I'm going to go out there and do my best," the Fridge said. "I'm going to eat 10 or 12. If I can eat more, I will, and if I can't, I won't."
What a thing. The Fridge competing in a hot dog eating contest at Coney Island on the Fourth of July. The only way this could be any better is if Mo Vaughn was competing as well.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.