Coastal Carolina head coach Jamey Chadwell surveyed the rag-tag group of coaches, one lone photographer and an eager journalist in his office Friday evening before the Texas State game, his eyes finally settling on the outlier – World Champion Competitive Eater Joey Chestnut. After a few minutes of slightly awestruck small talk, the Chanticleers’ head coach suddenly turned toward the cabinet behind his desk, reaching for something.
Everyone in the office waited, expecting a story or hoping for a parable but what Chadwell turned back around with was a gesture – his cameo-colored Military Appreciation game day hat with the American-themed Chanticleer emblem, which he handed over to Chestnut.
“It was a special moment for me because he is such an American icon and very approachable,” explained Chadwell. “He is synonymous with July 4th. Our hat had our logo in the colors of the American flag on it and he represents what’s good about America.”
As Chestnut turned the hat over in his hands and noticed the “J.C.” written in sharpie inside, he realized it was meant to be.
“I was shocked at first, that a head coach would give me his own hat but that initial shock gave way to honor and I knew I would remember that moment for a long time,” remarked Chestnut.
The unexpected meet-and-greet with Chadwell was part of a pre-game collaborative meeting between Co-Offensive Coordinator Willy Korn, Coordinator or Player Personnel Colton Korn and Chestnut and his team, photographer Kim Montuoro and myself. The plan was for Chestnut to participate in one of the Chanticleer’s infamous locker room victory celebrations, with a competitive eating theme naturally.
“We came up with the celebration after my brother Colton was on the Sideline Sass podcast,” explained Willy Korn. “We are forever grateful to Joey, Emily and Kim for making the trip and being a part of Coastal Carolina football!”
And be a part of it we were.
Friday afternoon included a tour of the campus and athletic facilities from the outstanding members of the Chanticleer Athletic Foundation led by Vincent Accardi, Major Gifts Officer. We watched the end of practice, took a tour of the football facilities, had dinner in downtown Conway at the Crafty Rooster and then finally imbibed a couple of cocktails at the infamous Tongy’s Shmackhouse, where Chestnut made more than a few friends.
Then it was time to finally step on the “Surf Turf” Saturday morning. We had a Thanksgiving feast in the Alumni Club, met Maddox the live rooster mascot and watched possibly the greatest field entrance in college football history as the Chants ran through a tunnel of veterans on motorcycles to kick off the game.
The game itself was relatively straightforward. Texas State tried to keep it close, tying it up at 14 as time expired at the half. But Coastal Carolina had no intention of losing its last home game on Senior Day in front of Joey Chestnut. As the final seconds of the game ticked off the clock, we prepared to join the team in celebrating their 35-21 victory Chanticleer style.
We waited just outside the locker room as Chadwell introduced Colton Korn, the competition’s MC, who was appropriately dressed like George Shea. Chestnut walked in with his 2020 Nathan’s Hotdog Eating Contest Championship belt as the sounds of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” echoed throughout the crowded space. The surprised and ecstatic looks on the Coastal player’s faces were priceless, as was the slight tinge of fear in the eyes of the three eaters set to face off against the champ – Punter Charles Ouverson, Offensive Lineman Trey Carter and Linebacker Silas Kelly.
“It was surreal because our players were in disbelief that he was here and then he did the competition and took pictures with everyone,” said Chadwell.
Chestnut won the competition handily, finishing all but one slice of the large pizza in the two minutes allotted. Kelly came in second, impressing Chestnut with the amount he ate.
“It was surreal eating next to the winningest champion in the history of sports,” admitted Kelly. “I came into the contest believing I would win, but he’s too skilled in that realm. I was out of my league by a bit.”
Other contestants struggled to keep their eyes on their own plate.
“Not many people can say that they have competed against Joey Chestnut in an eating competition,” remarked Ouverson. “Part of me wanted to watch him and the other part wanted to beat him. That locker room celebration was definitely one of the best ones that we have ever had.”
Chadwell was so moved by the impromptu “USA” and “Joey” chants that broke out during the competition that he spontaneously asked Chestnut to lead the team in the Victory Song.
“That’s an honor that we give to a player to do after our wins,” clarified Chadwell. “It’s not something our team takes lightly, but to have him lead us in the victory song was epic and one that might never be topped.”
The video of the eating competition went viral within hours, once again spotlighting the Chanticleers' ability to have more fun than anybody else but also highlighting the magical union of food and football we have been striving to showcase all year with various college football campus visits.
“The thing about Coastal Carolina that is different from a school like Notre Dame – the Chanticleers are more like a family BBQ while the Irish are reminiscent of formal family dinner,” explained Chestnut. “Both are great gatherings of food, fun and football but in Conway, it’s ok to spill some BBQ sauce on your shirt.”
Because no matter what, nobody has more fun than the Chanticleers.
“I believe the Chants have so much fun because we truly do treat this team like a family,” disclosed Ouverson. “We win and lose together and just enjoy our time with each other. Football is a serious sport, but you have to be able to cherish the moments and have fun with it.”
Celebrating a victory with a World Champion is a pretty decent way to enjoy the moment.
“The celebration could not have gone more perfect,” said Korn. “Our players enjoyed a moment that I believe they will remember for the rest of their lives. I mean come on, Silas Kelly went head-to-head with an American hero and the greatest competitive eater of all time. He will be able to show his kids the footage one day. Joey Chestnut is obviously admired all across the country and the globe… But I think he is especially beloved in Conway and we hope Joey will always carry the Chanticleers with him in his heart.”
Coach Chadwell’s hat may or may not make it to Coney Island next year, but the Chanticleer spirit certainly will.