I’ve been asking college football players and coaches what food they could eat against World Champion Joey Chestnut for years now. The answers vary – some say wings, other say pizza, one crafty young man recently said Maryland blue crab because he figured the shell would slow Chestnut down.
But in all my time throwing curveball questions at these guys, I never had a Captain Hook thrown back at me.
Until Charlotte head football coach Will Healy said something to me at Conference USA media day that stopped me in my tracks.
“I will tell you this – the sign bearer for Joey Chestnut in the Krystal eating contest back in 2008 is my beautiful wife,” admitted the fourth-year 49ers head coach.
It was the first time any college football player or coach had a personal connection to Chestnut. And it piqued my interest. So I tracked down Mrs. Emily Healy and asked her to tell me the whole story.
“I worked for an advertising agency for 10 years and we represented Krystal restaurants,” said the Chattanooga native. “There was an annual Krystal Square Off in Chattanooga and the girls at the agency were recruited to be card counters. I got Joey Chestnut and he ate 93 Krystal’s in eight minutes and then I had to kiss him on the cheek for pictures and almost puked.”
We joke about the sports world being small, but this is an incredible connection - both Will and Chestnut have been cheered on by Emily.
“We were dating during the competition,” admitted Emily. “Can’t you imagine how proud he was?”
Will was in fact incredibly proud, because Chestnut may have taken home the black belt but Will got the girl.
“It’s probably her claim to fame – I mean she went after Joey, couldn’t get Joey and came after me. So yeah I have a history with Joey.”
Will and Emily met in seventh grade, started dating in ninth grade and have been happily married for 10 years. One could argue that nobody knows the man better.
So what food would Will eat if he had to go head-to-head with Chestnut?
“Anything dipped in Outback ranch will give Will a fighting chance,” Emily said confidently. “Cheese pizza, steak or mac n cheese. He’s a very complex eater. He’s loved that ranch for 20 years and will dip anything in it. That or Krispy Crème donuts.”
Will did let the media in on his Outback ranch addiction, but Emily shared how truly deep it goes.
“You have to physically walk into the restaurant and buy the ranch dressing,” explained Emily. “For special occasions, his mom will have it on hand just for Will.”
Is Outback ranch the secret to Will’s success in football – he’s led Charlotte to its first bowl eligible season as well as its first win over a Power 5 opponent, all by the tender age of 37. Clearly, he knows something we don’t. Thankfully, Emily revealed one of his secrets.
“He’s been known to fill another ranch bottle (like a generic one that nobody would want) with outback ranch and people just pass it by,” Emily confided. “Meanwhile – it’s really filled with Outback and Will is so proud of himself nobody touches it.”
That kind of trickery should come in handy this season as the 49ers look to bring home the first bowl win in program history.
As for Emily’s foray into the world of competitive eating – it gave her a new found respect for people like Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi.
“All of the eaters were friendly but really had their game face on when the competition was about to start,” remembered Emily. “I was impressed that they looked to be in shape for as many calories as they take in in 10 minutes. I recall Koybayashi lifting his shirt a few times so people knew he was in shape and could see his abs.”
With Chestnut’s contracts all set to expire this year, maybe we will see a Kobayashi-Chestnut Krystal’s rematch with Emily reprising her role as card girl.
And Will in the stands cheering her on.
Charlotte opens their football season on August 27 at Florida Atlantic.