Monday, November 29, 2010; D02
Over the holiday weekend, as America again gorged on its excesses as no nation ever has - actually, Caligula used to throw a New Year's Day spread that could feed all of the Roman Empire, plus two pirate ships off the Iberian Coast - I discovered that my misguided alma mater, the University of Maryland, again had set a new standard of non-academic excellence.
Maryland has the nation's first collegiate competitive eating team.
But back to that in a moment. Let's first trace Maryland's low road to lower dining.
Maryland, like countless other large state universities, has chased athletic glory evermore. For many in the College Park community, it's a priority that has paid off: In the last decade, Maryland has won national championships in men's basketball, men's soccer, women's basketball, women's lacrosse and women's field hockey.
Since my own days at Maryland - I am Class of '81, just before the iconic Norman Esiason years - I have decried this sports sensibility. And while I am told the school's educational experience has vastly improved since then, I have no doubt that the athletic tail still wags the academic dog.
Back then, I argued for intramurals instead of intercollegiate athletics; this was akin to defending communism over capitalism.
I proposed then - as I still do - disbanding the football program.
I proposed then - as I still do - disbanding the men's basketball program.
Alas, I have not been asked back to campus in any official, or unofficial, capacity since graduating 29 years ago.
(Can't someone just please invite me to the Student Union for a cup of coffee? Because, before I shuffle off this mortal coil, I want to get one more parking ticket on campus.)
(What disappoints me most about College Park is this: Every time I've written about the ills of Division I athletics - and pointed to my alma mater as an example - I get dozens of e-mails, pro and con, but I've never heard from a single Maryland administrator, educator or student saying, "You go, Terp!" They all just sit on their hands and hope Gary Williams doesn't get outcoached again.)
As Maryland's athletic success has grown, so has its senseless strain of boorish behavior. The university has become a depository for cultural stupidity. One regrettable longtime tradition - the "Na Na Na Na Hey Hey Hey Goodbye" chant when an opposing player fouls out or the visiting team is about to lose - has been joined more recently by the tactless, vulgar "Hey, You Suck!" cheer just before men's basketball games.
The burning-couch celebration - which, naturally, personally offends me - became a frequent staple after big victories. Then there was the infamous 2002 rioting accompanying the men's basketball team's national title - highlighted by bonfires, looting and drunken brawls - followed by this year's mini-riot reprise on Route 1 after the Terps upset Duke.
This is the backdrop - the misplaced priorities, obsessing on athletics - that has led to the over-the-top excess of competitive eating.
(Competitive eating got its biggest boost when the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest and ESPN found each other, and even a bigger boost when Joey Chestnut, who attended San Jose State - sometimes called the "Maryland of the West" - started breaking world records.)
When Americans wonder why they often are despised, look no further than competitive eating. People around the world are starving, but we flaunt our overabundance by turning it into sport. Look, folks, we have so much food, we'll race to see who can eat the most the fastest - and we'll put it on TV!
We have a nationwide obesity problem and yet we sponsor gluttony. We're the only nation on Earth that encourages and rewards one of the seven deadly sins - well, apart from France and lust, but that's different.
It's bad enough the Cheesecake Factory will serve a piece of meatloaf the size of a car battery, now there are institutions of higher learning prepping the next generation of buffet busters. We might be getting our butts kicked in math, science and engineering, but in College Park at least, we're still No. 1 in competitive eating!
I knew I should've gone to DeVry.
Ask the Slouch
Q. I'm a big USC fan, but I know in my heart the best thing for the Trojans is to lose a lot and rid themselves of Lane Kiffin so they can hire a high-quality, reputable coach. Is this something your mothers-in-law can relate to? (Glenn Hagmann; Manassas)
A. To answer your question, two of my ex-mothers-in-law started the firenormanchad.com Web site.
Q. As an amateur shrink, I might surmise that you hate ex-jocks on TV because you were never a jock yourself. (Don Cunningham; Spokane, Wash.)
A. No sale, sir. Most ex-jocks prattle on without purpose. Or, if I may quote Fox's Daryl Johnston on the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, "I'll tell you what - he is something else."
Q. If the NFL adopts an 18-game schedule, will it include day/night doubleheaders? (George Sanford; Greensburg, Pa.)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
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