Commentary

Scenes from the Beef Bowl

Ohio State players get their fill at the annual gorge-fest.

Updated: December 31, 2009, 9:41 PM ET
By Arash Markazi | ESPN Los Angeles

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel seems like a nice guy but I'm glad he's not my coach. If he were, there's no way I would be here, walking into Lawry's The Prime Rib with the Ohio State football team wearing jeans for the annual Beef Bowl before the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeJustin Boren
Jamie Sabau / Getty ImagesThis was the second Beef Bowl for Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren, who transferred from Michigan and was with the Wolverines when they played in the 2006 Rose Bowl against USC.

Since I'm not officially part of the team, I must have missed the memo that stated that players and coaches were forbidden from wearing anything but slacks to the upscale restaurant. Terrelle Pryor must have missed (or ignored) that memo, too, because he's not with the team after trying to get on the team bus wearing jeans similar to mine.

This is not only unfortunate for Pryor, who will be missing out on putting a dent into the 700 pounds of prime rib that has been prepared for the team, but also for me, as I was supposed to be sitting next to Pryor tonight.

I've never had to replace a star quarterback for anything, and luckily for Ohio State fans I won't be anywhere close to the field if something happens to Pryor on New Year's Day, but when it comes to eating prime rib and sitting next to the Rose Queen, I think I can hold my own.

So with Pryor out, I was left to take a seat at one of the head tables next to Rose Queen Natalie Innocenzi and six Buckeyes: offensive linemen Justin Boren, Andy Miller and Jim Cordle, defensive tackle Todd Denlinger, running back Brandon Saine and kicker Aaron Pettrey.

While Ohio State won the 2002 national championship (at the '03 Fiesta Bowl) and appeared in back-to-back BCS title games in '07 and '08, the Buckeyes haven't been to the Rose Bowl (or the Beef Bowl) in 13 years. But this is the second go-round for Boren, who transferred to Ohio State from Michigan and was with the Wolverines when they played in the 2006 Rose Bowl against USC. His father, Mike, was a linebacker for Michigan from 1980 to 1983 and played in two Rose Bowls.

"I know this isn't a competition, but last time USC ate more than us at this thing and they won the game," says Boren. "I don't remember how much I ate last time, but I have to eat more this time."

The truth is no one really knows which team eats more in the Beef Bowl anymore. The pre-Rose Bowl gorgefest has been around for 54 years, longer than all but five actual bowl games, but organizers haven't kept official tabs on the exact amount devoured by each team since the 1970s when they stopped advertising it as an eating contest. Richard R. Frank, president and chief executive officer of Lawry's Restaurants Inc., now admits that when someone asks for an exact number eaten by both teams, "someone will pull a number out of the air."

That's not stopping most of the linemen at the table, who are looking to eat as much as they can and possibly impress the Rose Queen in the process.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Saine
Jamie Sabau / Getty ImagesOhio State tailback Brandon Saine runs against the Iowa Hawkeyes earlier this season, and ran into a heaping plate of food at the Lawry's Beef Bowl with his teammates.

"So, how many of these things do you have to go to," asks Miller as he cuts into his first serving.

"Well, I'll be going to four Beef Bowls and they have me doing about 160 appearances in the year," she says.

"Wow," says Miller, looking down at his plate of prime rib, creamed corn, mashed potatoes and gravy. "I hate to say this, but you're going to be fat by the end of the year."

The queen laughs but wouldn't eat another bite of her food. Those linemen have a way of sweet-talking the ladies.

Moments later, Boren reaches to the center of the table to grab a drink and asks what the golden soft drink in the center is.

"That's ginger ale," says Miller.

"What's ginger ale?" asks Boren.

The entire table stops what they're doing and looks at Boren as if he's joking. He's not.

"You don't know what ginger ale is? You've never heard of ginger ale?" asks Miller. "Where you been, man?"

The only thing more surprising than Boren's never hearing of ginger ale was watching the 6-foot-3, 315-pound lineman struggle after two plates of prime rib and tap out. After predicting he would take down seven plates, Boren began sweating and wiping his brow after one.

"Dude, are you OK?" Miller asks Boren, who looks like Joey Chestnut at the end of the Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest.

"I feel like I'm at the bar and its 2:30 in the morning and I'm regretting having too much," says Boren, who ate 52 chicken wings in one sitting back in Columbus before flying to Pasadena.

After checking on Boren, Miller shifts his attention to the Rose Queen, who is constantly being attended to by an older man in a suit. Miller inquires about the man.

"Oh, he's one of the escorts," says the queen. "We can't do anything on our own. Even if I wanted to do go to the bathroom, someone has to come with me."

Soon after, another older gentleman checks in on her.

"Another escort?" asks Miller.

"No, that was just some guy," she says.

As dinner wraps up and Ohio State players begin filing out of Lawry's, Cordle turns to me and asks if TMZ will be outside waiting for the team like they were when USC came to the Beef Bowl last year.

"I hope they are," he says. "That would be so much fun. What should I say?"

"As long as you know who Joe Biden is and don't say he's the vice president of Lawry's," I tell him, "you'll be just fine."

Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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