ROGERSVILLE — In 1999, Tennessee Titans receiver Kevin Dyson was denied immortality when he was stopped 1 yard short of the goal line as the clock expired in Super Bowl XXXIV, a feeling that Joe Blake of Kingsport can now relate to.
On Saturday afternoon, Blake fell one bite of beef and half a slice of bun short of winning the Super Bowl of Rogersville eating contests, the Carnival Cafe 4.5-pound cheeseburger challenge.
Blake was the 10th challenger to try downing the eatery’s Cafe's $40, 4.5-pound octuple cheeseburger within 45 minutes.
That’s eight 9-ounce patties, each with its own slice of cheese and a bun. A basket of fries is included with the order, but they’re not part of the challenge. Fries are more of a garnish, or something for your supporters to snack on.
As Blake waited for the mountain of meat to be delivered to his table, he was brimming with confidence. He’s already on the wall at the Harbor House Restaurant for its Monster Burger Challenge.
He prepared for Saturday’s challenge by eating three 2-pound burritos before fasting one day, and he predicted taking down the 4.5-pound burger challenge within 30 minutes.
Blake set a blistering pace from the outset (the first two patties were gone within four minutes), and with 18 minutes to go, Blake had only the bun and one patty remaining.
But by then he had already hit the “food wall,” and the remaining 25 minutes of the contest were filled with suffering for Blake as he tried to jam more food into his over-stretched stomach.
He soldiered on as his wife and two daughters cheered. But, with two minutes remaining, and only crumbs away from the finish line, Blake stood up and made a beeline for the men’s room.
Three heaves later, he was feeling a lot better. He said the quality of the burger was amazing, but the quantity did him in.
“The burger won,” Blake said afterward. “It’s not about getting close and falling short. It’s about the $43 to cover the meal when you lose. That’s a valiant effort in anybody’s book. A bite and half a roll.”
Carnival Cafe, which is located on Highway 11-W on the western outskirts of Rogersville, is owned and operated by brothers and Philadelphia natives Kyle, Brandt and Craig Bennett.
Since 2006 they’ve operated a motorcycle shop in Rogersville, but as enthusiastic eaters they decided 14 months ago to branch out into the restaurant business.
As one might expect from Philadelphia natives, the Philly Cheese Steak Sub is a signature item on their menu, but Craig said Carnival Cafe isn’t all about Philadelphia food.
They’ve got the regular staples, but they also wanted to put items on their menu that you can’t get anywhere else in the area.
Craig said he draws a lot of inspiration from his favorite cable TV food shows. There’s no idea too good not to steal, Craig said.
For example, the Cheeseburger Challenge is an homage to the Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food.”
The challenge started as a 2-pounder, and then 2.5, both of which fell pretty quickly.
It got serious when they hit 3 pounds.
Aside from the glory at that point if you broke the record, you got your picture on the wall, you got the $40 burger for free and you got a $20 Carnival Cafe gift certificate in the unlikely event you’ll ever be hungry again.
The first person to complete 3 pounds was Jesse Gillenwater on Dec. 5, followed Cody Bowlin who completed a 3.5-pound burger on Feb. 10.
Bowlin’s record was short-lived. as Coby Helton downed a 4-pound burger later that same day.
When Blake “lost his lunch” around 2:45 p.m. Saturday, the 4.5-pound burger’s record improved to 10-0.
But as the old saying goes, every record is meant to be broken.
As Blake reached the 10-minutes-to-go mark, he didn’t have much left to eat.
Despite the fact he was obviously in complete misery, he looked like he might pull it off.
At that point Kyle Upchurch, a surprise challenger from Morristown, walked into Carnival Cafe and announced he was ready to take on the 4.5-pound burger.
Upchurch had to wait for the outcome of Blake’s challenge because if Blake had won, the challenge would increase to 5 pounds.
When Blake fell short, Upchurch took on the 4.5-pound challenge, filled with as much confidence as his predecessor had been an hour earlier.
Unlike his predecessor, however, Upchurch didn’t upchuck and completed his burger with one minute and 10 seconds to spare.
Due to time constraints, the Times News wasn’t able to stay and watch Upchurch’s attempt, but Craig later indicated that Upchurch “was hurting” upon devouring his burger, albeit elated about his victory.
That raises the new challenge to 5 pounds, and Carnival Cafe is still taking on all comers.
The Bennett brothers haven’t given their giant challenge burger an official name. Craig said they were waiting for a name to present itself organically, but nothing has happened as of yet.
A couple of suggestions might be “The Clinch Mountain ... of Meat” or “The Carnival Carnivore.”
Anyone interested in helping the Bennetts name their big burger is encouraged to visit the Carnival Cafe Facebook page and leave a suggestion.