As far as heroes go in my life, there have been such figures as football star Jim Brown, baseball slugger Rocky Colavito, writer Peter Gammons and baseball stats guru Bill James.
Another is Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, who emerges once a year to defend his title as the world's most-decorated competitive eater.
Chestnut again will be visible to an adoring culinary nation come Thursday when ESPN televises the famous Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, live from Coney island in New York City.
The 36-year-old Chestnut won his 11th world championship a year ago when he consumed 74 hot dogs -- and buns -- in 10 minutes. That broke his record of 72 hot dogs the preceding year.
Simply watching Chestnut and his cast of challengers -- keep an eye on Matt "Megatoad" Stonie -- can be inspiring and nauseating at the same time. But the entertainment value alone outweighs all other accompanying images and intangibles.
Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest has become must-see TV for many families on July 4 -- mine included. (Well, at least me. My wife, Kathy, finds it all rather disgusting, but she does not appreciate some of the finer things in life.)
More than 20,000 people annually turn out to watch the contest. ESPN2 will broadcast the eating competition live to more than 1 million viewers. The first bite(s) are scheduled shortly after 11 a.m.
Chestnut first won the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest in 2007, when he ate 66 hot dogs to set a new world record and defeat six-time defending champion, the legendary Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi. Chestnut went on to win every year until 2015, when he was defeated by Stonie, who ate 62 hot dogs to Chestnut's 60.
How revered is Joey Chestnut in the world of competitive eating. Here was how he was introduced a year ago by famed announcer George Shea:
"As a boy, he had a dream so big he couldn't reveal it, and so he kept it hidden in his mind like a treasure, it was only when he became a grown man, a man of character and humility, that he could pursue his goal to be champion of the world.
"To do so he would have to beat a man some said was unbeatable (Kobyashi), but he beat him, and then he beat him again and again and again. AND NOW HE IS THE UNDISPUTED GREATEST EATER IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD!!!! "
But there is some genuine concern in the world of competitive eating that Chestnut could be upset. Not only is the Megatoad a worthy adversary, Chestnut recently finished second in the World Hostess Donettes Eating Championship, losing to upstart Geoffrey Esper.
Esper ate 235 mini-powdered donuts to Chestnut's 200 -- in six minutes. (Chestnut still holds the world record in that event, having devoured 257 Donettes in six minutes in 2018.)
Along with the Donette and hot dogs records, Chestnut also has established these records in the past 12 months:
º Ice cream sandwiches: 25.5 in six minutes.
º Mutton sandwiches: 81 in 10 minutes.
º Seven pounds of shrimp in eight minutes.
º 18 pounds, 9.6 ounces of shrimp cocktail in eight minutes.
For those interested, Major League Eating and the International Federation of Competitive Eating have sanctioned the competition since 1997.
Don't worry if you can't watch the original telecast Thursday. ESPN's family of networks will air the event seven times in a 15-hour window.