You can see how things might get out of hand when you invite two college football teams to dinner. That's why Lawry's reminds us -- it's not about how much prime rib you eat, but how much you savor every bite.
The Oregon football team participated in the second half of the 54th Beef Bowl at Lawry's The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills Sunday. The Ducks chowed down a day after their Rose Bowl opponent, Ohio State.
The Beef Bowl "is not about what team eats the most," but "about the players having a great time, enjoying a great meal in great surroundings," said Richard R. Frank, president and chief executive officer of Lawry's Restaurants Inc.
Lawry's tried to keep track of which team ate the most back in the 1960s after a public relations firm initiated a prime rib eating contest. The contest quantified each team's appetites at their respective events.
"For a period of time, it turned out to be a rather accurate predictor of who would win the Rose Bowl game," Frank said. "It got out of hand (by the early 1970s) and we temporarily changed the name to the 'Beef Scrimmage' because it wasn't about the event or the tradition, and it had become kind of a feeding frenzy. That's what people focused on and we said, 'That's not right.'"
Now, when there is a question about how much prime rib is eaten, "someone will pull a number out of the air," Frank said.
Through last year, more than 74,000 pounds of roasted prime rib were eaten by the more than 18,000 Rose Bowl-bound players, including 13 Heisman Trophy winners, and coaches, according to organizers.
It's likely that Lawry's, and other places that prepare vast quantities of meat, will see a boom in business through next week. Not only will Pasadena play host to Oregon and Ohio State for the New Year's Day Rose Bowl game, it also will welcome teams from Alabama and Texas for the national championship game on Jan. 7.
The Beef Bowl was conceived in 1956 by Richard N. Frank, the father of Richard R. Frank, shortly after he became Lawry's president, out of a desire "to honor the Big Ten and Pac-10 teams as champions of their conferences."
"We had no idea that it would ever turn out to be the kind of event it is now," said the elder Frank, now 86 and the company's chairman.
The Beef Bowl costs what he would only describe as "a sizeable amount of money."
With Ohio State participating in the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1997 game, Frank recalled that the Buckeyes did not participate in the Beef Bowl during any of their seven Rose Bowl appearances when the late legendary authoritarian Woody Hayes was their coach.
"He didn't want his players to have any side distractions -- no Lawry's, no Disneyland," Frank said. "We were very sorry about it. Every year that he'd come out I'd say, 'Maybe he'll break down and give in and let the fellas have a great time,' but he never did."
The Buckeyes began attending the Beef Bowl in 1979, the season after Hayes was fired for punching an opposing player during the Gator Bowl. He died in 1987. In a brief speech, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel told his team and others attending the Beef Bowl that Hayes "doesn't know what he missed. It was delicious."