Matt Williams column: Chowing down on the best sports snacks on the menu

Snacks go with sports like Terrell Owens goes with the end zone. AP file photo

95 days without organized sports but there's light at the end of the tunnel (provided it isn't an oncoming train...)

At this point of the COVID-19 pandemic, we sports fans are hungry for any action we can get.

Each of the five senses has experienced some loss of sensation in this athletic abyss. We can't see the spectacular catch, we can't feel a stiff lacrosse check, we can't hear the crack of the wood on the ball and we can't smell the sulfur from the starting gun at a track meet.

Taste? That might not be the first sense that seems lost without sports but for fans there are many, many treats we've been forced to go without.

What foods do we most associate with sports? I suppose it starts with the hot dog. I remember being six-or-so years old and hearing about a "Fenway Frank." Not understanding this was just about the same as any hot dog dad could toss on the grill, I yearned to go to a Red Sox game in person and experience this succulent sausage first hand. Even the packages they sold at the grocery story, marketed as Fenway Franks with the Red Sox logo on the front and everything, didn't seem to capture the magic.

I'm reminded of something a fellow sportswriter Tweeted some years ago. Paraphrasing, he said there are a lot of people that don't like this country or its values, but he challenged them to attend a high school football game, eat a boiled hot dog wrapped in tin foil for two bucks and not fall in love.

That pretty well sums up the mixing of the taste buds with the other senses out at a sporting event. All at once, you feel the sun on your face, hear the pep band crooning some version of a current hit to pass halftime, see the players stretching out for the second half and taste that hot dog with ketchup packets and you feel at home.

It's Americana and the sporting experience would be lost without it.

You can get a hot dog at any game but it does seems like each sport has its own unique set of snack assortments. Baseball has its peanuts and crackerjacks, high school hockey was tailor made for hot chocolate, basketball goes very well with a little bit of popcorn or candy and I think football matches up pretty well with anything fried, be it some dough or a pretzel.

Snack choice evolved with the seasons and with the magnitude of a game, too. A rivalry game with lots of screaming, yelling and heckling of opposing players? Grab an ice cream in a plastic helmet and sooth those sore vocal chords.

If it's an elimination playoff game and you're feeling like a nervous eater, there's always M&M's or Skittles. I feel like a nice, big box that you can keep reaching into as a distraction from the possibility of the wrong team netting the game-winner goes a long way.

Should the bad guys happen to score, you can throw down some Sour Patch Kids to ensure you get the appropriate level of bitter face for peak boo'ing.

A sweet, celebratory and festive atmosphere calls for some cotton candy. When it's cold, you can heat up with the aforementioned hot chocolate or a gooey slice of pizza. Back at the hockey barn in Orono, Maine, they'd heat the tummy with a baked potato between periods.

Drinks are the same way. Nothing says surprisingly warm September Saturday football quite like needing to grab a lemon Gatorade at the concession stand to refresh for the second half. Soda in a paper cup says hoops just as loudly as it says movie night, that textured grind at the bottom of a machine spun hot chocolate screams hockey rink and we all know what beverage goes best with a tailgate down in Foxboro.

Lately, stadium food is getting more and more gourmet. You name it, you can get it, whether it's some kind of fish and lobster concoction,  a burger stacked up everything you could possibly imagine to fry, authentic pastries or actual Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

For me, the simpler the better. I guess that's because it reminds me of the snacks I got at games when I was a kid, but the fact is I'm not looking for a Michelin star experience in between ground ball outs. Save that for date night.

If the popcorn isn't slightly yellow and doesn't come in a giant plastic bag, what are we doing here? And the best popcorn on the North Shore is still the stuff that comes out of the snack bar window at Twi Field in Danvers, for my money. The stuff at the Salem Willows is close, but there's no baseball game there.

When sports come back next month, on TV only, a couple of the senses will be put to work again. Taste probably won't get out of mothballs for many months. We'll try to cook these snacks at home, the way we do on Super Bowl Sunday, but it's never quite as good. Something about the open air and being in front of the action makes it taste better; maybe that's why we pay so much extra at the park, not just so the home run king can afford his sixth Porsche coupe.

Some sports sensation is better than none, so I'm not complaining or saying wait until the snack bar can be open to play. I'm just saying these little morsels of satisfaction are among the little things you hardly ever notice in normal times and miss like crazy now.

I'm not sure I'll be fully back in sports mode until I can absently minded reach for a salty fix in the middle of the action. Until then, I'll be hoping for the day when it's time to, as Terrell Owens says, get the popcorn ready. 

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Assistant sports editor Matt Williams is getting hangry for some sports action. Send him your arena snack recommendations at MWilliams@salemnews.com or on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.

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Assistant sports editor of The Salem News, blanketing the North Shore with the best coverage you'll find. Football fiend, track guru, seam-head, goaltending aficionado, history buff, stat geek. Allons-Y. #StrikeOutALS

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