All participants’ names and identities have been changed for confidentiality purposes.
A tradition like no other
There are few things that bring American men together like beer, sports, and penis jokes. Ever since the first caveman got drunk off of fermented fruit, told his friend that his package was small, and challenged him to a spear throwing contest, these three factors have been mainstays of the prototypical modern male persona. Today, most men understand that these stereotypically masculine things are often viewed in a negative context. It’s important to realize where the line must be drawn, and where good fun turns into something bad. That being said, it is possible for these three things to avoid their toxic perception, and there is one example of a group of men who have created a positive, lighthearted experience that reflects this idea. It takes place once a year on the first Saturday after Labor Day, in a small town outside of Boston.
That event is known as the Sausage Fest, a one night beer pong tournament played by 50 year old men, who are industry-leading technology executives, entrepreneurs, lawyers, bankers, and engineers.
Over the past four years, more than 30 men have competed in the Sausage Fest, and this contest is the setting for an ongoing struggle between two of its greatest competitors, Josh Beninghoff and Bill Nelson. Their sausage saga is like no other. It’s a tale of blood, sweat, tears, beers, triumph, tragedy, friendship, disappointment, heartbreak, vomit, and more beer. Is this a fairytale? Possibly. Is it the Sausage Fest? Absolutely.
It was early September 2015. The air was still warm and humid, clinging to the last days of summer. The leaves had yet to turn, and a light breeze cruised through town, low and smooth.
Greg Jones was sitting at home on Thursday afternoon when his wife gave him the news.
“Honey, I’m taking that girls trip to Colorado with my friends on Friday, and the kids are staying with friends until Sunday night. So, it’s just you at home this weekend.”
No matter how old you are, there’s only one thing to do when you have the house to yourself for the weekend.
You throw a party.
Greg immediately got to work. He whipped out his phone and sent out a party beacon to 15 of his buddies who live nearby. He told them that there was going to be an all-guys night at his place that Saturday.
No wives, no kids. Just the guys, Greg wrote in the text. “I wanted them to know that this was going to be a totally chill environment for a night. I absolutely love my wife and kids, but I envisioned this as a pure, old-fashioned guys night.”
“I also really wanted to serve sausages, because it was only guys, and I thought it would be funny.”
The party started in the late afternoon that Saturday, with Greg and his 15 guests out on his backyard patio, enjoying the last rays of warmth coming from the late summer sun. The atmosphere was just as Greg hoped. Great friends, great beer, and a whole lot of sausages.
As the sun set and BACs rose, the guys started to form teams and play a few games of beer pong. A little friendly competition to end the night. Nothing too serious; just good, clean, fun.
These men are all very successful in business and in life, and thus innately competitive. The friendly games of beer pong got more intense as the night went on. By the end of the party, there were arguments about who was the top player, who had won the most games, and who would kick who’s ass if they had played again. Everyone claimed to be the best, but there was no way to prove this.
“I realized that there was a solution. We could standardize the format of the beer pong games, create a tournament, and crown a champion,” said Greg. “The event would be held once a year, at an all-dudes party just like that one, at my house. And of course, we would only serve sausages.”
Greg added, “The event needed a name that embodied everything that the party stood for: the male camaraderie, the brats, the joyous environment. I decided that from then on, this annual union of men and meat would be known as the Sausage Fest.”
“The next day I jotted down some rules and had one of our lawyer friends draft an official document,” added Greg.
Here’s a quick rundown of how the event works:
- The tournament takes place over the course of one afternoon/night, one time per year
- Teams are selected that day, and each team has two players
- Partners are randomly drawn to play with each other – except the winners of the prior year are allowed to play together again
- The tournament is double elimination, with a winner’s and loser’s bracket
Gameplay (see picture below for the full list of rules):
- Basic rules
- It’s a lob game
- The game is played on a standard ping pong table with the net attached
- There are two cups set up next to each other side-by-side, one paddle length from the end of the table. Each cup is filled up halfway with beer.
- Each player has one ping pong paddle
- A standard ping pong rally is initiated by the serving team, with the goal of hitting the ball at the cups
- The game is to 5 points
- 1 point is awarded for hitting the outside of the opposing team’s cup, and 3 points for hitting the ball into their cup
- Each match is best 2 out of 3 games
- Only three non-beer sustenances are permitted: sausages (obviously), chips, and bourbon
- No women allowed (it’s a sausage fest, after all…)
Not only do these men get to relive the drunken glory days of college, but they’re playing for a year of bragging rights, pride, and the sweet taste of victory. In addition to these intangibles, there’s something else that comes with being champion: The Golden Sausage.
The Stanley Cup. The Lombardi Trophy. The Larry O’Brien trophy. The Golden Sausage. These are some of the most iconic prizes in the sporting world. At the end of the Fest, this 12 inch trophy (massive by sausage standards), is engraved with the winners’ names and kept in their possession until they have to defend their title the following year.
The story of Josh and Bill
Stacks of red solo cups were perfectly lined up along one end of Greg’s bright blue Joola ping pong table. Two snow white ping pong balls, yet to be graced by the sweet stroke of a rubber paddle, laid motionless next to the cups. Four paddles rested on the table, one in each corner. An unopened, glistening bottle of Maker’s Mark stood next to the grill, its signature red wax top dripping down the stem. And lastly, a massive cooler, packed to the gills with Bud Light cans, sat under the table, its metallic children resting in their ice womb.
Greg drew names out of an old Red Sox hat to determine the pairings for the 6 teams that would compete in the 2016 Sausage Fest.
“I was stoked,” said Josh. “I got super lucky and got paired with a good friend of mine, who is probably the best pong player out of the whole group. He’s basically the Babe Ruth of beer pong.”
This Great Bud-bino, this Sultan of Swigs, is Josh’s longtime friend, Bill Nelson.
“Josh and I couldn’t wait to get on the table!” exclaimed Bill. “We’re great friends outside of the Sausage Fest so for us to get paired together for the first time was something special. We liked our odds. I was sitting there thinking, if we can win this year then we can be partners next year and keep it going. That was a huge motivation.”
When asked about how that first Sausage Fest went, Josh kept it simple.
“We dominated and won easily. As expected.”
A seamless win for the self-proclaimed favorites. But when you have the Babe Ruth of beer pong, anything short of 1st place is a disappointment.
For the next year, the Golden Sausage stood erect on Josh and Bill’s office shelves. The trophy switched between their houses every month or so. Perhaps more important than this bastion of beer pong greatness was the bragging rights. Bill said that that year, the victory was brought up at nearly every social gathering and dinner party, with opponents promising to knock off the 2016 champs the following year.
Fast forward 365 days, and the boys are back, ready to defend their manhood at Sausage Fest 2017.
“We made a few upgrades for 2017,” said Greg. “We added a second pong table and brought in a grill master that year. He’s this big Southern dude who makes unreal sausages, and he’s been working the event ever since.”
That year, the field grew in size, swelling to nearly 20 participants. A few of the originators’ other friends, jealous of last year’s beer and sausage celebration, tossed their names in the ring for a chance to reach the pinnacle of pork. Everyone wanted a piece of Josh and Bill’s Golden Sausage, but the 2016 champs weren’t going to give up their meat without a fight.
“One guy even flew in from Seattle that year,” Josh said. “That’s when we knew this wasn’t a joke anymore.”
The champs needed to step their game up if they wanted to repeat.
“Of course I was practicing before the Fest,” said Bill. “When I wasn’t with Josh, I was working on my game with my son, Dennis, who’s in high school right now. He wasn’t drinking the beers, but it was cool to teach him how to play and spend some quality time with him.”
Josh shared Bill’s work ethic.
“We were working our asses off on the ping pong table in my basement the week before,” Josh added. “Before the summer, it’s spring training. But trust me, it gets serious in the weeks leading up to the event. We were prepared and expecting to win back to back.”
The training paid off.
“We absolutely ran through the competition and repeated as champions. No problem,” Josh boasts.
Josh and Bill paddled and drank their way through the competition with relative ease. They were Kobe and Shaq, in their prime, dominating opponents and drunkenly shattering a few backboards along the way.
“We got the trophy back, and I know the rest of the guys were thinking that we’re gonna be tough to beat outright in the coming years. We were feeling really confident and looking toward the future,” Bill said.
When asked if he thought there was a dynasty in the making, Bill didn’t hesitate.
“You’re damn right.”
Another year passed and the Golden Sausage was starting to gather cobwebs from being in the same place for so long. With the 2018 Fest approaching, there were only two words on Josh and Bill’s mind:
But, for Kobe and Shaq, 2018 was different.
“Josh got a little busy with work that summer and said we didn’t need to practice as much. We didn’t put in the same kind of effort that year and I think it hurt us,” Bill remembered.
Despite the lack of practice, Bill said he still liked their odds.
“I was still confident and thought we were in good shape. We actually had a very important meeting before the tournament. Josh and I decided that we would arrive a little late to the Fest. We met at my house with the trophy before the event started. It was just the two of us, hanging out. We had a drink together and reflected on the past few tournaments. It was one of the most special things that year, just appreciating what we’d accomplished and what lay ahead. The other guys were gonna try to take us down. We looked unstoppable. We talked and I said to Josh, ‘Look, people are gonna try to take us off our game in any way they can. We have to be extra vigilant to not let that happen.’ Because I live next door to the where the tournament takes place, I peered through the window, and could see the guys out there on the patio, undoubtedly talking smack. I was visualizing the victory, and ready to go.”
With a clear vision for success and a strategy in place, Josh and Bill were locked in and ready to cement their place in the annals of beer pong history.
Bill described that first moment when they stepped foot onto the patio, Golden Sausage in hand.
“Things went wrong the second we walked in.”
Bill continued, “When we got there, the first thing they did was hand us a shot. We downed those, and I grabbed myself a beer to sip on. I looked over at Josh and saw someone else give him a shot. Which he took. Then another guy came over and offered him a third shot, which he obviously took like a champ. I don’t blame him though, because we were in this celebratory mood and he didn’t want to be the lame, overly-competitive guy.”
Bill (who’s 6’4) didn’t think that Josh (who’s 5’9) had a target on his back.
“There’s no way that they were going after Josh just because he’s smaller. I think they just saw that he was excited and knew he couldn’t turn down a few extra drinks.”
Greg begged to differ.
“Oh, we absolutely targeted Josh,” said Greg. “He was way smaller and we knew that we could get in his head and pressure him into drinking a lot before the event. And it worked like a charm.”
“I saw him keep drinking and clinking his cups with the other guys,” added Bill. “I knew that we were in serious trouble. It was only 3pm and the first beer pong game was still three hours away.”
This was actually very Kobe-esque of Josh. He was at the arena, three hours before gametime, getting some shots up. Kobe’s shots might have been free throws instead of bourbon, but the idea remains the same.
Bill and Josh won their first match against the lowest seeded team, despite a gallon of pregame liquor sitting idly in Josh’s stomach.
“I thought… maybe, just maybe, I could carry the team to the finals and squeeze out a win,” said Bill. “Doc Ellis threw a perfect game while tripping acid, so I thought there was a chance that Josh could pull through for us and score a point or two.”
Unfortunately for Bill, Josh was no Doc Ellis.
“After that first match it was a disaster,” said Bill. “We lost two games straight, got knocked down to the loser’s bracket, and then lost two more games and got knocked out entirely. Josh didn’t score a single point.”
Just like that, their dreams of a three peat were over.
“Josh actually got in an argument with some of the other guys right after we got booted from the bracket,” added Bill. “He kept asking people when his first game was. They told him that he had already lost and was out of the tournament. Josh didn’t realize that we had played three games. I had to pull his drunk ass aside and tell him that we were done.”
“Yeah, I think I might have drank just a little bit too much,” said Josh. “It wasn’t my finest moment.”
After the short walk home from the competition, Josh swung open his front door with a bang. When his wife walked downstairs, she found her drunk husband slumped against the wall and asked him how the event went.
Josh likely meant to say “We lost,” but when he opened his mouth, a heinous concoction of Maker’s Mark, Bud Light, brats, and sadness spewed out of his mouth onto the ground. This Belaggio fountain of beer and disappointment blanketed the floor, and the sheer acidity of the mixture began to eat away at the hardwood.
Josh’s wife had to drag him upstairs and into bed. He would rest for the next few hours, only to wake up on Sunday and learn that he had lost his title, his teammate, and his lunch.
After a painful 365 days sans Golden Sausage, Josh was back and ready to make a comeback.
The 2019 Sausage Fest marked the first time that Josh and Bill were on different sides of the table. Emotions were running high, and you could practically taste the tension in the air.
Josh came into 2019 with a laser focus. No pre-match bourbon this year. Just some awkward stretching and a bottle of water.
“I knew that in order to be the best, you’ve gotta beat the best. I couldn’t wait to face Bill for the first time,” said Josh.
Josh and Bill’s team met early in the winner’s bracket.
Josh’s team was up 4-0 in the first game that match, but in an unprecedented comeback, Bill’s Babe Ruth gene kicked in and he made two straight cups, worth 6 points, to seal the win. The next game was a swift win for Bill’s team, winning them the match and knocking Josh down to the loser’s bracket.
The beer pong gods clearly had a plan for the former teammates. By some alcohol-fueled miracle, Josh made it to the end of the loser’s bracket and met Bill in the finals.
“It was destiny. I knew we would face each other in the finals, and for that to actually happen was crazy,” said Josh.
In rather anticlimactic fashion, Bill, the superior beer pong athlete, swept Josh in the finals and took home his third Golden Sausage.
“Bill was the better player that day, and it showed,” said Josh. “There’s no one else I’d rather face in that situation.”
Bill added, “Of course I wanted to win, and I felt that facing Josh in the final game was poetic. Could you ask you for a better ending?”
The legacy lives on
What started off as a goofy idea has turned into one of the greatest sporting traditions on the Eastern seaboard. It truly is the ultimate test of skill, friendship, and drinking. The Sausage Fest may pit best friends against each other, and combine tears of joy with projectile vomit, but, at the end of the day, the essence stays pure.
“It’s just guys being dudes,” said Josh, “and it’s the lighthearted nature that makes the event so special.”
In a time dominated by frequent examples toxic masculinity, it’s refreshing to know that there are a group of grown men who can have a little bit of fun in an all-male setting.
“The goal is to keep the Sausage Fest going for as long as we can,” said Greg. I plan on hosting it until the day I die, and I’m sure the guys are all on board with that. I’m already thinking ahead to Sausage Fest 2020, and how we can do an even better job of making it a fun event for everyone involved.”
Perhaps Josh will dethrone his old partner in next year’s event. Or, maybe Bill will take home his fourth Golden Sausage. Only time will tell, and there are a lot of questions yet to be answered. But, one thing will remain the same: there will be a whole lot of sausages.