Huddle around the buffet and prepare for America's national pastime. It's first and goal: Guard the dip.
Super Bowl Sunday is now the nation's second-biggest "food holiday," trailing only Thanksgiving. Of course, once you factor out the turkey, you find that football fans have turned pizza and chicken wings into holiday dishes, with a bold medley of potato chips, pretzels and Cheez Doodles as the trimmings.
Pigskin pigouts explain why America consumes 30 million to 35 million pounds of snack food, double the country's typical daily consumption, on Super Bowl Sunday. The Snack Food Association estimates that on a typical game day, this country's munch madness will include 12 million pounds of potato chips, 9 million pounds of tortilla chips and 4 million pounds of pretzels and popcorn.
Potato chip consumption alone might add 27 billion calories and 1.8 billion grams of fat to America's hefty rump, according to the Calorie Control Council, a nonprofit group representing the low-calorie and reduced-fat food and beverage industry.
The council estimates the typical armchair quarterback chows down on 1,200 calories and 40 grams of fat. To work that off, it would take two hours and 10 minutes running around a football field.
But perhaps it's best not to mention such facts. Perhaps it's easier to just accept that every Super Bowl partier will be penalized in the waistline.
Then again, isn't overeating a part of any holiday?
This year, dig deep into your super bowlful of munchies, and consider our unofficial holiday's unofficial holiday food -- chips and dip
1. Is There a Chip and Dip Culture?
Candy canes, eggnog and marshmallow peeps might not be a dietitian's dream, but we talk ourselves into eating these things because they're considered time-honored holiday treats.
Before we reject our Super Bowl snacks for nutritional reasons, let's just remember that they have a history, too, and that history says a lot about who we are.
Pretzels are perhaps the most ancient of snack foods. Medieval monks in A.D. 600 came up with this salty, crunchy delight as a reward for students. This explains why traditional pretzels are twisted: to resemble the arms of praying angels. This also explains why other pretzels are shaped like rods: to remind us of the punishment we richly deserve.
When European settlers arrived in North America, natives turned the colonists on to the joys of popcorn.
The potato chip might be one of the most enduring contributions of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. The railroad tycoon was dining in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 1853 when he sent his potatoes back to the kitchen, complaining they were cut too thickly.
An outraged chef furiously cut a fresh order of spuds ridiculously thin, then fried and salted them, and sent them back. Vanderbilt apparently didn't get the joke.
The first man to doodle with cheese was 84-year-old Morrie Yohai of Kings Point, N.Y. In the early 1950s, he and co-workers at the Old London Melba Toast factory played around with a cornmeal extractor that spit out fingerlike curlicues that would one day result in a generation of children with unnaturally orange mustaches.
The Cheez Doodle now stands as a uniquely American symbol of ingenuity. Yohai, the Henry Ford of cheese snack food, is now the vice president at Borden in charge of snacks. He told New York Newsday in January that in addition to his doodle duties, he's also responsible for choosing the toys for boxes of Cracker Jack.
2. How Many Chips Can One Man Eat?
If "The Lord of the Rings" saga taught us anything, it's that heroes come in all sizes, and the sport of competitive eating is no different. The reigning chicken wing champ is a petite, 105-pound woman from Alexandria, Va. Sonia "The Black Widow" Thomas scarfed down 161 wings (that's 5 pounds of deep-fried chicken) in 12 minutes.
I expected similar, jaw-dropping achievements when I checked with the International Federation of Competitive Eating for excellence in chip consumption. This group monitors the achievement of gastric gladiators who race in everything from corn dogs and dumplings to doughnuts, butter and even cow brains.
The cow brain-eating champ is Takeru Kobayashi, the same diminutive Japanese man who seems to win the Coney Island hot dog-eating contest every Fourth of July. Kobayashi has eaten 53½ hot dogs in 12 minutes and 17.8 pounds of cow brains in 15 minutes.
To my surprise, however, the IFOCE has no record on the potato chip, the snack food most Americans, especially sports fans, eat in wild excess.
When I voiced my surprise, IFOCE official Richard Shea offered to set up a benchmarking event, with reigning buffet champ Jason "Crazy Legs" Conti helping to establish a Super Bowl standard for chip-eating excellence.
While the 210-pound, 33-year-old New Yorker had never raced in potato chips, he had relevant experience: At last year's Tribeca Film Festival, Conti submerged himself in an 8-foot-high glass tank filled with popcorn. Wearing a bathing suit and scuba mask, Conti ate his way out, like a hungry Houdini.
On Monday, with crumpled Lay's and Pringles in his goatee, Crazy Legs proved that one man could devour just over a pound of chips in four furious minutes.
In the same time period, sitting side by side with Conti, I ate enough to fill nearly 6½ single-serving bags of Lays (each bag is 6.4 ounces). Perhaps that's good enough to make myself sick and my girlfriend reconsider our future together. Nevertheless, I was humbled before the greatness of a champion.
Ed "Cookie" Jarvis, another top-ranked IFOCE eater, advises football fans not to be shy around the buffet.
"The big question on a buffet line is always, 'Do I take multiple plates?' or 'Do I go up multiple times?'" says Jarvis.
"I always say, take two or three plates. Get it all in front of you and enjoy the game," he says. "If you're among friends, why hide who you are?"
The 409-pound real estate broker from New York's Long Island has impeccable eating credentials (21 cannoli in six minutes, 91 Chinese dumplings in eight minutes, 1 gallon 9 ounces of vanilla ice cream in 12 minutes).
Even more impressive: While pigging out at a Super Bowl party six years ago, Jarvis met his wife. "She knew exactly who I was when she saw me at the buffet that day," he says. "These things are important to a competitive eater."
3. Buffet Etiquette: Is it OK to Double-Dip?
Like all burning ethical dilemmas, the question of double-dipping a chip is still unresolved, and, apparently, it's something of a gender issue, with women more likely to consider it a Super Bowl party faux pas.
You may consider it normal chip-eating procedure to scoop from the dip bowl multiple times with the same chip. If so, you're not alone -- 38 percent of Americans admit to double dipping, according to a November 2004 poll of 1,500 adults conducted by Impulse Research.
However, 62 percent of women find double-dipping unsavory, according to the same poll, sponsored by Hidden Valley Ranch, makers of a variety of dips.
Women in the 35-to-44 age group tend to be more offended than younger or older women, and that's especially true in the South, where manners really do count.
Men are not crazy about double-dippers either, but to a lesser extent, with 54 percent condemning the practice (and, presumably, 46 percent vigorously approving the practice).
If you must double dip, the survey suggests you do it in the Western or North-Central states, where folks tend to be most tolerant of buffet buffoons.
4. Buffet Etiquette: 'Floor Grazing' and Day-After Munching
Super Bowl buffets can get sloppy. If food falls to the floor, can you still eat it -- or serve it to your guests? Of course, many factors are involved, but apparently many Americans apply the three-second rule.
Roughly one in four Americans believes it's OK to eat or serve food that has fallen to the floor as long as it is rescued within three seconds, according to the American Dietetic Association and the ConAgra Foods Foundation, which teamed up on a Home Food Safety program.
The day after the big game, another health issue comes into play: Is it OK to eat unrefrigerated leftovers? On this issue, a Home Food Safety study indicates that 16 percent of Americans frequently eat leftover pizza the next morning, even if it hasn't been refrigerated. An additional 20 percent admit to doing it some of the time, according to a poll of 1,000 men and women conducted by Synovate Research Solutions.
Of course, if you wake up the next morning and find your spouse eating unrefrigerated leftovers off the floor, a new three-second rule applies. You've got three seconds to start screaming.
Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays.