When pork flies
Julianna Conley | Thursday, December 5, 2019
Recently, I had the honor of meeting the premiere celebrity on campus. No, not Fr. John Jenkins. Not Muffet McGraw. Not the seemingly everywhere Brandon Hardy. I’m talking about Notre Dame’s resident hot dog thrower: Connor Nielsen.
Starstruck since I saw him flinging franks at a men’s basketball game last year, I’ve been intrigued by the unsung hero for nearly a year. I’m a big fan of everyday philanthropy, of the small moments that reinvigorate, the simple acts that add color to everyday life, rather than grand gestures. This hot dog hurling operation checks all those boxes. It’s creative and relatively easy to carry out, but it creates a big impact on the joy of those around him. Still, I had questions: What made him feel the need to send his sausage skyward? How much does he spend on hot dogs per season? Who is the man behind the hot dog?
For those unfamiliar with the pork propelling sensation, at every Notre Dame home football game and most basketball ones, Connor Nielsen, self-dubbed “The Hot Dog Guy,” has become something of a gameday staple at Notre Dame sporting events, known for riling up the student section by throwing hot dogs at fans.
Shaking hands with Connor, my first thought was that he seemed like the kind of guy who would throw hot dogs. Not that I have a strict model for sausage slingers to base my analysis off of, but if I were going to construct one, Connor would be it. With a warm demeanor and an attentive nod, Connor is the type of person who always seems to be on the verge of laughing. And he was — in our interview, at least. He laughed while suggesting a fish taco place in my hometown for me to try. He laughed while discussing his former college football career. He laughed when I brought up the hot dogs.
A second-year graduate student, Connor is working towards his MBA with a focus on marketing. He hopes to become a brand manager some day, commenting he’d love to work on campaigns that bring people together. But he’s already built quite a brand for himself during his time at Notre Dame. Connor throws hot dogs at half time, sending the snacks soaring into the student section. Wearing a personalized Notre Dame jersey that reads “LFG” on the back and pants that make it appear as if a leprechaun is giving him a piggyback ride, Connor would be a distinctive fan even without his hot dog habits.
Originally from Chicago, Connor always grew up a Notre Dame fan, but explains, “When you’re slow and not named Rudy, they tell you to wait until grad school to come to Notre Dame.” From 2009-2013, Connor attended the University of Jamestown in North Dakota, earning his bachelor’s degree in marketing and playing on Jamestown’s varsity football team as a wide receiver. Still, Notre Dame was always a part of Connor’s plan. Frankfurter fame was not, however.
Late September last year, at the Stanford-Notre Dame football game, Connor’s friend went to buy snacks and came back with six extra sandwiches. Connor asked his friend what the plan was for the sandwiches. When the friend shrugged, Connor decided to do the only logical thing available: throw them to the student section surrounding him. In his own words, “One thing led to another, and, before you knew it, it kind of became an expectation and people were like ‘Oh, LFG!’”
LFG. A major facet of the pork pitcher’s notoriety, Connor’s “LFG” jersey carries much more personal meaning than one would expect from a slogan originating in the beer pong community (at least, according to Urban Dictionary). The jersey is #20, for his graduating year, and the initials? A nod to his MBA family.
Before throwing his hot dogs, Connor pumps up the crowd, leading them in a chant of the letters. Connor explains, “LFG is the adopted motto of the MBA program: ‘Let’s freaking go.’ Basically what it means is there’s a time when you gotta study, and let’s freaking go and get the studies done. Get it done and once the studies are done, let’s get back to being a family and come back out and be social and break bread and have a meal together.”
Purposely leaving his hot dogs structurally insecure so that the bun and dog will separate to provide more lucky winners, Connor is certainly oriented towards bringing as many people together as possible. Staying true to his roots, Connor first sends his meat missiles into the graduate section, but works his way through the student section, offering a hot dog to any and all Notre Dame students — except those who put ketchup on hot dogs (an unforgivable offense by any Chicago native’s standards).
During our interview, Connor repeatedly shrugged off any queries as to a deeper meaning to sending snacks up the student section. He just repeated that it’s about having fun. It’s about embracing the lifestyle of the LFG.
Still, whether or not Connor thinks he’s just lobbing lunch, the rest of the school certainly seems to consider the tradition more than just hot dogs.
Pasquerilla East assistant rector Elizabeth Clarke has repeatedly voiced that the hot dogs are “the best part of the game.” MBA student and basketball player Rex Pflueger notes, “He reinvigorates the crowd through free food and chants of LFG. Not only does he spread hot dogs, but he also spreads enthusiasm and joy to those around him. I truly believe he brings joy and energy into every stadium or arena that is privileged to host his hot dog throwing.” Sophomore Megan Bollinger praises, “The first time I saw [the hot dog throwing] I was very confused, but as he threw the hot dogs into the stands I noticed the joy that came across people. It was truly inspiring.” Even a cased sausage skeptic, sophomore Josie McQuillan, admits, “I don’t even like hot dogs but I want to catch one so bad.”
Admittedly, some fans are not entirely sure what to make of the ordeal. Junior Bridget Murphy remarks, “I’m just confused. Because he spends a lot of money on those hot dogs and doesn’t even eat them. Just to feel like a god for a moment.” Sophomore Kat Machado comments, “I don’t really understand why he does it, but it seems to make people happy.” But that’s it. That’s precisely the point. Connor Nielsen catapults case sausage, spending upwards of $200 a football season just because it makes people happy.
Connor may not consider himself a hero, but few confronted with the issue of an abundance of food would conclude the only solution is to turn the grub airborne and share it with their student body. Few would shell out roughly $25 a game (a conservative estimate of Connor’s frankfurter finances). And all in the name of fun.
At the time of our interview, Connor didn’t plan to name a successor after graduation, but he leaves his legacy by providing the following wisdom: “My one piece of advice for college students would be to enjoy it. To have fun. I have some undergraduate friends and they’ll say to me ‘I didn’t realize MBAs have so much fun.’ We [grad students] know how serious the real world is so we’re going to make the most of these next two years when it comes to being here. Have fun. Don’t care what people think.” Then, as an afterthought, and a joke: “Let your dreams fly.”
So goes the advice from The Hot Dog Man. Let your dreams fly. And maybe a dog or two, while you’re at it.
Julianna Conley loves cereal, her home state of California and the em dash. A sophomore in Pasquerilla East, if Julianna can’t be found picnicking on North Quad, she can be reached for comment at [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.