MCWS 2023 – How a Jell-O-Shot Problem Grew to become the Second Greatest Occasion in Omaha

  • Elizabeth Merrill, senior writer at ESPNJune 23, 2023 at 7:00 am ET


      Elizabeth Merrill is senior writer for and ESPN The Magazine. She previously wrote for The Kansas City Star and The Omaha World-Herald.

OMAHA, Neb. — Rocco’s Pizza and Cantina, which is about 50 steps across from the Men’s College World Series venue, was expectedly full on Sunday when manager Pat McEvoy was called onto the patio to meet a man interested to place a bulk order. The man looked like your average fan, wearing an LSU cap and a green T-shirt with the logo of Murphy’s, a now-defunct bar in Baton Rouge.

When someone told McEvoy that the man was the founder and CEO of Raising Cane’s Chicken, McEvoy was skeptical.

“This time of year,” McEvoy said, “everyone is someone different. I had no idea if he was telling the truth or if he was just messing with us.”

But that was no joke. Todd Graves, a Baton Rouge resident and entrepreneur, bought $30,000 worth of Jell-O-Shots — 6,000 drinks in all. He wanted to give LSU the MCWS Jell-O Shot Challenge record and cheer on the fan base Monday, just before the Tigers played No. 1 Wake Forest at the Men’s College World Series.

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LSU lost that night’s baseball game but clinched the Jell-O shot record and Thursday beat Wake Forest for the second time in two days to advance to the MCWS championship series.

Now in its fourth year, the Jell-O Shot Challenge is the second most talked about event in Omaha. The fanbases of the MCWS’ eight teams compete to see who can take the most shots, which are color-coded for each team. Stanford fans consumed wild cherry red; Florida fans slammed Green Apple. “We couldn’t get a really good blue color,” McEvoy said.

A dollar from each of the $5 shots will be donated to the shot drink team’s local food bank, owner Kevin Culjat said, and another 50 cents would go to the Heartland Food Bank in Omaha.

McEvoy updates the totals four times a day and weaves through the sun-scorched crowds to add up the counts on a whiteboard. LSU, whose fanbase travels better than any other MCWS team and enjoys eating and drinking above all else, was the favorite to win the contest even before Graves showed his credit card.

LSU fans had 29,023 shots on the board through Thursday; The other seven fandoms combined haven’t consumed as many Jell-O-Shots as the Tigers. Ole Miss’ record for 2022 was 18,777.

Pat McEvoy, manager of Rocco’s Pizza and Cantina, says his phone rings immediately because people want updates on the shot leaderboard. Elizabeth Merrill

Graves originally planned to order 5,000 shots, which was enough to break the record on Monday. But when he found out that country singer Merle Haggard apparently held the Guinness World Record for buying the largest round of drinks, Graves decided to break that one too.

Haggard set the record in 1983 when he bought 5,095 Canadian Club shots for his fans at Billy Bob’s Texas, according to Graves said he was a big Haggard fan. However, according to the website, there is some debate over this record, as in 2016 a British brewery bought 412 drinks for customers at a pub celebrating Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday. This claim is based on the gallons consumed.

In an email to ESPN on Wednesday, a spokesman for Guinness World Records North America Inc. said it is not currently overseeing a record title such as the “biggest drink round.” It was fun while it lasted.

Graves said he knew spending $30,000 on alcohol was reckless or “cheesy,” but decided to do it after he found out a portion of the proceeds goes to charity.

“You know what, man? I started from scratch,” Graves said. “I had to sell commercial fish in Alaska to open my first restaurant… You work hard and you become successful and then you can give all these LSU fans a shot, it feels pretty cool.”

“It’s a good way to celebrate with others.”

He was behind the bar on Monday when the leaderboard was updated at 5 p.m. and the Jell-O-Shot record was officially broken. Graves raised his arms in the air as the crowd chanted “LSU.” Culjat said anyone who turned 21 and waved their ID in the air received a purple Jell-O shot.

“Obviously,” Culjat said, “you can’t fire 6,000 shots at once. This is neither legally nor morally correct. So we agreed that he would buy the 6,000 to get the record and of course to donate to charity too.

“So everyone got one, they all did it at once. And then after the game, when people came in three hours later… we gave them one too. I don’t know what the final total was, but everyone got it.” One who was here.

Tasha Miller and Joe Lancina, who work for Jevo, a fully automated Jell-O-shot maker, place shot glasses in tiny plastic bowls in front of Rocco’s on Tuesday. Elizabeth Merrill

Located across from Charles Schwab Field, Rocco’s has hosted fan drinking competitions for years. In 2011, when Florida played South Carolina in the finals, fans from both teams wanted their own shots, so McEvoy invented separate concoctions. Six months later, he sat in a dueling piano bar as Creighton and Nebraska competed in basketball, and dueling chants of “Go Big Red” and “Let’s Go Jays” filled the air.

Thousands of dollars flowed into the tip jars that night, McEvoy said, and that got him thinking about the possibilities for the MCWS. He decided to take signature shots for all eight teams.

When Culjat bought the place, he chose Jell-O-Shots because they’re easier to make. Five years later, demand for the shots is such that this year he hired Tennessee-based Jevo, which uses automated gelatin shot makers and Keurig-like cartridges to mass-produce the drinks.

According to Culjat, 42% of Rocco’s annual sales come from the two weeks each summer during the MCWS. He’s not a fan of social media, but acknowledges that Twitter helped the challenge become a national curiosity.

McEvoy started the CWS Jell-O Shot Challenge account on a Monday during last year’s MCWS and had seven followers. At the end of the MCWS, that number was 17,000. Today the account has more than 36,000 followers. The phone keeps ringing, McEvoy said, and callers are asking for an update on the leaderboard.

On Tuesday before the LSU game, Tennessee fan Bobby Bellenfant, along with his sister Raychel, fired an orange shot. Bellenfant said he found out about the bar and the challenge via Twitter. He glanced at the blackboard. The volunteers had fired just over 1,800 shots.

“I don’t think we’re going to get there,” he said. “But it’s for a good cause, so we’re happy to do it.”

A few minutes later, McEvoy updated the forum and Tigers fan Jason Malasovich played “Tiger Rag” on his trumpet as a sea of ​​purple-clad fans danced. LSU was back on top and the party won’t stop until the Tigers lose.

In fact, it probably won’t stop then.

“I think they need to add more alcohol to those shots,” said LSU fan Jesse Lamonte as the crowd made their way to the stadium.

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