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War of the Pizzas: A Bracket to Determine the Best Pizza-Related Moment in History

Movie pizza! Sports pizza! Pizza in your everyday life! The pizza is all around us—but only one pizza moment can rule them all.

Getty Images/20th Century Fox/Warner Bros./NBC/Ringer illustration

We hereby declare Tuesday, August 28 to be Pizza Day, a day to celebrate all the magic (and marinara) of one of earth’s greatest foods. To be completely honest, Pizza Day was originally meant to be timed to the release of the pizza-themed romantic comedy Little Italy, starring Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen; when we realized that Little Italy only hits theaters this week in Canada, we said, “Eh, let’s celebrate pizza in August anyway.” Who needs an excuse to honor pizza, right?

What can you say about pizza that hasn’t already been said? Nick Jonas, aficionado of the arts, once avowed, “I love pizza; you can’t really go wrong with pizza.” The star of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Kevin James, concurred: “There’s no better feeling in the world than a warm pizza box on your lap.” And, of course, there’s the cuisinal genius Guy Fieri, who once said, “This pizza looks like a manhole cover in Flavortown.”

Pizza is a perfect food, a simple concoction of cheese and bread and sauce known and beloved by all (or, at least, all who maintain a shred of sanity). It is a food for everything and everyone. It is food you can eat cold for breakfast, hot for lunch, fancy on a dinner date, or sloppy and wonderfully greasy at 4 in the morning—and it’s good in every setting! What other food has such a wide range of usages and such a high approval rate?

Because of the dish’s universal appeal, pizza has worked its way into most facets of American culture. Watch enough movies or TV shows and you’ll see a pizza; read enough news stories and you’ll spot an anecdote about readers sending The Washington Post a bunch of pizza pies; tune into enough sporting events and someone—somehow, some way—will chuck a piece of pizza. The history of American culture is littered with iconic moments relating to pizza. And because I wanted to determine which pizza moment was the most iconic, I created this bracket:

As you can see, the pizza moments have been broken up into four regions: In the Movies, On TV, In Sports, and In Life. Each pizza moment was then seeded based on my general opinion of its popularity and recognizability. Because Pizza Day is only 24 hours long, we do not have enough time to stage a popular vote. Instead, I will be deciding the winners of each matchup based on a combination of things: the moment’s popularity and notoriety, the moment’s nostalgia factor, the prominence of the pizza in the moment, how delicious the pizza looks in the moment, and what the moment says about pizza. If you disagree with my pizza moment takes and the outcome of this bracket, then you should make your own. (I genuinely mean this, with no ill will: Pizza is for everyone, and therefore everyone should be allowed to construct their own pizza moments bracket.)

Now, let’s go through this bracket region by region and talk pizza moments.

In the Movies

Three Stray Thoughts

1. Seemingly every time I rewatch She’s All That, I’m reminded of the movie’s many horrible moments and details—Freddie Prinze Jr. and Paul Walker debasing the entire female body of their school, for example. But of all the horrors perpetrated by this movie, there is none I would like to forget more than when a bully puts pubic hair on a slice of pizza and tries to trick Kieran Culkin into eating it. They show this in close-up, because the late ’90s were wild.

By the way, if you tell yourself that Kieran Culkin in She’s All That is the child version of Roman Roy, Kieran Culkin’s character in Succession, it actually tracks very well.

2. The literal cheesiness of the pizza in the cartoon version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is magical and ought to be mentioned, but I chose the 1990 live-action version to represent TMNT in this bracket for a couple reasons.

First of all, “Pizza dude’s got 30 seconds” is something I say often when it feels like a delivery is taking too long. (You should try it.) Second, I’ve always wanted to slide a pizza in between a sewer grate in the hopes of feeding several oversized turtles. And third, the fact Domino’s is the purveyor of pizza in this movie feels right. Just four months ago, Domino’s announced that they’d begin delivering pizza “anywhere”—really, though, they’ve been doing that since 1990.

3. Sal’s pizza shop is the centerpiece of the action in Do the Right Thing, and Spike Lee uses the setting—and pizza—to profound effect, so it has to win at least one matchup here. With that said, honorable mention must be given to Spaceballs’ “Pizza the Hutt,” one of the greatest examples in comedy of sticking to a dumb idea until it’s outrageously funny.

Most Intriguing Matchup

The no. 4 vs. no. 5 matchup in this region was a tough one. On the one hand, you have the meta comedy of Mike Myers holding up a box of Pizza Hut while decrying the nature of product placement. On the other, you have Huma Abedin, former right-hand woman to Hillary Clinton, absolutely wolfing down a piece of pizza while her in-the-process-of-being-disgraced husband Anthony Weiner films a futile campaign ad. In the end, Huma eating the pizza was the correct choice (to go all the way to this region’s final, even) because of its relatability and dark yet undeniable humor. Seeing what her life has become—listening to her husband continue to spit out bullshit—Huma can only bite into a slice and roll her eyes, hoping that the pizza might briefly quell her heated bewilderment. It’s impossible to watch that moment in Weiner and not feel it completely.

Why This Pizza Moment Won

Home Alone won because the Home Alone series is maybe the most pizza-friendly series in film history. First, in Home Alone, the McAllisters order the most pizza I’ve ever seen:

A delivery man carrying about 10 boxes of pizza into the McAllisters’ house 20th Century Fox

That’s 10 pizzas right there—for four adults and 11 kids. As a Reddit user pointed out in a post titled “How much pizza were they eating in Home Alone?,” that means there was about five slices of pizza per member of the family. “The pizza math of Home Alone doesn’t add up for me,” the Reddit user concluded, but I think the McAllisters just really love pizza.

You can tell because later in Home Alone, Kevin orders pizza again—and makes the delivery guy believe he’s been fired upon by a gangster with a tommy gun for some reason (I don’t think the delivery guy would’ve asked any questions had Kevin just answered the door like a normal person). And then in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Kevin uses his dad’s credit card to (a) rent a limo, and (b) eat a ton of pizza inside of it.

Kevin sitting in the back of the limo with a champagne glass full of juice and a pizza pie 20th Century Fox

Is there anything better than that? Shout-out to Home Alone and its very pro-pizza politics.

In Sports

Three Stray Thoughts

1. You could say Hedo Turkoglu was phoning it in when he shot a Pizza Pizza commercial as a Toronto Raptor. Here’s his “look at your phone in shock” move:

GIF of Hedo Turkoglu taking a phone away from his ear and looking surprised Pizza Pizza

2. In case you aren’t aware, allow me to tell the best pizza-related story to ever happen in the Premier League. In October 2004, after Manchester United ended Arsenal’s 49-game unbeaten streak, a fight broke out between opposing players in the tunnel at Old Trafford. In the middle of the scuffle, someone threw pizza, which hit Man U’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, awesomely leading fans to nickname the altercation “Battle of the Buffet.”

For many years, the thrower of said pizza went unnamed. Cesc, a footballer who certainly plays like a man who’d throw a piece of pizza, was only fingered in whispers. “They say it was Cesc Fàbregas who threw the pizza at me, but to this day, I have no idea who the culprit was,” Ferguson wrote in his autobiography, as if he were talking about an assassination attempt. But then in 2017, on an episode of Sky One’s A League of Their Own, Cesc fessed up. “Yes!” he exclaimed when asked if he threw the pizza, before hilariously explaining his motivations as if they were legitimate and rational. “All of a sudden, I heard noises and I thought, what’s happening? So I go out with my slice of pizza and I saw Sol Campbell, Rio Ferdinand, Martin Keown—everyone pushing each other. I was like, I want to get in but I don’t know how to and I threw—peeew—just threw it.”

From the initial pizza-throwing to Cesc making sound effects for a slice of pizza hurtling through the air, this is truly one of the greatest moments in sport.

3. Remember when, in the middle of the NFL doing damage control after the Ray Rice incident in 2014, Roger Goodell wouldn’t let his employees eat pizza? Per The Wall Street Journal: “Late into the night on Sept. 10, executives in the NFL conference room brainstormed over ways to prove the commissioner wasn’t covering up for Mr. Rice. Pizzas arrived but no slice was taken until Mr. Goodell ate. He never did, and the slices turned cold in the box.”

My question is, was the whole “no one eats pizza before Goodell eats pizza” thing an expressly written rule in the NFL offices? Or were these execs just too scared to make the first move? If it’s the latter, shame on those guys—it’s their fault they didn’t get any pizza. But because this is Roger Goodell we’re talking about, the former seems more likely—he may not be able to control the devolution of his sport or nail down what constitutes a catch, but he’s sure as hell gonna be in charge of the pizza intake in his offices. Anyway, this was an important pizza moment in sports, and I am now very happy to know that getting pizza delivered can be used to start a dick-measuring contest.

Most Intriguing Matchup

The basketball guys going head-to-head in a pizza war is certainly entertaining, even if there was a clear winner. To provide a little more detail on Carmelo Anthony’s journey toward becoming a pizzaiolo: He invested $5 million in a company that’s forming a partnership with the Ainsworth, the restaurant also known as the place responsible for letting Jonathan Cheban cover chicken wings in liquid, almost definitely toxic gold. Carmelo will probably never see that money again.

On the other hand, you have David Robinson and Dennis Rodman—possibly the two most disparate personalities in the NBA in the ’90s—reinventing the way we eat pizza. “Turn it around!” Robinson tells Rodman while dressed like the dad from Boy Meets World. Just for the record, when I saw this commercial as kid, I truly thought that going “crust first” was an absolutely shocking concept bordering on anarchy. These guys were trailblazers.

Why This Pizza Moment Won

“Here Comes the Pizza,” a video of NESN’s Jerry Remy and Don Orsillo calling a meaningless 2007 game between the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, is one of the best sources of pure pizza-related joy on the internet. In total, the video is 213 seconds, and each second is better than the last.

It begins when a foul ball is hit into the left-field stands, causing Angels outfielder Garret Anderson to collide with a man. Remy and Orsillo notice that the man in the crowd has not only spilled his beer but has been stained by “mud.” But it’s not mud—it’s pizza. “Oh!” Orsillo yelps like Tony Soprano when he first sees the slice make contact. “I’m not so sure that that was a mistake on his shoulder.”

Because a man has inexplicably just thrown a slice of pizza, and because Boston was walloping L.A. 7-1, from this point on Remy and Orsillo stop discussing the baseball game entirely. While gameplay continues, the camera lingers on the fan, who begins threatening his assailant with physical violence … while NESN throws a “Fan of the Game” chyron onto the screen:

GIF of a man in a gray hat the stands yelling and pointing at someone offscreen. A Pepsi “fan of the game” chryon appears on the screen.

Then the inning ends and the broadcast goes to commercial. You think that would be the end of it; thankfully, it is not. Upon the return to the broadcast, while Orsillo fails to stifle his giggles in the background, Remy announces, “We did some investigative reporting on who and what was thrown at that gentleman. And that gentleman has been ejected, but it was an ugly, ugly sight, and I don’t know why it was necessary.” What follows are multiple replays of the pizza-throwing incident, with Remy providing play-by-play commentary—most notably, “And here comes the pizza”—while Orsillo descends into maniacal laughter. “He was hot for a while,” Remy notes, “but I’d be kinda ticked off myself if somebody fired a pepperoni pizzer at me.” As the actual baseball continues on, Remy and Orsillo attempt to get back to their jobs, though they’re completely unable to do so. “I mean, think about how much it costs for a piece of pizza,” Remy muses after a stint of silence.

“Here Comes the Pizza” starts out funny and just gets funnier. It’s cripplingly hilarious—as a viewer you’re beaten into submission by the escalating humor and the inability of these two men to move on. Surely, it is the best pizza moment in sports history.

In Life

Three Stray Thoughts

1. Little Caesars pizza is objectively awful. They keep it in boxes and put it under heat lamps for hours on end—and they’re proud of it. That said, the Little Caesars mascot slamming his spear into two full pizzas and blurting out “Pizza pizza” is iconic and unassailable.

2. Since Pizza Rat, there have been many other “Rats.” Bagel Rat, Avocado Rat, Garbage Rat, Shower Rat. All of these other Rats are either imposters or imitators and should not be celebrated—Pizza Rat is the only rat that matters.

3. Totino’s has better advertising than any actual pizza brand. The three-minute ad they paid Tim & Eric to make in 2014 is the apex, but they have other classics as well, such as the one where a microwave vomits a bunch of pizza rolls on command:

Most Intriguing Matchup

The no. 1 vs. no. 8 matchup sees two extremely important developments in the pizza innovation field go head to head. The 1-seed is Pizza Hut’s groundbreaking decision to pump its crust full of cheese (or, at least, a cheese analog); the 8-seed is Domino’s inventing “pizza insurance,” which allows customers to get a fresh pizza free of charge should their original pie end up damaged. Two pizza inventions that inarguably make the world a better place—but there could be only one winner.

In the end, “pizza insurance” advances because it just says so much more about us than stuffed-crust pizza does. The way I see it, “pizza insurance” is the most honest representation of us as consumers ever made by a pizza-adjacent policy. It’s who we are—a bunch of slovenly, clumsy homo sapiens who can’t get from Point A to Point B without ruining our own food. Instead of trying to change or admonish that, Domino’s simply accepts it and makes it cheaper for us to be ourselves. There’s something admirable about that.

Why This Pizza Moment Won

Pizza Rat is a rat that overshot its bounds. It is a rat who saw a full slice of New York City pizza and the staircase between it and the rat’s home and thought, “I can do this.” It is a rat whose eyes were bigger than its stomach, who attempted a Herculean task, only to fail and slink away in a heap of shame, leaving the slice of pizza face down to rot. Sounds quite familiar to the time you mistakenly ordered a third slice at 4:30 a.m., no?


Three Stray Thoughts

1. I forgot about “Pizza House,” the thing Peggy yells at Don Draper to avoid talking to him in Season 5 of Mad Men. I won’t ever forget it again, for it is a perfect thing to yell at someone, and you don’t need a reason to do it.

2. In Hey Arnold!, it’s Sid’s fault that Arnold’s quest to make the world’s largest pizza fails—Sid, an idiot, thought “tsp” was an abbreviation for “10 square pounds”—but now that I’m an adult, I can see that really, everyone was to blame. The recipe called for 150 teaspoons of baking soda, which means Sid unloaded hundreds of pounds of baking soda into this pizza. No one saw him doing this? Neither Arnold nor Gerald was like, “Hey Sid, I don’t think you need all that baking soda”? Sid is definitely dumb, but we need to stop treating the rest of the gang like they’re innocent bystanders.

3. Don’t go to Albuquerque to throw a pizza on the roof of Walter White’s house. Real people live there, and the whole neighborhood is getting pretty sick of it.

Most Intriguing Matchup

It’s almost impossible to pick a winner in the second-round matchup between Walter White’s roof pizza and Michael Scott kidnapping a delivery boy in The Office. Both are such memorable moments that go far in explaining the characters at the center of them. Ultimately, though, the latter won for these reasons:

1. The joke that there is Alfredo’s Pizza Cafe and Pizza by Alfredo and that one is very good and the other is very bad (“It’s like eating a hot circle of garbage,” says Kevin of Pizza by Alfredo) is a funny detail that makes The Office feel wonderfully lived in.

2. Michael Scott yelling, “You don’t even KNOW what stupid is!”

3. Michael Scott yelling, “No! I am an adult; I don’t have to think or do anything.”

4. Michael Scott calling Pizza by Alfredo and saying, “Is Alfredo there?”

Why This Pizza Moment Won

New York versus Chicago is the most heated geographical debate in pizza history. To this day, a war rages on between those who support New York City’s thin crusts and those who prefer the deep dishes of Chicago—which is weird, because Jon Stewart ended the argument almost five years ago. In a segment that begins as a report on the petty height competition between NYC’s One World Trade Center and Chicago’s Willis Tower, Stewart goes scorched earth when Lester Holt suggests that deep dish is the superior pizza.

Crushing a glass of champagne in his hand, Stewart unleashes a three-minute diatribe, upping his New York accent to affirm that “deep dish pizza is not only not better than New York pizza, it’s not pizza—it’s a fucking casserole.” He goes on: “This [pizza] is an above-ground marinara swimming pool for rats” and “I don’t know whether to eat it or throw a coin in it and make a wish.” Jon Stewart’s deep dish takedown must be deemed the winner in this region—for its seething takes, for its unparalleled passion, and for the mere fact he is 100 percent correct.

The Final Four

Here’s how everything played out in the pizza finals:

“Here Comes the Pizza” takes down Home Alone’s many homages to pizza—not only because it’s a better (and quicker) rewatch, but because it was a moment of absolute serendipity. Think about it: What if that ball was never hit foul? What if Garret Anderson never ran into the guy’s beer? What if Remy and Orsillo didn’t notice the flying pizza? What if the game was close, and the two announcers were being forced to actually pay attention? So many things had to go right for “Here Comes the Pizza” to happen. It’s things like this that make me believe in a higher power.

On the other side of the bracket, Pizza Rat takes it home, for while Jon Stewart’s rant is greatly appreciated, it’s hard to defeat a real-life moment that so succinctly sums up the experience of eating too much pizza. And for that reason as well, Pizza Rat is the overall winner of the pizza moments bracket. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go drag a Domino’s pizza up some subway stairs to see if that violates the terms of my pizza insurance agreement.