The Slatest

The Best Photo We Didn’t Use This Week: Why Is This Man Covered in Ketchup?

Ken "Pinto Ron" Johnson is covered with ketchup squirted from above by two people as a crowd of people cheer behind him.
That’s a lot of sauce! Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Slate’s homepage editors spend a lot of time looking for editorial photos to put on our site. Those searches sometimes yield unexpected results: random, perplexing, and mesmerizing photos that don’t belong on the homepage, but that are too good not to share. Every week, we’ll share the weirdest photo from the wires.

What search term did you use to find this in Getty?
“ron johnson”

What were you hoping to find?
A photo of Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. You know, this guy.

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What did you find instead?
Parabolas of ketchup soaring through the air, aimed squarely at a man who is already thoroughly splattered with the condiment. Sauce blots out the lenses of his glasses, stripes his t-shirt, and makes the ground at his feet look vaguely like a crime scene. An ebullient crowd cheers behind him, enthralled by the spectacle.

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What’s the actual backstory here?
The man being doused with ketchup in this 2019 photo is Ken “Pinto Ron” Johnson, a Buffalo Bills superfan known for his longtime devotion to the team and whimsical tailgate festivities hosted out of his red Ford Pinto. Johnson had been to more than 400 consecutive Bills games, starting with the season opener in 1994. The pandemic has put a kibosh on the home tailgates for now, but Johnson is still attending games at stadiums that allow fans, and he even managed to figure out a socially distant way to get covered in ketchup on some farmland in Tennessee before an away game.

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Johnson’s gameday traditions include shots of cherry liqueur from a 16-pound bowling ball, pizza baked in a converted two-drawer metal filing cabinet, and the “ketchup opening ceremony” depicted in the photo.

That particular ritual dates back to the 1990s, when the original objective was for someone to squirt ketchup onto Johnson’s burger without getting any of the condiment on him. Somewhere along the way, it evolved into the opposite: how much ketchup (and mustard) from a 64-ounce bottle can get squirted onto Johnson? Evidently, a lot!

Ken "Pinto Ron" Johnson, holding a burger in his right hand hand and raising his left index finger, is covered in a thick layer of yellow mustard and some ketchup all over his face and down his shirt.
A tailgate like no other. Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
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That seems a lot of effort to clean up.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Johnson’s wife Dietri says he always smells like the condiments. But Johnson has gotten his post-ketchup routine down to a science. In an interview with GQ, he laid it out:

I have about eight or nine shirts somebody gave me a couple of years ago, and I use one each week. Believe it or not, what I do then is I take it and throw it in the freezer until March, and clean them all at once. But it takes me a while. I spend about four hours. I can bleach most of it out.

Why is this the weird photo of the week?
As a reminder of what we can look forward to once the pandemic is over. The tailgate must go on!

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