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We’ll tread gently on Shaquille O’Neal because there’s money being raised for COVID-19 relief and some other causes involved here. Well, that and he’s an awfully big gentleman. But the new pizza promotion he’s rolled out this week for the Papa John’s chain borrows heavily from the genius of Hall of Fame baseball figure Yogi Berra.  

Shaquille O’Neal’s big idea for pizza

Papa John’s is making a big promotional push for the purported brainchild of NBA great Shaquille O’Neal, now a savvy business investor. O’Neal, who retired from the Boston Celtics in 2011 after 19 seasons in the NBA with six clubs, is a Papa John’s board member and has done well with a number of personal investments.

Papa John’s International, Inc., which has a market cap of about $2.5 billion, has had its share of public relations problems in recent years, but investors have been sweet on the chain lately. They’ve pushed the Papa John’s stock price up by close to 60% since early March as the COVID-19 pandemic has given a boost to take-out and delivery restaurants.

Looking for a way to keep the momentum, Papa John’s has introduced the Shaq-a-Roni, a 16-inch pizza with extra cheese and 66 slices of pepperoni.

If that were all that the marketing folks were pushing, everything would be fine. However, Papa John’s is making a point of promoting that the pizza is cut into eight triangular slices instead of the usual 10 for an extra-large pie, making for what Papa John’s says is its biggest slice ever.

Shaq is 7-foot-1 and looks to be carrying roughly the same 325 pounds that he did during his playing days, so we see what they’re angling for there. But whether the pizza is cut into two, eight, or 16 slices, the size is the same – 201 square inches, plus or minus.

Something old, something new in Shaquille O’Neal’s idea

The Shaq-a-Roni rollout coincides with a new fundraising push for Papa John’s foundation arm. The Louisville, Kentucky, corporation says it is donating a dollar from every Shaq-a-Roni sold through Aug. 23 to The Papa John’s Foundation for Building Community. That fund supports the efforts for COVID-19 assistance, causes that fight racial injustice, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and the United Negro College Fund.

Maybe they can find a little something in the tip jar to pay royalties to Yogi Berra for the schtick of cutting pizzas into eight slices instead of 10.

Berra’s malaprops are legendary, although it’s unlikely that the former New York Yankees catcher, elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1972, actually said everything that’s been attributed to him. A few examples of his wisdom, as compiled by USA Today:

  • “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”
  • “You can observe a lot by just watching.”
  • “How can you think and hit at the same time?”
  • “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
  • “Always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
  • “It ain’t over till it’s over.”
  • “No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded.”

And, of course, there’s a very famous Yogi Berra story that some of his friends, including New York Yankees teammate Mickey Mantle, used to tell. It has everything to do with Shaquille O’Neal’s new pizza.

The Yogi Berra pizza story

Yogi Berra; Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle were fixtures on some great New York Yankees teams. | Herb Scharfman/Getty Images
Yogi Berra; Whitey Ford, and Mickey Mantle were fixtures on some great New York Yankees teams. | Herb Scharfman/Getty Images

The Yogi Berra pizza story changes a little bit from person to person depending upon who’s telling the story, but we’ll go with the Mickey Mantle version in explaining the over-the-top gimmick in Shaquille O’Neal’s favorite pizza being promoted now by Papa John’s. Mantle and Berra were New York Yankees teammates from 1951-63.

“Yogi had a funny way of saying things, like you’d ask what time it was and ol’ Yogi would say, ‘You mean right now?’” Mantle said. “Another time, Whitey (Ford), Yog and I went to a pizza place after a game. The waitress wanted to know if we wanted ‘em cut in eight or four pieces.

“Whitey and I said ‘eight’, but Yog said, deadpan, ‘Naw, cut mine in four. I don’t think I can eat eight.’”

And there you have the genius of the Shaq-a-Roni.


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