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The challenge stretched before them, daunting yet delicious-looking.

More than 3 feet of Cuban bread, ham, pork, cheese, pickles and mustard. The three yardstick-sized sandwiches had been divided into four segments apiece for the three contestants recruited to help launch a new menu item at Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill: The Ferg's Challenge.

Eat the sandwich in 20 minutes and pay nothing. Or fail and fork over $29.99.

Helping launch the challenge Thursday were Denyse Deegan, co-owner of Crowley's Downtown Grill & Bar, Mike Miller, from Cheney Brothers food suppliers, and Bob Biscoe, a cook at Ferg's.

At 11:30, it was on: From the first bite, Miller looked sure and purposeful, cheeks ballooning as he chewed.

Deegan, a petite woman, looked a little stricken after the first bite - as if the bread were made of some tensile-strength dough.

Biscoe hunkered in and chewed earnestly, not uttering a word.

11:38: Miller was the first to complete a segment.

11:45: Deegan cut the sandwich into smaller pieces and her pace picked up considerably. Miller had pulled off the bread and was cramming meat into his mouth. Biscoe's second segment looked untouched.

11:50: Contest extended to 30 minutes. "I ain't done yet," Miller said as reached for a napkin and wiped the sweat from his face.

Noon: Contest over. Miller and Deegan had consumed almost half of their sandwiches. Biscoe had thrown down a barely eaten second segment.

12:05: Any last words? "Burp," said Biscoe.

Ferg's Sports Bar and Grill is at 1320 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.