The Wing Bowl Revisited

This year, I am not heading to Philadelphia for the event, but my college friends will once again take in the wing bowl from the luxury box. I attended twice, and I wrote the story below a few years ago (Jan 2009) attempting to explain exactly what is the wing bowl. Enjoy:

For most of my adult life, Super Bowl weekend represented a classic football match-up, comical commercials, attempts to hit it rich with a few bets, and the best of American excess in eats and drinks. But since my documented NFL fandom retirement in 2006, I decided to search for other events to occupy my time on the huge football weekend. And last year I discovered one.  Wing Bowl.

For years my friends asked if I wanted a ticket to join them to attend the wing-eating contest but I always turned down their offer. I never went to ConeyIsland for Nathan’s July 4th Hot Dog eating contest, why attend Wing Bowl? In fact, much to the bewilderment of most of my friends, I don’t even like wings.

But no matter, I learned this event is more than watching contestants eat excessive amounts of food, it is classic Philadelphia.

The event started many years ago when sports radio hosts decided the city and its fans needed something to celebrate on Super Bowl weekend since the Eagles never played in big game.  Now, seventeen years later, what originally began in a hotel lobby has ballooned into an event that sells out the Wachovia Center.

luchadores eat wings too

Here’s how it works.  The Friday before the Super Bowl, at 6 AM (to coincide with the morning talk show) the Wachovia Center doors open. Entourages from each contestant parade around the floor as the talk show hosts announce each eater, debate their odds for victory, discuss any peculiar eating styles or practice techniques (many eat 50 tootsie rolls a day to open the jaws leading up to the event), and explain how they qualified to participate in the event in the first place. All of these facts or rather feats are documented on the WIP radio website.

At last year’s event, I considered myself fortunate to sit next to my friend Drew. The seven-year veteran acted as a personal historian of the depravity.  During the two 14 minute eating rounds and two minute final round (eat off), he explained the techniques and shared many of his favorite moments and memories from prior years.  One year a contestant named ‘Big Rig’ qualified by eating an entire sheet cake (for comparison, the ones for sale in Wal-Mart are only a ¼ sheet).  Or how another year a contestant so morbidly obese needed to be pushed up the stairs to the stage.  And of course there was the year a contestant lost it. A video clip has captured that legendary projectile vomit and it’s replayed when any current contestant seems he might waver in the food frenzy. Definitely a crowd favorite.

ladies come to party too

The competition highlight of Wing Bowl 16, was when hall of fame member and 5 time winner, Bill “El Wingador,” Simmons came out of retirement to attempt to beat the current world record holder and eclipse the elusive 200 wing mark. El Wingador did have a look of determination, but it was no match for Joey Chestnut.  A California man who had also ended the 6-year winning streak of Takeru Kobayashi at the Nathan’s 4th of July hot dog eating contest.  That year Joey, the current International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) ranked #1, captured his 3rd consecutive crown after the competitive eater downed 241 wings (one wing every 8 seconds for 30 minutes).

This year, the seventeenth annual Wing Bowl, professionals are unable to compete. The all-amateur event is now wide open with the ironic prize of a mini cooper for the winner. But it is not just the eating contest that draws the crowds.

The event, famous for its intoxicated fans, apparently sells more beer from 7am to 9am (just 2 hours) than any other event held at the Wachovia Center.  And many come just to see the women go wild. The quantity and quality of female fans exposing themselves rival any spring break week.

but contestants keep focus too

Coupled with the hand picked Wingettes, the official escorts of the contestants dressed up in lingerie, the event is an all-inclusive party. And for the after party, the city’s countless gentleman’s club dancers promote the various options available.

For last year’s after party, I joined my friend Rich and had the honor of meeting two of the contestants. Rich was a member of the entourage for Eric”Steak bellie” Livingston and had invited me behind the rope at McFadden’s. There I also met, Micah “Wing Kong” Collins. What struck me most was their calm demeanor.  Amid the drunken chaos surrounding them and after powering down 70-80 wings, it seemed they were the only people who acted as if it was 10am on a Friday morning.

female fans do enjoy the event...

But the Wing Bowl is not without criticism. Many are angered at the fact that the event promotes gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins, while others demonstrate concern that the event is staged in one of the nation’s fattest cities.

Also, the same politicians who offer populist words of encouragement of the event also claim to support healthy eating campaigns. But criticism is no surprise in Philly; no ‘sporting’ event held in that city is without its critics. Now, on my way to watch my second Wing Bowl, I remember overhearing a young college student chatting on his

cell phone last year prior to the event, “yeah,” he said “this is something not to be missed.”  I tend to agree. If you want to meet and understand the Philadelphia sports fan and its cheerleaders in all their glory, make your travelplans to witness Wing Bowl.

Stay adventurous, Craig

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  • Rich

    I never get tired of reading this story. Brings back fond memories. Since moving from Philly Wing Bowl is one of the things I missed the most. Truly needs to be experienced to by understood. Fine work Craig.

    • Craig Zabransky

      Thanks Rich, I plan to return one day myself. Perhaps we should plan your return one year soon? It is truly a spectacle of absurdity.
      stay advenutrous, Craig

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  • Pamela

    Thanks for sharing all of this, I’ve read this on my iphone in the train! Haha.

    • craig zabransky

      Pamela, it is a wild day… i wonder how big it has gotten since my days (our days) now as I revisit this article. All the best. Stay Winging it, Craig