Wing Bowl: A Phily tradition

By Dan Berrigan

It’s been called the worst event ever, and for good reason.

The Wing Bowl is the perfect competition for people who think Mardi Gras is tame and pro-wrestling too classy.

It captures everything Philadelphia sports fans have come to embrace about their bad reputation. Remember the 30 guys who booed Donovan McNabb on draft day? OK, now multiply that by about 10,000, and then give each of them a six-pack and some parked cars so they can pee in semi-privacy.

Oh yeah, and don’t forget that it starts at 5 a.m. That’s right. Five o’clock in the morning.

Now put 27 fat guys in the middle of the Wachovia Center and have them eat as many wings as they can in 30 minutes while half-naked women – many of whom are from local strip clubs – cheer them on.

The first two hours of Wing Bowl are dedicated to the procession of contestants, in which the eaters and their entourages enter the arena in floats and costumes that fit their eating names. A few years ago one eater showed up dressed as Elvis – the older version – sitting on his “throne,” waving a toilet plunger. It’s a lot like the Olympics’ opening ceremonies if it were held at Hooter’s and the Girls Gone Wild crew showed up.

The Wing Bowl has evolved from its beginnings in a hotel lobby to become a Super Bowl substitute for the championship-starved city, ballooning into a spectacle that Philadelphians take off work to attend. While other cities hold parades, Philly holds a drunken festival of maniacs shot-gunning beers, while raising their shirts hoping the Wingettes will do the same. It’s an Irish Wake of sorts where championship dreams are laid to rest under hot sauce, sex and beer.

Lots of beer.

Admission is just five bucks, all of which goes to charity, and seating is first-come, first-in. But a word of warning: be sure to stay out of the first five rows. It might seem like a good idea, but when the drinks start flying, that’s where all the short throws come down.

Wing Bowl 14 sold-out in minutes, but it was still easier for fans to get into Wing Bowl than the competitors. To filter out the imitators from the real eaters, competitors have to audition by performing an eating stunt.

“Noseboy” ate two pounds of cod tongue in five minutes.

“Macwing” ate one-and-a-half pounds of haggis (ingredients include a sheep’s lung, heart, stomach and liver) in five minutes and thirty seconds.

“Robocop” ate a pound of cookie dough in four minutes.

“I’m just looking forward to having a good time,” said Adam Taxin (AKA “Hungry Hungry Hebrew”) of Philadelphia who ate two pounds of gefilte fish.

“I wish the wings were Kosher, but what can you do?” said Taxin, according to the Delaware County Times.

After the first half of eating is over, in keeping with the Wing Bowl motto of, “We’ve upped our standards, now up yours,” there is an amazing halftime show. Some guy repeatedly smashes full beer cans against his head until they burst in an explosion of liquid and suds. They have tried other acts with limited success. One year a couple decided to get married at Wing Bowl. The crowd booed the entire time. In 2003 they played it safe by having a curvy blonde woman read nursery rhymes while twirling a hoola hoop in her bikini. Needless to say, it was a crowd favorite.

With all the pageantry and sex, the competition is actually the least exciting part except for when someone breaks the cardinal rule of Wing Bowl: “You heave, you leave.”

During the competition, chants of “Puke, puke, puke,” erupt when two contestants unload their stomachs, and are therefore disqualified.

This year’s winner Joey Chestnut ate 173 wings to set a new Wing Bowl record. Chestnut, a construction-company engineer and a junior at San Jose State University, drank a gallon of milk in 42 seconds to qualify.

Maybe this is the worst event ever, at least until Chestnut assumes the throne.

Dan Berrigan is a senior in engineering and can be reached at [email protected]