The birth of the ultimate Philly event, the Wing Bowl began in 1993 after yet another disappointing Eagles football season. There are not words to describe the amount of pain Philly fans endure year after year as they pick up their broken hearts off the ground and grumble the classic phrase “Next year is the year.” Sure enough the following year the fans are back for more wear and tear on the hearts and souls. That is why the Philly fans are the best and darn it they deserve some sort of celebration- any reason for a party! This is where the Wing Bowl comes into play!
In 1993, on the Friday morning before the Dallas-Buffalo Super bowl, the inaugural Wing Bowl took place. The Philadelphia sports’ radio station WIP created the event. Buffalo chicken wings were selected as the food of choice to steal some of the thunder from Buffalo because their Bills were always in the Super bowl. Twelve years later, the Wing Bowl is still the Philly fans Super bowl.
The moon is out, the sky is dark, and the air is cold. In the wee morning hours around two o’clock Philadelphia is coming alive. Streams of cars are piling into the noisy parking lot of the Wachovia Center and the extensive lines begin to form at the door. The steamy breath of the fans bundled in winter jackets and Eagles jerseys fills the arctic January air. The stench of the fumes from the propane does not faze the Wing Bowl tailgater even in such early morning hours. In the distance the muffled “E-A-G-L-E-S—Eagles” chant turns into earsplitting cheers of excitement. The coolers filled to the brim with beer are beginning to empty as scattered cans are smashed and thrown on the pavement. Camera crews scan the scene and attempt to capture the exhilaration of the moments awaiting the morning’s ultimate event.
At 5:30 the doors open and chaos breaks loose. Twenty thousand fans bombard the entrance and it all starts. Where does one begin to describe the antics of the day? This contest attracts competitors worldwide to engage in stuffing their faces and stomachs with as many chicken wings as possible. However, the significance behind it means so much more. This is Philly’s event, their local heroes better win the contest, and give the fans a reason to come together and celebrate. Parades, floats, costumes, and entourages are all present for the competitor’s lap of fame around the Wachovia Center floor, obviously consisting of each competitor’s personal Wing-ettes. A Wing-ette can be defined as a stunningly gorgeous, bikini-clad, silicone-enhanced woman. With special permission the beer taps begin to flow at 7 A.M. and the fans continue towards inebriation. Bets are placed as the eater’s odds of winning are displayed on overhead screens along with what they ate to qualify for the contest.
One of the competitor’s from New York theme is “Cry Philly Cry” as a play-on-words from the opening line of Philadelphia’s fight song “Fly Eagles Fly.” His float consists of a life-size Kleenex box for the Philly fans to wipe their tears from the Eagles previous week’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. This stings an open wound for Philly fans who quickly begin a synchronized mantra of an obscenity that begins with an “A” and ends with “hole.”
Chewing on frozen tootsie rolls to strengthen jaw muscles and drinking gallons of water a day to expand stomach size are only part of a competitor’s training for a contest. It all seems like a joke, but extensive preparation and bulking are strategically planned for today’s event. From the locker room Bill Simmons hears the ranting and raving of the crowd as they heckle one of his opponents. He looks in the mirror and stares at the reflection in front of him. Simmons morphs into his alter ego “El Wingador” and is faced with the presence of a hero. Intensity and extreme passion overwhelm Simmons’ emotions.
“I am doing this for the diehard Philly fans,” El Wingador boldly stated to the hero in the mirror. There are 20,000 proud Philadelphians who are depending on him. The Eagles season is over, they lost, and El Wingador doesn’t want this title to leave this great city. Middle-aged men called in sick from work, teenagers played hooky from school, people drove many miles on the slick January morning roads, and courageous women bare it all for a reason to celebrate.
In the crowd, a fan begins to explain to his out-of-town guest that if you are not from Philadelphia, you will not understand the sense of meaning behind this ultimate event. But those of us that are from Philly do not try to explain the significance of today’s spectacle. We just understand; we feel it. It is in our blood. We bleed green for our beloved Eagles. This is our Super bowl.
“It’s game time!” exclaims Angelo Cataldi, one of the radio-hosts of WIP’s morning team. He sits at a table facing a stage where the thousands of wings are about to be demolished. Positioned according to their probability of winning, front and center is El Wingador, The Black Widow and Ed “Cookie” Jarvis respectively. These three wing-eaters are the main focus of the contest, excluding the chance that one of the other competitors is about to hurl, in which case all attention would be spotlighted on him amongst the screams of the tantalizing chant “Puke…Puke!”
A pile of chicken wings oozing with spicy sauce is situated in front of twenty-four pairs of eyes starving for victory. The stale odor of buffalo flavoring on pre-cooked, soggy wings fills the nostrils of the contenders. Saliva drips from the awaiting
mouths of the carnivores, even with the expectations of the feast being cold, slimy, and unsavory. The shriek of the foghorn sounds and the fourteen-minute first half is set in motion. Judges scrutinize the wings to ensure all the meat on the bone is being consumed. Cleavage is everywhere as Wing-ettes bend over to allocate new plates of wings to their participant. The Wachovia Center roars with excitement as the first round comes to an end. As the judges tally up the totals, the half-time show consists of two men furiously attempting to smash twelve full beer cans on their heads the fastest. Laughter is heard as beer and blood disperse through the air as this year’s winner broke an all-time record! Finally, Angelo surprisingly announces that an unlikely candidate is in the lead at the start of the second half. The crowd isn’t worried; they know that this no-name leader will succumb to the strategies of their favorites.
Blurred vision is common amongst the spectators, as they cannot follow the high-speed rhythmic motion of The Black Widow’s arms as she tears the meat off the bone and slams it back down on the plate. Pure amazement is the underlying reaction as wings magically disappear from the powerful jaws of El Wingador. Furthermore, the fierce look on Ed “Cookie” Jarvis’s countenance reveals he means business. The bell sounds and the second period is over, leaving only the final two-minute crunch-time.
“There is a two-way tie going into the last two minutes of the contest!” The announcement enhances the anticipation of the already crazy Philadelphians. The crowd hushes as Angelo reveals that El Wingador is trailing the Black Widow by four wings. Stunned, the crowd realizes what this means. Two minutes is not enough time to comeback from a four-wing deficit. In crunch-time, the opponents go wing for wing indicating that victory is unfeasible for their native hero, El Wingador.
Time is up; everyone earnestly awaits the final results. The sauce-covered contestants chew and swallow the remaining chicken packed in their cheeks. Angelo rises and the crowd silences. “In third place, with 161 wings, we have El Wingador,” declares Angelo. Instantaneously, the Philly fanatics applaud and El Wingador receives a standing ovation. The crowd cannot be calmed. Although El Wingador lost, the fans display their appreciation for their hero who gave them a reason to celebrate. Minutes go by, and eventually the announcers make an attempt to shout over the roar of the crowd. “And the winner of the 12th Annual Wing Bowl with a whopping 167 wings is the Black Widow!” Sonya Thomas, an out-of towner, just won Philly’s very own Wing Bowl. Nevertheless, the Philadelphians still cheer and go crazy. Bear hugs and high-fives are given to total strangers all around. The Wachovia center shakes with excitement and Wing Bowl 12 is in the history books!
The magnitude of the day’s event cannot be measured by merely lots of sauce, sex and beer, but in some sort of human triumph. What can be said of the Philly fans, their hometown hero, El Wingador, and the newly crowned Wing Bowl champion, the Black Widow? The Philadelphians got what they wanted- an out of control party, El Wingador obtained admiration from the fans, and the 99-pound Black Widow amazed the world- but where- no where else than good ol’ Philly.