Super Bowl weekend in Philadelphia usually means one thing – drinking beer at 6 AM with 20,000 of your closest friends. While we would love for this to be in preparation for the Eagles march to an NFL Championship, in reality we are drowning the sorrows of another disappointing season at the most Philadelphian of events – the Wing Bowl.
The Wing Bowl – Philadelphia’s premier chicken wing eating contest – has been going strong for 21 years. After countless seasons of middling teams and disappointing playoff losses, the local sports radio station decided to take matters into their own hands and ensure that the die-hard Eagles fans would have something to celebrate every February. While we would love to be cheering our beloved football team to victory, we gladly settle for cheering for a bunch of fat guys to puke from eating too many chicken wings at 8 AM.
The actual format of the Wing Bowl is very straightforward – each contestant comes out on a float and takes their place on the stage, and then a three-round eating contest begins. (This year, the winner ate 287 wings, in case you are interested.) It may not seem like that big of a deal, but the beauty of Wing Bowl lies in the subtleties. Like the fact that local strip clubs sponsor the contestants, and each float usually has a handful of “Wingettes” provided by said strip clubs. Also, beer sales begin at 6 AM.
Another impressive aspect of Wing Bowl is the handiwork of the JumboTron cameraman. He seems to have a sixth sense for knowing which girls in the stands (for some reason there is a large contingent of normal women who attend this event) will be willing to flash the crowd, and for just how long he can remain focused on them before it becomes creepy.
The event is held at the Wells Fargo Center, home of the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers. There are bars and parking lots surrounding the area, and plenty of public transportation. It is an interesting sight to see the parking lots as full as if the Eagles or Phillies had a game, but there is a reason for that. It is a big mistake to try to attend Wing Bowl sober. (I really think you have a better chance of puking if you are sober. Some things just can’t be unseen.) This is really the key to Wing Bowl. If you want to have a nice buzz on for a 6 AM eating contest, you are going to have to get up a lot earlier than that in order to start tailgating. Lots of people are up by 3, and many never go to bed the night before. It lends the event a certain type of camaraderie. Who would want to be standing in the freezing February cold, nursing a Bud Light at 4 in the morning, in order to see a bunch of grown men eat large amounts of meat? Great guys, that’s who!
I think that reasoning really allows everyone to get along, and the entire event turns into one giant tailgate. It’s like someone left the doors to the Wells Fargo Center unlocked, and a bunch of die-hard fans just stormed in. The orderliness you experience at a typical basketball game is gone. People are running across aisles, high-fiving strangers, and just getting along great. Except for that one guy from Dallas. Nobody liked him.
In talking with people to try to figure out why they would get up so early to drink, nobody had a really good answer. It is just a fun thing to do. But while people were lacking in answers for why they came, it certainly didn’t stop them from coming. The Wing Bowl has been growing every year. I attended back in 2001 and my friends and I just showed up the morning of and walked right in. The event was free and no tickets were required. This year, the event was sold out weeks in advance, and I paid $45 for my ticket.
I think the reason it has grown so much over the years is pretty simple – guys love taking off work and getting drunk early in the morning. The parade of scantily clad women doesn’t hurt either.
And the strip clubs offer a free breakfast afterwards, which is nice.