I was a Wing Bowl virgin on Friday morning, but I had done my homework.
I had steeled myself against prejudice. I had read all the bareknuckled takedowns, the love-it-or-leave-it defense blogs, and the vicey essays about Philadelphia’s most famous day of bacchanalia — I was convinced to go into Wing Bowl with an open mind.
But it turns out I didn’t need one. The cavalcade of strippers and diehard wing fans bored me. It felt campy, oversaturated. The throngs of blotto dudes egging women to show their breasts at 5 in the morning — you took a Friday off for this? So be it. Not my scene. And so from the press corral on the floor of the Wells Fargo Center, like anyone who’s ever been bored at a party, I started fixating on the least interesting thing about the softcore mess that is Wing Bowl.
Who’s gonna clean it up?
I caught a couple of stagehands joking about some milky barf splatter on the hockey glass nearby.
“Damn, who the hell threw up on the glass there?” one guy said, joining the others in laughs. “I ain’t cleanin’ that up.”
In between rounds of competitive eating, I would watch the building services guys — the ones with the solemn faces, rubber gloves, and industrial trash bags — do the dirty work. But the mess on stage is only a smudge of stadium-wide barf festival.
The Wells Fargo Center staff tasked with mopping up all the spilled Miller Lite and regurgitated chicken parts and Fireball-scented vomit are not permitted to talk the press, they said.
But this is Wing Bowl, where the rules are made to be broken.
“It’s worse than any of the sports games or concerts, man,” Kurt, a veteran building services worker whose name is definitely not Kurt but who I am also not trying to get in trouble with his employer, said.
How many times has Kurt cleaned up puke since the parking lot opened to tailgaters at 4 a.m.?
“I can’t even … count,” he said. “Dozens.”
In the last few hours, Kurt said he had personally broken up or called security on five fistfights. He had also summoned ambulances. He had watched medics put tubes up the noses of grown men to pump their stomachs. I looked at my watch; it was only 8:45 a.m.
Meanwhile, back in the pit, another longtime Wells Fargo maintenance worker (and South Philly native, I should add) shrugged at the turnout this year. He remembers10 years ago when there wasn’t an empty seat in the house at Wing Bowl.
“I think people are just getting tired of seeing the same old thing,” he said. “Every year it’s the same guys eating chicken wings, the same girls from the same clubs.”
Indeed, there were many diehard Wing Bowl fans in the audience this year. I wish I could say the drunkenness and the fighting were isolated incidents. Regrettably, the Wells Fargo Center doesn’t keep stats on this stuff. But even without looking for it, it’s impossible not to notice the frequency of throwing up and the throwing down among Wing Bowlers.
Even Angelo Cataldi, WIP’s longtime sports-radio personality and Wing Bowl creator, has conceded that the event has skewed far from its original vision, and that people who think it’s trash “have a point.”
“Even we have grave misgivings about it,” Cataldi told Philadelphia magazine last year. “What it is now wasn’t the plan that we designed 24 years ago.”
Meanwhile, there have been mixed reports about Cataldi’s retirement and the consequent end of Wing Bowl. Were Wing Bowl to vanish, how much would it be missed?
I can safely say that building service worker won’t be shedding any tears.
“They said this will be the last Wing Bowl,” Kurt said hopefully. “But who knows? They said that last year, too.”