Wing-ing it at Wing Bowl 25

A re­port­er’s first-hand per­spect­ive from the scene of the an­nu­al com­pet­ive eat­ing frenzy. 

  • Photo by Kerith Gabriel

  • Photo by Kerith Gabriel

  • Photo by Kerith Gabriel

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.”