Everything you ever wanted to know about Wing Bowl but were too afraid to ask, Part 1
Eagles mania is still in full swing here in the city of Brotherly Love. Luckily, Leah Gallant is back with a two-part feature chronicling her experience as a spectator at the 2018 Wing Bowl. There’s poetry and madness to spare at this annual eating contest held the Friday before Super Bowl Sunday — but is it Art? Read below and keep an eye out for exciting conclusion coming soon.

sponsored

Butch from Manayunk is trying to shove the vomit back into his face. It won’t work. There isn’t much of it but it is definitely on its way out.

The jumbotron has been focused on him since he started heaving, at which point he was still shoving wings into his mouth, which is smeared with orange sauce. His whole torso jerks up, as with a hiccup. He trembles a little, and the crowds in the Wells Fargo Center roar.

His mouth is so full of mashed-up chicken that his cheeks are packed round with it, squirrel-like. He’s hunched low over the plate. When the shudder passes he goes back to eating, picking up each chicken wing with both hands and putting it in his mouth.

Butch is using his hand for some combination of pushing bits of vomit in with the palm and shielding the sight of the directional flow of matter with his hand. But the referee sees and so does the jumbotron, it zooms in on and projects to the whole stadium the movement of matter behind the hand and now he is out.

Butch From Manyunk eating at 2018 Wing Bowl.
Butch From Manyunk eating at 2018 Wing Bowl.

At 5am on the Friday before Super Bowl Sunday there is Wing Bowl, the annual chicken wing eating contest. It works like this. Each eater qualifies by passing a food test held on air at the radio station, by successfully fulfilling such tasks as eating 4 pounds of canned dog food (in x minutes) or two feet of sushi off of the prone bodies of two women. At the Wing Bowl, each Eater makes a grand entrance on a float surrounded by their entourage. Strippers are deployed by local clubs as Wingettes, to cheer on the eaters. In the contest, there are two initial rounds of fourteen minutes each followed by a two minute final round. Referees are there to ensure all flesh has been cleared off the bone. (They wear blue latex gloves which they hold at some distance from their sides, because the gloves soon become sauce-covered.) If an eater vomits, she is disqualified. Whoever eats the most wins.

It’s like all the best ingredients of a half time show have been turned into a whole time show.

The whole thing is over by 9:30am or 10:00am so that everyone can get to work.

Alcohol service at 2018 Wing Bowl.
Alcohol service at 2018 Wing Bowl.

Before the simultaneous eating and vomiting begins, before the floats have even entered the stadium, there is a long period of waiting. I think its purpose is to build hype, but for some spectators its more alluring alternative was to nap. You know those “I Hate Steven Singer” billboards? At some point Steven Singer– it turns out he’s a jeweler– shows the winner’s prize ring to the press. My feelings towards Steven Singer remain neutral.

I wander the outer perimeter of the stadium seeking, and not finding, coffee. I do, however, find a small bronze sculpture of a basketball player turning into shale and then back into tiny seventies-shorts-wearing flesh (photos cannot convey how weird this sculpture is). There is also a collection of Philly team hats, presented by Toyota, jammed into a glass display case. (Can Mark Dion take on sports culture?) I stare at the blinking sign that said YOUR HAT COULD BE NEXT and long for the games to begin. It is not yet 6am. The audience — close to 20,000 people, this Bowl is sold out — has begun to slowly trickle in from the pre-dawn tailgating in the parking lot.

Back in the arena, the radio hosts are, miraculously, still holding court. They’re talking about the origins of this relatively young tradition: back in the dark days, the nineties, when they thought to host a contest for Eagles country, which never made it far into the season.

Each place is set up with two bottles of water and a namecard (“Obi Wing,” “Winginitis” [sic], “Dirty Dog and Things,” and last year’s winner, “Notorious B.O.B”). Eaters are seated at two long tables on a tiered stage at the center of the stadium, the radio announcers at the back. Servers and Wingettes, referees, and the occasional photographer circulate the aisles in front of each table.

At 6am the lights dim. The show is about to start. What we’re in for, according to the radio host, is, and I quote, “an amazing three hours and fifteen minutes of joy and fun.”

But first, the space must be cleansed. “I Put A Spell On You” blasts through the speakers, and an airbrushed coffin is wheeled in front of the stage, accompanied by two strippers and a man in a graduation robe and a wolf hat. He is trying to raise a chicken from the dead, he says. He waves a rubber chicken around the coffin and opens it, but it doesn’t work — the coffin is empty. Then the music changes and the strippers lean over the coffin and start twerking. The wolf man opens the coffin again and pulls out a live chicken and the crowd roars.

Coffin procession at 2018 Wing Bowl.
Coffin procession at 2018 Wing Bowl.

Then come the floats:

Porky Balboa is wheeled out in a mini wrestling ring and starts punching a guy in a bacon costume who cowers under his Patriots flag.

In rhinestones, on the seat of a stripper’s underpants – “I’LL BE YOUR HALFTIME SHOW.”

Float sign: “NEW ENGLAND IS A SHITHOLE.”

Man in Trump mask accompanied by smiling woman carrying a sign which reads, “HEY DONALD, GRAB MY PUSSY.”

Representative from Delilah’s throwing hand towels emblazoned with the establishment’s name into the crowd.

A farm-themed float with a live baby goat cowering in the stripper’s arms and a cage of chickens in the back (announcers: not sure about the legality).

Tart Tent —a mini wrestling ring with an inflatable-woman doll, who suffers the only fates available to an effigy of a woman in this particular context: object to be punched, object to be humped, object to be smashed around.

2018 Wing Bowl.
2018 Wing Bowl.

Each entourage does a lap around the arena before its eater takes his seat at the table. The appearance of each float is punctuated by a burst of confetti.

At times the procession of floats pauses to allow for an uplifting rendition of the chant FUCK, THE, PAT-RI-OTS, FUCK, THE, PAT-RI-OTS, or for the radio hosts to interview the enthusiastic protagonist of one viral video or another — say, the one where the guy crouched on top of a moving SUV meets the approval of the shirtless guy in the eagles mask, or the one where the guy runs cheering alongside a SEPTA train until he crashed directly into the pole and sort of rolls against the side of the train as it accelerates out of the station.

Some of the float’s themes, or their relationship to the eater’s name, are more subtle: Obi Wing, bare-chested and dreadlocked, lies hidden-ish under two kayaks on a wheeling couch pushed onto the floor before bursting out, at which point members of his entourage attack him with lightsabers. In another, a person in an eagle costume drops pounds of cooked spaghetti by the armful onto the head of a seated person in front, which another attendants tops with cans of tomato sauce.

“Just taking a glance at this next float here, I’m sort of confused,” says an announcer. It’s the contestant from Steelers country, Pittsburgh Paulie, who is seated in — blasphemy of blasphemies — an ‘Eagles Suck’ jersey in a sort of bare wheeling cage made of chicken wire. The boo’s rise like mist. The reason for the cage soon become obvious; it is not to keep him in but to keep the trash out. Missiles begin to hurl from every side of the arena and accumulate on the top of the cage, a half-drunk beer can splashing inside upon impact.

2018 Wing Bowl at Philadelphia Wells Fargo Center.
2018 Wing Bowl at Philadelphia Wells Fargo Center.

In the tradition of any other noble sporting event, before the game begins the national anthem is sung. A policeman takes center stage and his voice is a thing of real beauty. The eaters rise, the strippers rise, the masses in their emerald jerseys put down their beers and stand to formality and place their right hands on their chests. A wing server gazes up solemnly, her gloved hand, fingers splayed, smeared in red-brown barbecue sauce, positioned carefully where it represents patriotism, honor, etc., but won’t ruin her shirt — it hovers several inches away from her heart.

Then someone smashes an egg against the side of his head and the games begin.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion coming soon!

Tags

2018 Wing Bowl, philadelphia, Wells Fargo Center

sponsored
sponsored

Hello!

Sign up to receive Artblog’s weekly updates and monthly Our Picks sent directly to your inbox.

Subscribe Today!

Send this to a friend