What Did Competitive Eaters at Philly's Wing Bowl 23 Listen to While They Stuffed Their Faces?
Lots of Foo Fighters, Nine Inch Nails, and Tom Petty, apparently.
Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti in the heat of competition at Wing Bowl / All photos by Jon Anderson
, a Berlin, NJ-based cover band, is providing the soundtrack to one of the world’s premier eating events: Philadelphia, PA's famed Wing Bowl. The sun’s not even up andthe Wing Bowl house band is chugging through , but there are already very few of the twenty thousand people packing the Wells Fargo Center who can come close to passing a breathalyzer.
What began as a sports talk radio spoof of the Super Bowl for disappointed Philadelphia Eagles fans is now a destination on every competitive eater’s list. Past Wing Bowl champions include renowned eaters Takeru Kobayashi, Joey Chesnutt, Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas and last year’s champ Molly Schuyler.
Molly Schuyler in action
For the past twenty-three years, the Wing Bowl has started at 6AM the Friday before Super Bowl Sunday. The 90 percent male crowd braves the 20° weather to tailgate the stadium parking lot and get wasted on a Friday morning as part of what, for many, has become a Philadelphia institution. Most people don’t even enter the arena until 7AM, because that’s when beer goes on sale.
It's 6AM, do you know where your husband is?
I end up on the floor of the stadium where the 76ers normally lose their home games while 23north is covering . The thoroughly-sauced crowd is at a fever pitch as the parade of homebuilt floats ushers each eater to the stage, a tradition begun by former Philadelphia mob associate .
23 23 North
Last year’s champion, Molly Schuyler—the only female contestant this year—is a press favorite and has as her entrance theme: an epic song for an epic moment. The contestants take their seats, the stadium counts down, and Wing Bowl 23 officially begins. The band tears into Foo Fighters’ anthem “All My Life,” and the eaters feverishly start devouring chicken wings one by one. Some of 23north’s selections, like the aforementioned “All My Life” and “Head Like a Hole,” tie into the face stuffing madness of the competition, while others like “Sweet Caroline” and “Jump Around” encourage crowd participation.
Much has been said about Wing Bowl, both good and the bad. Its critics tend to focus on the event's objectification of women, its encouragement of excessive intoxication, the overwhelming gluttony, and the general shit show that it is. See, Wing Bowl is about far more than just chicken wings and rock'n'roll; as it turns out, it's also about boobs.
Curvy, scantily-clad women called Wingettes surround the eaters and hold onto their plates of wings while twerking and posing for the cameramen. I discover that a former girlfriend of mine is a Wingette; she puts down a plate of wings on the long eaters’ table and we wave to each other.
Wingettes surround contestant Ginger Wings.
The Wingettes leave little to the imagination, but the rowdy crowd want more – FREE THE NIPPLE! Stadium cameramen roam the arena, looking for the small percentage of women in the audience. The massive stadium screen lands on a large-breasted woman, and the crowd screams for her to lift her shirt up. She doesn’t oblige and the “boos” bellow from the rafters of the stadium. The band goes into its idea of "female-friendly mode," and plays “Applause” by Lady Gaga backed with Gotye to egg the women on. A few women start to flash the cameramen, who throw their topless images up on the Jumbotron as the crowd ravenously applauds.
BOOBS – FUCK YEAH!
Another thing the crowd loves to see is vomiting, a situation which results in immediate elimination from competition—"You heave, you leave,” as the saying goes. As such, these breaks in form are coveted moments to the pool of photographers, who fight for position to get the ultimate vomit snapshot.
Going into the final round, the field of thirty eaters has been whittled down to five, but the title of Wing Bowl champion has really come down to two people: defending champion Molly Schuyler has eaten 399 wings, while Chicago native Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti has eaten 393. In one of the most impressive acts of competitive eating ever seen, Deep Dish sprints to the finish to overcome the six-wing deficit by eating fifty-one wings in the final two minutes of competition. That’s one wing every 2.35 seconds.
The coronation of Wing Bowl 23 champion Patrick Bertoletti.
In a great display of sportsmanship, the newly crowned King of Wing Bowl called over the runner-up and former champ for a warm embrace and sauce-covered kiss. Confetti streamers fell from the sky, the crowd pounded on their seats, and 23north closed out their performance with a rousing rendition of “Runnin Down A Dream” by Tom Petty.
Sportsmanship is alive and well in the City of Brotherly Love.
It’s just after 9AM and cleanup efforts to ready the arena for a 76ers game that night are underway as the crowd stumbles out into the early daylight. For better or worse, Wing Bowl 24 is less than a year away.
& are proud Philadelphians; when not scrafing down chicken wings, they enjoy scrapple and porkroll.