The Wing Bowl is known for being wild and debaucherous. The annual event is something that these passionate Philadelphians look forward to all year and enthusiastically arrive at the Wells Fargo Center before the sun is out (often waiting in line in the freezing cold) to take part in this unique experience.
You've probably heard stories from friends and co-workers about their Wing Bowl experiences, but you will never truly understand the event unless you attend for yourself. This year, I had the honor and privilege of attending Wing Bowl 26 with the rare opportunity of getting a behind the scenes look at all the action.
First and foremost, the true stars of the event are the chicken wings themselves as there would be no Wing Bowl without them. For the past 10 years, P.J. Whelihan's has taken on the enormous responsibility of preparing the wings for the event. The restaurant’s team analyzes the order each year and painstakingly separates the chicken into drumsticks and paddles before frying up over 10,000 wings. I was able to watch the entire process at the Haddon Avenue location starting at 1am the night before the big event. The crew makes the process look easy as they have developed a perfectly orchestrated routine over the years. After all the chicken is cooked, they are placed into warming trays and transported to the Wells Fargo Center to be sauced up and plated right before show time.
As I left the restaurant and arrived at the arena in South Philly, I began to feel a different energy in the air. It was barely 4am but there were crowds of people already gathering and security and staff were buzzing away inside to make sure everything went smoothly. Upon entry to the building I was greeted by a sign that read “Alcohol Service Begins at 7am” which pretty much set the tone for the event. The contestants and their entourages were walking around in their wild costumes making last minute preparations to their floats for entry, and microphone checks were underway. Once the crowds started pouring in and the WIP morning show began, I knew I was in for a real treat and had an ideal view of the entire production in the press area.
We were often reminded throughout the broadcast that this year was in fact very different than previous years. Of course, the Eagles are in the Super Bowl this year so the Wing Bowl also served as a massive pep rally for the team and everyone was aware of this. The crowd was a sea of green as people were proudly showing off their team pride, and all the floats were encouraged to have an Eagles theme this year.
The first float arrived, and with it came the craziness. There was a coffin that ceremoniously rolled out, and after some sort of resurrection ritual, a live chicken appeared and the crowd went wild. The rest of the floats rolled out one at a time with pomp and circumstance.
Some of the notable floats from each contender included:
A Philadelphia Cream Cheese theme, where the contestant arrived in a giant tub of cream cheese
Numerous Rocky themes including one with Rocky in a boxing ring beating up a giant slab of meat dressed in a Patriots jersey
Different neighborhood themes such as one featuring the Manayunk Bridge
A Northeast Philadelphia theme with a Frankford and Cottman intersection street sign that was being greased by a police officer
A crazy Italian themed float where spaghetti was being thrown at the audience
Once all the eaters were in their place on the main stage the P.J. Whelihan's crew was back out to plate and serve the wings 20 at a time, each plate holding 10 drumsticks and 10 paddles. Each eater had to have ready access to 100 wings with two plates in front of them and three waiting behind them in the hands of the lovely Wingettes.
The competition began with the contestants rhythmically eating wing after wing with their own personally developed techniques. This gluttonous eating competition definitely should not be watched by those with weak stomachs as there were some unspeakable things going on as the crowd roared and cheered.
At the end, the winner was Molly Schuyler who set a new world record by eating 501 wings within the 30 minutes.
This event is one of the most Philadelphia things you will ever experience and gives you a glimpse of the raw passion and dedication of our sports fans.