Friday, February 04, 2005

The Spectacle That Was Wing Bowl 13

Unless one is from Philadelphia, one rarely ponders what the Roman Collusium was like in its heyday. I, on the other hand, was thinking about that frequently today.

I was at Wing Bowl 13, which is the premier eating competition in the country. It must also be the largest radio promotion in the country as well. It is a promotion for WIP AM, the local sports-talk station. Wing Bowl is also the closest thing to Rome.

While eating is the main event, I'm not sure it is the main attraction. The main attraction are the people themselves. Thousands of people show up for an eating competition, incredibly early in the morning (admission is free). The lower ring of the Wachovia Center was filled by 3:30 AM this morning. More on that later. People tailgate and drink once beer is served at the Wachovia Center. Contestants parade in like wrestlers from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. A beauty pageant (Ms. Wing Bowl) occurs after the eating. Normal guys get praise, at least for one day, for consuming copious amounts of chicken wings.

Today was my first Wing Bowl. Last year, I drove by at 5:45 AM and said to myself "I am going next year." I met someone who knows the lawyer for El Wingador, 5-time and current champion. With a floor pass and a "Team Wingador" t-shirt, we followed El Wingador's limo. Then, insanity.

The Wachovia Center was sealed due to capacity limits around 5 AM. A little before 6AM, we finally found parking in a local park. We get to the Wachovia Center, home of the Flyers and 76ers, only to find that it has been shut down. "We are with El Wingador and we have floor passes." The security is sympathetic but can't do anything about it. The police have been in riot mode and are clearing about 15,000 people out of the area.

You read that right. They are trying to clear 15,000 people out of the area. While we were driving around, they were trying to clear out the cars. The shutdown parking lots didn't help us.

A river (OK, a brook) of beer awaits us when we approach the arena. On the way out, a beer-lover friend and I see one lonely bottle of Magic Hat #9. 500,000 macrobeers and one bottle of Magic Hat. Either micro-lovers dispose of their bottles properly or we are seriously outnumbered. Maybe a little of both.

While we are stuck outside, I'm seriously pushing to leave. I lost feelings in my toes and I don't think the fire marshall is going to change his mind. Some college boys start picking up some dirty Natty Light cans and begin to drink. Lovely. I want to go to a diner for breakfast.

Then, magically, the VIP entrance starts letting people in with tickets. Since we have tickets, and eventually, we are on the floor.

I can't and won't describe all the craziness. El Wingador was dethroned last year by the black-widow Sonya Thomas, a 99-pound lady. This year she was pelted by debris and seemed pretty shaken by that. I would be too. They had to have an overtime between El Wingador and Sonya Thomas, with El Wingador prevailing by one wing. He was truly emotional about his win.

You can tell it means a lot to him. At first, it seems silly, but it isn't. He won a $20,000+ car. That would make me emotional. But it's obviously more than that. How often can an average guy receive the adulation from 20,000 people and media attention for eating? I assume he is also competitive, so just on that level it would mean a lot. On top of that, he wins it back. But more importantly, his wife and daughters seem very proud. When you see that, you feel great for El Wingador. Seeing a little girl thrilled that her daddy won is something to behold.

I learn later that the police initially turned away the radio hosts. Someone on the radio also mentions that a police officer was punched in the mouth. I'm sure a large portion of the crowd was irate after waiting in the cold for the event, only to be denied entry. After El Wingador wins, a person from the Game Show Network congratulates me because of my "Team Wingador" shirt. Our guy won, but it had nothing to do with me. But I did accomplish something today. I got into Wing Bowl 13.

As we are leaving I tell a few police officers that this, Lord willing, is a warmup for the parade. They roll their eyes when they realize the bedlum that will await the city if the Eagles win the Super Bowl. Again, Lord willing.

Only in America, only in Philadelphia. CJ
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