If you think all-you-can-eat wing night at the sports bar with your buddies can get pretty sloppy, try a pilgrimage to Philadelphia on Super Bowl weekend to experience the glory that is Wing Bowl.
The Jumbo Tron at Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center shows a close-up of a pair of massive breasts. The camera zooms in on them as they jiggle, riling up the thousands of surly men who let out a collective Yeaaah! as the perfectly symmetrical mounds take up even more of the giant overhead screen. The owner of the breasts is wearing a light-blue top and playfully squishing them together, tugging at her bra strap, which excites the men even more. She’s pulling down her shirt, showing the top portion of her cream-colored bra. She knows what she’s doing; she’s a willing participant. The camera does a frantic zoom-in, zoom-out visual hubba-hubba to further accentuate the display. Then it pulls back enough to reveal that the woman is about to stop toying with the crowd and lift up her top—the precious grapefruit-size orbs are seconds from being revealed. The men in the crowd hoist their beers high in the air, bellowing with a collective guttural yell not unlike William Wallace’s charging Scottish soldiers. The camera pans up and reveals the woman’s face—a pug-nosed, mannish face, criminally mismatched with those perfect, perfect breasts. The men, again in unison, boo.
It is 7:10 A.M. The Wing Bowl has officially begun.
For 16 years, miscreants and louts from all over the Philadelphia area have made a pilgrimage to watch oversize men eat Buffalo wings as fast as they can. Sports radio station 610 WIP began the Wing Bowl in 1993 as a way to celebrate something—anything—during Super Bowl week, given that the hometown Philadelphia Eagles were consistent also-rans. What started out as a couple hundred people crammed into a hotel lobby has morphed into an arena-size festival of gluttony, partial nudity, and drunkenness. It may not have the marquee-event status of Independence Day’s Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island, but Wing Bowl is so much more than just an eating contest. For the last nine years, it’s been held in the 21,000-seat arena currently known as the Wachovia Center, home of the Sixers and Flyers, and has always packed the venue—at 6 A.M., no less. This year, the $5 tickets sold out in less than an hour.
Charging admission and issuing tickets are recent but necessary additions to Wing Bowl, which nearly devolved into a riot thanks to an estimated 30,000 would-be revelers storming the Wachovia Center’s entrance in 2005. One security guard, working his eleventh Wing Bowl, says that was the only time it was truly scary: “We had to barricade the doors in some sections.” This year it is comparitively tame, and the security guards and the ten or so armed policemen on duty are confident they know how to control the crowd. “As long as there aren’t any guns pulled or fists thrown, we’ll leave most people alone,” the guard says, summarizing in one sentence a century of Philadelphia sports security protocol.
The 2008 Wing Bowl is unique because it features the return of Bill “El Wingador” Simmons, a six-foot-four-inch, 285-pound behemoth who reigned as Wing Bowl champion from 2001 to 2003, when he retired. Since Simmons stepped down, the Wing Bowl crown has fallen to out-of-town professional eaters, with the last two titles going to Joey Chestnut of California, the man who dethroned the legendary Kobayashi at Coney Island, ingesting a record 66 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes.
But as we’ve said, the wing-eating contest isn’t the reason that thousands of men pile into the arena for Wing Bowl. It’s the tits. And the opportunity to be sloppy drunk on a workday well before the rest of the world’s alarm clocks have gone off.
But mostly, it’s the tits.
The best composite of Wing Bowl attendees is this: They’re the men who get kicked out of sporting events—the boorish, drunken slobs who curse too loudly, start fights too easily, harass women too aggressively, and make watching a game uncomfortable for 90 percent of the other spectators. Even in Philadelphia, whose fans have a nationally known reputation for classlessness, this crowd is vile. Philly fans earned their rep for, among other offenses, throwing snowballs at Santa Claus in 1968, cheering when Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin lay motionless on the turf with a neck injury in 1999, and behaving so poorly at the old Veterans Stadium that the city was forced to assign a judge to the Vet on Eagles game days. In a makeshift courtroom in the bowels of the stadium, an actual, real-life judge doled out fines and jail time—during games!—to the brutish types who couldn’t help running afoul of the law while expressing allegiance to their beloved Iggles. That was a first … and it remains unmatched to this day.
Yes, the Wing Bowl crowd comes from this stock. And they run the show at Wachovia Center. They arrive at 4 A.M. to tailgate and are urinating in the parking lot by 5:15 A.M. Once they’re finally through the doors, they might keep tabs on the wing-eating contest, but the strippers gyrating by the competitors are a constant distraction—and the ones strategically planted in the crowd, disguised as civilians, become the main event. These chiquitas and the dynamic they create with attendees define the essence of Wing Bowl. Dressed-down in tight-fitting Phillies T-shirts, well laundered hats, and faded jeans, they troll the crowd and sporadically flash the men, causing heads to pop up one after another,
like weasels during an earthquake.
Sure, there are a lot of “normal” girls flashing the crowd, and they can be stars today—provocateurs of tens of thousands of men (“One more time! One more time!”) who, in more docile social settings, probably wouldn’t consider them desirable. But civilian girls are relatively few and far between. The strip
clubs – well aware of the business prospects represented by thousands of drunk men pent-up from four hours of ogling women and wing-eating—clean up. They send strippers into the melee to start a little congenial conversation with a crowd of gawkers after a well-orchestrated tit-flash. It goes a long way toward securing customers at their club after the festivities are over.
Each of the 30 contestants in the eating contest is sponsored by a group of “Wingettes,” who usually come from a local strip club. The larger jiggle joints will even bring out the big guns, like porn stars Gina Lynn and Nikki Benz (shown below). This is Benz’s first Wing Bowl (she was our May 2008 cover girl, by the way), and she’s sitting on top of a makeshift float in a skimpy two piece, shivering, waiting to be pushed out into the arena so she can cheer on her wing-sucking contestant, wiggle her ass, and hopefully encourage some of the raucous crowd to turn up for her show at Delilah’s later that afternoon.
This is Gina Lynn’s second Wing Bowl. Kind of. Last year, it didn’t work out too well: Lynn—all five foot two of her—was thrown out for fighting one of the bouncers backstage. This year, she is determined to make it through the entire competition, and she does.
All in all, there are about 100 strippers at the event. Most make it onto the stage as Wingettes; some work the crowd “incognito”; some work it, um, “cognito,” wearing skimpy nurse’s uniforms or Army fatigues and breaking into impromptu performances. If the girls get too raunchy or the crowd starts tossing money at them, they’ll be escorted out of the section by security, provoking a chorus of boos or the “Azzz-hole” chant from the crowd.
By 8:30 A.M., with the actual eating contest well under way, portions of the crowd begin to nod off in the stands—three hours of early-morning drinking will do that to you. The contest, broadcast live over WIP’s morning show, is off to a feverish start—Chestnut has annihilated the first heat by eating 124 wings. During the commercial breaks, though, when the Jumbo Tron tit show is in full effect, some of the early risers wake up.
“Aw … they’re fantastic,” says one fortyish, work-booted man with a gray goatee as two dancers engage in a feverish make-out session on the big screen. The in-house pit band is playing the “Chicken Dance,” but substituting the clap-clap-clap-clap portion with “Show. Us. Your. Tits.” More strippers-posing-as-civilians are shown on the Jumbo Tron. Some just wave, resulting in boos and a few tossed beers. One woman obliges, flashing her perky A-cups, and the crowd roars again.
It was rumored that this year’s Wing Bowl would be the last, but the WIP guys say that every year. And every year it just becomes more popular, raunchier, and less about the wings.
Even if the radio station were to stop sponsoring it, some other entity surely would. If only for the fact that on the Friday before the Super Bowl, 20,000 Philly-area men would feel a little lost without it. You get the sense that the strippers in attendance would feel that way, too.
As seen in Penthouse Magazine July, 2008
By A.J. Daulerio
Photography by Anthony R. Gargano