A gentler, happier Wing Bowl as Eagles take center stage

Confetti covers left over wings after competitive eater Molly Schuyler takes the crown for winning the Wing Bowl 26, at the Wells Fargo Center, on Friday.  (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

Confetti covers left over wings after competitive eater Molly Schuyler takes the crown for winning the Wing Bowl 26, at the Wells Fargo Center, on Friday. (Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY)

WIP’s Wing Bowl, according to official lore, was born out of bitterness.

The annual chicken wing-eating competition and breast-ogling extravaganza began in 1993 when radio host Al Morganti decided Philadelphia fans needed a consolation prize because their beloved Eagles so rarely made the actual Super Bowl.

Since then, the event has developed a reputation for testosterone-fueled debauchery, drawing tens of thousands each year to the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia.

Wing Bowl is usually the entree of February sporting events in Philadelphia. But this year’s version, in accordance with its namesake food, was just the appetizer.

That’s because the Birds (nonedible version) are in the big game this year. If you hadn’t already heard, they take on the Patriots Sunday night.

And so on Friday morning, the 26th annual Wing Bowl felt more like a pep rally than a tribute to gluttony. It was happier, friendlier, and a little tamer than past versions, many said.

 

Sure, there were dozens of scantily clad women from local “gentlemen’s” clubs. Sure, there were still stomach-churning shots of men straining to keep their food down. And sure, the competitors still pushed a few boundaries during the pregame parade. One eater, for instance, made unmentionable gyrations against an inflatable doll wearing a Tom Brady jersey.

And the eating competition itself was pretty entertaining.

Molly Schuyler managed to down 501 wings in 30 minutes, blowing away the competition and setting, according to event organizers, a world record.

But the Eagles were the focus.

The capacity crowd broke into countless “E-A-G-L-E-S” chants and shouted far less pleasant things about the Patriots. Video tributes from several Eagles players elicited some of the day’s biggest cheers.

Longtime competitor Jerry “Iceman” Spearing loved the feel-good vibe.

“It’s better. It’s a lot better,” he said. “We have something to look forward to. Wing Bowl’s not the way you end your season, it’s the way you start it.”

Trey Gotti, a South Philadelphian who estimated he’d been to 20 Wing Bowls, was less impressed.

Sporting a shirt several hundred sizes too small (slight exaggeration), Gotti said the typical Wing Bowl tends to feature more topless women than this year’s spectacle. Others echoed his sentiment.

Gotti blamed the gentler vibe on bandwagon fans whom he believes have accompanied the Eagles’ rise. But he’s not mad at the Birds.

“Wing Bowl was better when they sucked, and it was diehards,” he said. “But life is better when the Eagles are great.”

This horse is no naysayer when it comes to Eagles fans. (Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYY)

Perhaps leaning into the cheery vibe, event organizers brought out a man dressed in a horse costume and encouraged spectators to kiss him. Eagles fans punched police horses twice recently, and the kissing horse presented an opportunity for fans to apologize.

In an interview, the horse said he was treated well Friday by the Wing Bowl faithful.

“The fans were great,” the horse said. “I got lots of love, lots of kisses. I’m going home a happy horse.”

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