Philly doesn’t get a Super Bowl. As a team, the Eagles haven’t been there since 2004. Instead, we have Wing Bowl. Few events draw such a large combination — in nearly equal measure — of sheer excitement and utter disgust, and it’s back for a 24th year.
On Friday, Feb. 5, 20,000 people (mostly men) will pour into the Wells Fargo Center at 6 a.m., already mostly drunk, to watch a bunch of people eat thousands of wings and be surrounded by strippers, dancers and women taking their tops off.
Tickets for Wing Bowl 24 sold out in nine minutes in December. They sold for $10 apiece. It’s a good deal for the thousands who take off work, drink beer in a parking lot, drink beer at the Wells Fargo Center and then drink beer at a strip club at 10 a.m. afterwards. And this year, Dennis Rodman will be along for the ride.
The annual bacchanalia is organized by 94WIP Sports Radio. It pits professional eaters against one another to see just how many hundreds of wings they can consume. But there’s a lot about Wing Bowl you might not know. Here are 10 things you probably won’t be able to forget:
1. I want to be the first person at Wing Bowl! When can I get there?
Usually the doors to the Wells Fargo Center open at 5 a.m. The parking lots open at 4 a.m. for tailgating. And it seems like this rule is pretty legit — the parking lots at Xfinity Live! close down at 1 a.m. and police will start patrolling the area between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. to make sure people aren’t hanging out in the parking lots early.
Also worth nothing: If you don’t have one of the coveted $10 tickets that sold out minutes after going on sale, don’t bother showing up. You won’t even be let into the parking lots to tailgate without one.
2. Why is this thing so dang early?
Simple: Wing Bowl started out as a radio promotion for 94WIP Sports Radio’s The Morning Show, hosted by Angelo Cataldi, Al Morganti and Rhea Hughes. When Cataldi and Morganti started Wing Bowl 24 years ago, they aired it on the show, which runs from 5:30-10 a.m. Monday through Friday.
3. How many wings will there be?
Regional chain P.J. Whelihan’s has donated the wings to Wing Bowl for the past eight years in what’s really become a marketing campaign for the restaurant. Jim Fris, chief operating officer at P.J.’s, said they’ve ordered 10,000 wings to be served to the eaters for Wing Bowl 24. For those of you doing the math at home, that’s 400 wings a person if there are 25 competitors. Last year, Patrick Bertoletti won Wing Bowl 23 after eating 444 wings.
Fris said the wings will arrive from the distributor on Wednesday afternoon prior to Wing Bowl, which always falls the Friday before the Super Bowl. The big shipment includes 5,000 drumsticks and 5,000 flappers that are still connected, so the first step on Thursday morning is cooks at the P.J.’s location in Haddonfield separate the wings.
Then, at 11 or 11:30 p.m., three cooks begin frying up the 10,000 chicken wings and moving them into hot boxes, where they begin to get ready to be transferred. The wings are then loaded into a Chevy Suburban and are ready to be hauled from South Jersey to South Philly by 2 a.m. Fris said he and his team get to the stadium by 3 a.m., haul in their thousands of hot wings and hang out until it’s time to serve ’em up at 8 a.m.
“We’ve gotten better at it,” Fris said about how they figure out how many wings to bring. “We check the counts from previous year and count the number of plates, so we know once we get to a certain point, we’ll be OK on the number of wings. Our standard joke used to be: ‘how many times is Jim going to ask if we have enough wings?'”
4. The wings are small and not hot — at all
Not at all! Fris said P.J.’s concocts a “mild barbecue sauce” that isn’t even sold in their locations. It’s all about getting the number of wings consumed to rise, so the actual chicken wings they use are smaller than the ones sold in the restaurants, too.
“It would take someone two weeks to eat 440 of our wings,” Fris said. “So we get our suppliers in southern Delaware to get special wings for us. So it’s all about the numbers. You put spicy wings, they wouldn’t play the game as fast.”
5. What happens to the leftovers?
There’s no way all 25 or 30 eaters are going to down 400 wings, so there will surely be leftovers. Fris organizes for folks from a local shelter to meet him at the Wells Fargo Center and pick up the leftovers so they can be donated instead of tossed away. (Unlike the bones, which get cleaned up and thrown away by Wells Fargo Center staff.)
6. What’s the deal with the Wingettes?
By the third Wing Bowl, Cataldi and Morganti had the idea to bring in scantily-clad women to serve up the wings to the eaters. Since then, it’s turned into one of the biggest aspects of Wing Bowl, as dozens of women come into the studio before Wing Bowl happens to go on the air and promote the event. During Wing Bowl itself, the Wingettes are separated from the fans and are assigned eaters who they cheer on as they stuff their faces.
Some women are strippers, others go-go dancers, and yet others are simply fans who really wanted to be Wingettes. Ginelle Ophelia, owner of Go Gurlz Entertainment in the Reading area, has been bringing her go-go dancers to Wing Bowl for the past six years. Last year, they made waves for wearing costumes made entirely out of electrical tape. (Their costumes for this year are a surprise — guess you’ll have to wait ’til Wing Bowl to find out.)
Ophelia said there’s no event like Wing Bowl that’s quite as good for marketing: “I mean, we always have our business cards with us when we attend. Many of the photographers actually look for us to be there.” She added that though there’s a lot of ogling coming from the stands, those men aren’t able to touch the women. Still, she brings along extra security to the event for the safety of the seven or eight women she’ll bring along.
“It’s a whole lot of males with a whole lot of alcohol,” she said, “and it’s kind of like the Super Bowl, but intensified. It’s a lot of testosterone.”
7. How much do the Wingettes get paid to be there?
Some Wingettes that represent specific companies — think Cheerleader’s strippers — will appear at Wing Bowl with the name of their company plastered across their bodies and holding signs to the same effect. Wing Bowl is one of the best forms of publicity a company like that can get: Hours of time in front of 20,000 members of their target clientele. It’s possible some companies pay their own women to be there.
But Ophelia said Wing Bowl organizers don’t pay the Wingettes to show up, and the women she’s bringing along are doing it on a completely volunteer basis. They’re out there to help the company market and to compete for the prize of being Wingette of the Year.
8. Why would someone ever enter this competition?
The prizes are nice. According to WIP, the overall winner of Wing Bowl 24 wins a 2016 Harley-Davidson FLSTF Softail Fat Boy motorcycle courtesy of Barb’s Harley Davidson, a custom Wing Bowl 24 championship ring and $10,000 in cash courtesy of Steven Singer Jewelers. The overall runner-up and the Wingette of the year also win $5,000 in cash.
9. Is it really that awful to be a woman at Wing Bowl?
That completely depends on who you ask. A writer at Philly Mag once called for the end of Wing Bowl. A woman who attended Wing Bowl last year penned an anonymous column for Billy Penn and wrote that Wing Bowl 23 was “the tamest Wing Bowl in years” but that “Wing Bowl is always a shitshow.” She described the “CanCam” and the “KissCam” like this:
This year, there appears to be two main shticks employed by ArenaVision, the crew who controls the video that goes up on the big screen: Can Cam, when we’re treated to women in the crowd who, well, have large “cans,” and Kiss Cam, much like you’d see at a Phillies game – at Wing Bowl, though, Kiss Cam only features pairs of women. And lots of these women shove their tongues down each other’s throats to loud cheers.
Two years ago, The Daily News’ Ronnie Polaneczky wrote a column about attending Wing Bowl, wrote this:
It wasn’t fun seeing female attendees lift their shirts and flash their naked boobs just because a lecherous Jumbotron operator zeroed in on them, inciting the crowd to chant, T–s! T–s! T–s! And it really wasn’t fun watching two young women – the only females in a seating section of about 100 – give in to male chants to rub their bare breasts against one another, only to look alarmed when beery spectators reached out for a grope.
And it wasn’t fun being slapped on my ass by a guy who said, “Lookin’ good, babe!” because it will never be fun to be in a place where simply being female implies consent.
But other women have publicly said that Wing Bowl is harmless, as long as you’re into that sort of thing. And when it comes to Wingettes, they’re there — for the most part — because they want to be.
10. What’s the bathroom situation like?
We can’t speak to the women’s rooms, but word on the street is that the men’s rooms are, well, gross. Think logistically: You’ve got thousands of people drinking exceptional amounts of beer. The always rational Howard Stern talked about Wing Bowl on his show earlier this week, and the bathroom situation was the main point of discussion.
Stern brought in Wolfie, one of his show staffers, who attended Wing Bowl at one point or another and described it like this: “Every guy in this place shits on the wall.” They played the audio of an interview he did with a Wells Fargo Center janitor, and the conversation went like this:
Wolfie: What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever had to clean up?
Janitor: Shit on the wall.
Wolfie: What does that do to your soul?
Janitor: Eats me up.
Wolfie: Anything you wanna tell people?
Janitor: Shit in the hole.
Stern responded with the fact that he has been loaded before and has, in fact, never shit on a wall. He went on to say that “Philly’s hardcore” and later recommended that Donald Trump deport everyone at Wing Bowl.