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Friday, February 02, 2007

Wing Bowl XV

You have to read this to believe it. (And Forbes covered this event too. Click here for the link to their coverage.)

They held the 15th Wing Bowl today at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. That's the same arena where the 76ers and Flyers struggle daily to rise to the top of the second division in their respective leagues. Still, it's a first-class arena.

20,000 people rose before dawn to get there. I don't know when the doors opened, but coverage started at 6 a.m.

Live, on WIP, the leading sports-talk radio station in town. (Click the link for all sorts of information, on Wing-Bowl, on Wingettes, on, well, almost anything). You can even buy Wing Bowl gear here. (Also be sure to read about the entrants, from Wing Dong to Curly von Burly the Viking Pig).

People play hooky from work to attend. Pat Croce is now the Commissioner, having replaced the late Eric Gregg. Yes, the Pat Croce, the self-made multi-millionaire who has written upbeat self-help books and who was once a very visible minority owner of the 76ers when they last went to the NBA Finals (six years ago, but then publicly suggested that he wanted to take over for Ed Snider, the de facto head of the 76ers and Flyers, and ended up out of a job, proving that you don't tug on Superman's Cape or spit into the wind and get away with it). Yes, the Eric Gregg, the affable one-time National League umpire with weight problems who lost his job when the umpires' union overplayed their hand and who died suddenly last year in his mid-50's.

Big stuff, huh?

No, not at all.

The Wing Bowl, you see, is a wing-eating contest.

Chicken wings, to be exact.

And Philadelphians wonder why their city has an image problem.

But they don't care, because, clearly, it's not a self-image problem. They like who they are, even if they support an event like this and even if that self-image is a rather large one. You see, Philadelphia rates as the second-fattest city in the U.S.

Must be all those wings, cheese steaks and ice cream (okay Bostonians, you think your town is the ice cream capital of the world, but we had, among others, at one time, Breyer's and Dolly Madison, to name a few, and that's when no one knew to count cholesterol or measure transfats).

So is this a good thing, or not? The humor most certainly is there, as the host of the event is WIP's lead morning guy, Angelo Cataldi, who once was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize when he was a sportswriter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Among others doing "sideline" reporting was Al Morganti, one of the most knowledgeable hockey writers and commentators in the country (and a frequent sidekick of Cataldi's in the morning). Their shtick is, well, very funny at times.

They also paid a nice tribute to the late Eric Gregg, whom we'll all remember for his smile and for the positive image he brought to whatever he did. That said, we all worried about Eric Gregg's health even as a young umpire, because his weight problems at times were rather pronounced. And while he served this Wing Bowl well, the sad irony isn't lost on those who don't see the Wing Bowl as a total satire or totally sophomoric. Had Eric Gregg been able to take better care of himself and, yes, eat less, he might still be here with us today.

But is it fair to say that the Wing Bowl encourages overeating? Not entirely. Gluttony at a moment in time? Absolutely.

What puzzles me is not so much why a couple of dozen or so competitors might want to enter this event. Some want the attention. Others have found one of their true talents in life -- professional eating. It's easy to explain them away.

What's much less easy to explain is why 20,000 people would show up before 6 a.m. to watch this spectacle?

I harken back to the famous line that Judge Smails in Caddyshack made to a group of men who were happy playing cards in the men's grille after playing a round of golf: "Don't you people have homes?"

Or lives?

Okay, so it costs airfare, hotel fare and meal costs to attend the Super Bowl, along with forking over anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 for a ticket.

The Wing Bowl is a local trip, a drive down I-95 or the Schuylkill (pronounced Skoo-kill) Expressway, a ride down Broad Street, or a trip across the Walt Whitman Bridge from New Jersey.

And it's a lot cheaper. I had a sense that tickets were free, but obviously not. If you Google "Wing Bowl tickets", you'll get all sorts of links to places where you could have purchased Wing Bowl tickets, and I saw one offer for two prime seats at $40 a pair!

For an eating contest.

Where people can and actually do, well, throw up.

Where, at the time of a possible wing, well, toss, the Commissioner is supposed to yell, "If you heave, you leave." Sounds like the cage-fighting scene with Master Blaster from Mad Max, where the crowd was chanting ominously, "Two go in, one comes out," over and over again.

Kind of like watching NASCAR for the crashes.

A relative bargain, though, given that it could cost a family of 4 about $400 bucks, fully loaded, to go to a 76ers or Flyers game.

And there's really no chance anyone will vomit in public.

I remember reading a quote from one-time NFL receiver Steve Kreider, a Lehigh alum and now a successful fund manager. Kreider was a wide receiver for the Bengals in the 1980's, and on January 10, 1982 the Bengals beat the visiting Chargers 27-7 in the AFC Championship game where the wind-chill factor at times as -56 degrees (the press dubbed in the "Freeze Bowl"). Said Kreider, "I don't know what was a worse statement -- that we played the game in this weather or that 60,000 people sat outside for three hours and watched it."


Okay, so if you're an eater, you're in the arena, literally (and figuratively, although I don't think that this type of competition was what Teddy Roosevelt had in mind when he gave his famous speech). But if you're a spectator of a wings eating contest (okay, even with all of the hoopla, entourages, cheesy entrances and, yes, dancing girls), what the heck are you doing?

And what are you doing, Pat Croce?

Now you're asking why am I writing so much about this if I think this is so silly, and, well, because it is so silly.

And, yes, I'll say it.


Especially for a city with an image problem.

Call me a kill joy, fine, but I just don't see what this particular competition brings to the table.

Except to send a message, perhaps, to the management of the pathetic pro hoops and hockey franchises in the city.

After all, 20,000 people took off work and played hooky to get up early and watch a wing-eating contest.

Do you get 20,000 people to come to your games?

Not a chance.

After all, people like to go to championship games and events.

Even if they involve the simple act of eating a chicken wing.

Or about 187 of them in a very short period of time.


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