Feb 6, 2012, 4:06 PM EDT
Eagles ‘Dream Team’ … done. Philly’s Lingerie Football League franchise, the Philadelphia Passion … defeated. Lucky for this city, though, that their never-ending sea of sports sadness ceases for one day every year when the annual “Wing Bowl” comes to the Wachovia Center. Basically an insane five-hour lucid dream, the event is put together by Philadelphia’s 94.1 WIP radio, which recruits hundreds of local, eh, exotic dancers — called “Wingettes” — to parade around in front a packed crowd of roaring drunk Philadelphians at 6:30 a.m. Oh, and there’s also a chicken wing eating competition in between all of this excess.
And I was there. Here is my story.
I was part of Kobayashi’s entourage. I had befriended Kobi earlier in the year after the “Blogs With Balls” blogger convention, in which he had polished off a gallon of milk in an astounding 18 seconds. We went out for a night on the town and ended up at a small joint that played only Rolling Stones songs and featured a hilarious scene where a man offered to hang out with my good friend, Bleacher Report lead writer Josh Zerkle, in the men’s bathroom for “awhile”.
I chatted with Kobi about his new life in New York City. I showed him the scene in Step Brothers where Rob Riggle’s character pantomimes eating a man’s private parts, “Like Kobayashi.” He loved it. The crew ended the night at a nice little hookah bar, where Kobi took his first puffs from a tobacco pipe. And now, here we were. He got to eat a ton of wings surrounded by strippers and I got to be in his entourage at Wing Bowl.
If you really wanted to see a moment where Philadelphia fans perpetuate every stretched stereotype, it’s on Wing Bowl Friday. It’s like every crowd member wants to live up to the myth that Philadelphians are a bunch of fear-mongering balls of hatred disguised as people. On Wing Bowl day, the jerk levels are uncharitable. And they love America. Way too much. As I took the subway down Broad Street from my home in North Philadelphia, I was serenaded by the off-key caterwaulings of a bunch of drunk- off-their-butt college kids, as they alternated between chanting, “T*****S! T*****S! T*****S! T*****S!”, “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” and “F*** KOBI! F*** KOBI!”
Why did they hate Kobi, I asked a student from Drexel. “BECAUSE HE’S ASIAN! HEY, WAIT! YOU’RE ASIAN!”
I didn’t bother mentioning that I was a part of Kobi’s entourage. Never came up. But that wouldn’t be my first brush with racism that day.
I struck up a conversation with a group of Temple students coming down for their first Wing Bowl, who claimed that they’d been up all night partying, “SINCE PTI WAS ON TV!” and were ready to see some breasts, and maybe get into a fight, as long as they could figure out how to get more beer in the stadium.
One student brashly claimed that he would be “Peeing his pants right here on the subway,” but he was afraid that if he did it I’d “judge him.” After telling him that I’d judge him if he DIDN’T, he shot back, “Well then, watch this.” He stood up and yelled, “I’M PEEING MY PANTS!” That caught the attention of the “T****” chanting crowd and they started yelling, “PEE YOUR PANTS! PEE YOUR PANTS!” So he stood up, attempted to pee but came up empty. The boos started raining. Veiled threats were thrown around. And so he stood up once again and, this time fueled by humiliation, proceeded to wet his pants. The crowd went wild. Drunk students were dancing around in celebration. He looked slightly happy. After the spectacle was over I looked over and said, “Uh, my bad.” Poor kid had to smell like urine for his first Wing Bowl, which, to be fair, probably put him in the majority.
After surviving my subway hell ride (that thing was a rolling drunk tank) it was time to face the hoards of locals trying to get into the stadium. As I attempted to make my way through the throngs, I ended up trying to pass a group of college looking kids who didn’t take kindly to my asian descent. As I walked by, a kid giggled to his friends, “Hey, watch this,” and promptly threw out a shoulder and pushed me into a light pole as he yelled, “CHINK! GET OUT OF HERE!” as his friends cracked up. I, bewildered as I’ve ever been, realized I hadn’t been ‘bullied’ like that since the third grade.
These guys didn’t hate me, they hated the idea of me. For example, back in 2004 Wing Bowl opened itself up to professional eaters for the first time and up stepped the 99-pound Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas. She was received… poorly. The crowd absolutely pelted her with everything they could get their hands on. At one point she was almost knocked clean off her float by a man who looked like he had brought in to the stadium a bucket of beer, which he dumped on her head. Reportedly terrified from the incident (and the day in general), she hasn’t been back.
If you’ve signed up to be a “Wingette”, you’d better be prepared to show off a few things under your coat.
Basically, the Wingettes are there for the crowd’s perusal. And if you don’t acquiesce to the crowd’s drunken whims you’ll find yourself mercilessly booed off the big screen as the man in charge of the Jumbotron quickly flip to a different dancer more willing to show off her gifts from God. You will be shamed, no matter what you do.
Here’s the chain of command: A stripper flirts with the camera, toys with her shirt, gets the crowd buzzing. Then, like a shot of lightning, BOOM! The top is off and the crowd is in a cheering frenzy. Right until they flip to a different camera with a different girl and all of a sudden a hush falls over everything as the crowd, as one, wonders if another bare breast is in their immediate future. As the camera lingers on a poor lady, this one a bit more reticent to reveal her upper torso, the crowd grows restless. Do not anger them.
This girl has a decision to make. Can she endure the personal humiliation that comes with getting booed by 20,000 angry Philadelphians who will hate every ounce of her guts (for a fleeting moment) if she don’t do something awesome? Will she bow down to the one-track whims of the crowd and flash them some of her junk? Or will one of her Wingette friends jump in and bail her out of her sticky situation with a quick flash of her own?! So many questions! The crowd is swelling with excitement. They’re about ready to cheer or boo. She has made her decision. She pulls the trigger. BOOM, THE CROWD GOES WILD!
Some of the funniest moments that are burnished into my head are the images I have of girls who, realizing they’re on the Jumbotron and they’re running out of precious seconds, do everything in their power to unhinge what needs to be unhinged as fast as humanly possible so they can potentially brag at their next family reunion that they flashed the big screen at Wing Bowl. I assume. The crowd gets electric with anticipation, the breasts appear, people go wild, the whole shebang. If it wasn’t so terrifying, it’d be kind of cute.
The drama! This is what makes the Wing Bowl so great, and makes the actual wing eating almost secondary. AJ Daulerio, who I ran into in the concourse while we were both failing miserably at finding Kobayashi’s locker room, had driven a Gawker editor down from NYC so she could document her first Wing Bowl. I think he was trying to scare her, but she actually looked like she was a having pretty decent time. My tip for her? The real fun is in the Jumbotron. She, of course, like everyone else in the stadium, was transfixed.
I settled myself into Kobi’s makeshift locker room surrounded by some journalists I really respect from the area, from Daulerio to Brian Bassett to Philly.com’s John Gonzalez, amongst others. It’s pretty hard to turn down an opportunity to watch chicken wing history happen. We snapped some pictures of Kobi posing with Flyers’ legendary goalie Bernie Parent, who was picked for a spot on Kobayashi’s float to try and quell the voracious boos he was about to hear from the Philadelphia faithful. (Spoiler alert: It did not help). Kobi then strapped on a pair of boxing gloves and Parent proceeded to put him in a headlock. Don’t really know why that happened.
And then, it was time. We lined ourselves up like a bunch of scared JD Drew’s as we gave ourselves up as sacrifices to the city of Philadelphia.
The float wasn’t big enough for more than Kobi, three Wingettes and Bernie Parent, so the rest of the entourage was relegated to strolling slowly behind the float as boos rained down upon our poor, poor shoulders. At least I got to stand next to a few mummers.
As the boos rained down upon our head and I looked up to see tons of angry people looking very angry at the lot of us, I have to say, it doesn’t feel that bad when you’re booed by 20,000. But that was probably because they were really booing Kobi, I was just a dude standing next to some mummers.
There were plenty of racist taunts toward Kobayashi, and me as well. But what’s pretty fun about getting to walk around with a guy who’s getting voraciously booed is the part where you get to throw all of the crap the crowd rained down upon Kobi right back at the crowd. Garbage, beads, beer cups, hair pieces, sleeves of sweatshirts, dog food, I threw it all. Now I understand why the cheerleaders look like they’re having so much fun when they throw t-shirts at fans. Doing it is extremely entertaining for all parties involved.
After the parading around, it was finally time to eat. I grabbed a front row seat and watched the competitors plow away at their plates as the slightly disgusted Wingettes were pressed into duty as the ‘chicken wing counters,’ carting fresh wings to the eaters, giving finished bones to the official referees and cheering on the competitors they’ve been assigned to. This part, to be honest, was a bit boring because it goes on for a total of 30 minutes, and most people in the stands lose interest in the actual eating at about the one-minute mark. They spend their new idle time in a bit of a lull, waiting for the intermissions between the three rounds of eating so they can get back to heckling the dancers.
In between rounds, a “Wingette of the Year” is crowned. Ten choice Wingettes each have a short amount of time to strut around and gather applause from the crowd, the winner being the one who gets the crowd the most energized. Nine of the 10 followed the rules and didn’t take off their tops. Everybody was booed, except for one. Breaking the rules, a blonde bombshell took off her top and paraded around as the crowd almost took off the roof. Maybe she didn’t understand the rules, maybe she didn’t care, but either way she looked really, legitimately confused as to why she wasn’t awarded the trophy when she had obviously received the most applause. Poor girl needs to listen better.
Kobayashi, as you’d assume, absolutely plowed through plates and plates of wings, finishing the first round with a record 165 wings consumed. The second round ended with another 152 wings put away, and by the third round he was leading all competitors by a whopping 65 wings. It was pretty much unfair. No competition. He was gliding at a very comfortable pace by the third round, pounding wings without a fear in the world as his main competitors gnashed away at his epic wing lead. The once mighty El Wingador, who once quit a hot dog competition halfway through when he realized just how talented Kobi was at eating, was no match.
When Kobi’s eating he just looks comfortable. Completely in his element. The guy was just born to eat a lot of things really fast. Kobi finished with a record 337 wings in a half hour. The next highest competitor, Super Squibb, had put away 252. To put that into perspective, in 2004 Sonya “Black Widow” Thomas won the competition by putting away 167 wings in the same amount of time. If you look through the history of the Wing Bowl, that 337 looks like a typo it’s so dominant.
The greatest miracle of all? By the end of his record setting half hour, Kobi had actually almost won over a portion of the crowd. I was bewildered to hear cheers instead of boos. What was once an all-out Kobayashi booing massacre ended with a pretty good ovation, as heel had turned hero. How can you not cheer for a guy who just ate 337 chicken wings for your entertainment?
I had talked to Kobi while he was waiting around to start the festivities and I had asked him if he planned on winning. “Oh, yes!” was his response. He did.
Kobi spent the next few minutes parading around in his crown as he showed off his belly, which looked like it was 5 months pregnant with chicken meat, protected by a rock solid six pack that was still prominent despise the massive amount of food that he had just ingested.
Maureen O’Connor, the Gawker writer, later asked him how long it took for his bowels to recover after an eating performance such as this one. “two to three days,” he answered.
As I rode back home on the subway, the former Wing Bowl attendees were much more subdued. The alcohol was wearing off, people were getting tired and their real life was about to start. The dream was over. There will be more dreaming next year.
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