RIP Wing Bowl.
It was a wildly successful 26-year run for Philadelphia’s gluttonous wing-eating competition, an event that began in a hotel lobby and ballooned into a nationally recognized showcase that had to be moved to a capacity 19,000 basketball and ice hockey arena. It ballooned like Molly Schuyler’s stomach after devouring 75 chicken wings.
My fondest memories of Wing Bowl include the after party at Cheerleaders a few years ago, where I had the experience of seeing Coolio perform “Fantastic Voyage” surrounded by strippers at 9:00 in the morning. I also once spotted my former boss putting women’s underwear on his head and there was that one time I shared a limo with a Haitian guy named “Vladimir” that took us from Delilah’s to Tony Luke’s in the middle of a light February snow shower. And there was that other time that a former Philadelphia media mogul fell asleep in a VIP booth at one of the aforementioned strip clubs.
Ask anybody who went to Wing Bowl even once over the past quarter century and they probably have similar stories of ridiculousness to share. That’s what Wing Bowl was. It was ridiculous. Maybe it was also douchey and lecherous, but that’s what made it popular during the heyday of the event. The Eagles weren’t a Super Bowl contender, so the Wing Bowl was the best thing that the 25 to 54 white male sports fan demographic had going for it in Philadelphia.
To those points, I see a lot of stuff floating around on social media, suggestions that WIP was wary of continuing Wing Bowl during a time when the #metoo movement is prominent in American culture. Angelo Cataldi is getting set to retire, so maybe that also has something to do with it. I don’t know the full or exact reason for pulling the plug. Maybe it’s a combination of those two things, and also the fact that the event was just sort of running its course. It’s always exciting to see your favorite band for the first time, but it’s not the same when you see them for the fifth time, unless you’re a Bruce Springsteen fan, in which case show #57 is just as good as show #4.
Still, I’d point out that that no woman was ever forced to become a “wingette” or stand on the arena floor and subject themselves to cat calls and incessant shouts of “show us your tits” from drunk suburbanites on a Friday morning. If Wing Bowl “objectified women,” as the protesters outside the arena used to say, then a lot of the objectification could have been prevented by, you know, not participating. You can’t blame the victim when the victim willingly signed up to become the victim.
This morning, Ava Graham shared a photo from 11 years ago, when she herself participated in Wing Bowl:
The tweet was deleted, I think because she was getting a bunch of bullshit from people, and replaced with this:
Totally forgot how people can be on Twitter. I had fun for all my years doing Wing Bowl and the Eagles won a Super Bowl so life is good.
— Ava Graham (@_avagraham) October 30, 2018
It was her choice to participate, and she enjoyed it, yet people still have a problem with it.
That’s not to say that some of the crowd behavior was justified, because it wasn’t. I don’t think anybody condones acting like an asshole at this kind of event, and if you grab someone’s ass or grope them in section 125, then you should probably be out the door in handcuffs and explaining your behavior to a judge. That’s the distinction between illegal and loathsome debauchery and someone like porn star Nicole Aniston deciding to wear a two-piece on the arena floor, because she knows exactly what she’s getting herself into.
All of that is why I feel like the Wing Bowl criticism is somewhat off-base, because you’ve got left wingers and feminists ragging on women who are making their own decisions as responsible and grown adults. Then you’ve got idiots on the other side who don’t see anything wrong with being womanizing douchers, proving for the one-millionth time that this country needs to move back to the middle where it belongs.
Ultimately, when you consider the political and cultural climate in 2018 America, I think the smart decision is to just avoid the muck altogether. Wing Bowl probably isn’t worth the risk, and if you’re an organizer, you’re thinking to yourself, “you know what, we’re just asking for trouble by reprising this environment for the 27th straight year, so why don’t we just pull the plug and move on?”
Wing Bowl was the brain child of Al Morganti, who thought that Philadelphia needed something to look forward to in February since the Eagles definitely weren’t winning the Super Bowl. Now that they finally have that first ring, you really don’t need Wing Bowl anymore, do you?
So you can say what you want about the cultural side of Wing Bowl, but you can’t deny that it was a BRILLIANT radio promotion. Cataldi and Morganti and company grew this thing from a small local event to a behemoth money maker, one that brought in $750,000 to one million dollars annually, according to an insider who would know these things. You have to give credit to Angelo and WIP for turning this thing into a piece of Philadelphia lore that drew national attention and snowballed into one of the most successful media promotions in the entire country.
Maybe Wing Bowl’s legacy beyond that is the thing that nobody ever talks about, which is the numerous charitable donations made to various organizations across the region. As an example, WIP has donated thousands of dollars to the Philadelphia FOP Survivor’s Fund, which helps families of police officers who are injured or killed in the line of duty.
Here’s an event that started as nothing and evolved into a cultural phenomenon. No, it wasn’t a shining beacon of altruism, but if you want a lasting image of Wing Bowl, forget about the wings and breasts and use this one instead: