PHILADELPHIA, Feb 4 (Reuters Life) - Philadelphia's annual competitive eating extravaganza produced a winning record on Friday, a razor-thin victory, and a field of competitors that downed hundreds of chicken wings.
Jonathan "Super Squibb" Squibb, a 25-year-old accountant from Berlin, New Jersey won the 19th annual Wing Bowl by devouring a record-breaking 255 wings in 30 minutes. It was his third consecutive victory.
Squibb, dressed in a Superman costume, defeated five-times champion Bill "El Wingador" Simmons, a former New Jersey truck driver, by a single wing in the final two minutes of the contest that was witnessed by thousands of Philadelphians who nearly filled a 20,000-seat arena.
Squibb, who weighs 215 pounds won $20,000, a pickup truck, and a crown adorned with plastic wings. He said he would use the money to help pay off student loans.
The 27 finalists were assisted by teams of scantily-clad "Wingettes" who hand the eaters Styrofoam plates loaded with wings, and mop their brows during the gluttonous ordeal, to the amusement of the overwhelmingly male crowd.
The Wing Bowl, an important event for competitive eaters, is held each Super Bowl weekend by WIP, a sports-talk radio station, which came up with the idea almost two decades ago as a consolation prize for fans of the Philadelphia Eagles when they fail, as they have this year, to advance to the Super Bowl.
Caitlin Weiler, a 24-year-old school teacher from Northeast Philadelphia, said she came to see what all the fuss was about.
"It's something different - it gets some excitement into my life," she said.
Many Wing Bowl fans begin arriving in the middle of the night for the early-morning event, which airs live on WIP's morning show. Many brave freezing temperatures to hold tailgate parties in the parking lots.
A.J. Busch, 24, a network administrator from Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, said he had been at the Wells Fargo center since 1 a.m. It was his first visit to the Wing Bowl, and he said he had decided to go without sleep because he thought the spectacle would be amusing.
Competitors qualify for the event by putting on eating "stunts" designed to impress the judges.
Dave "The Wild Turkey" Barger qualified by eating four Big Macs and a whole tomato in seven minutes, while John "The Bulldog" Del Vecchio passed through the preliminary rounds by downing 50 hard-boiled eggs in 12 minutes, earning him a high-ranking handicap of 3-1.
But such feats are just a warm-up for the devouring of chicken wings in two 14-minute elimination rounds, culminating in a two-minute "Wing Off."
Contestants quickly cover their hands and faces with brown wing sauce, and push lumps of half-chewed chicken into their mouths because they cannot swallow it as fast as they would like.
Unusually this year, no one was sick during the competition in compliance with a rule stating, "You heave, you leave."
It's all part of being a Philadelphian, said George Piccoli, 43, an office manager who had taken the day off work to come to the Wing Bowl for the first time with his son Peter, 15.
"We do things differently," Piccoli said. "We like to party, we have more fun than anybody. It's Philly."