Philadelphia's championship drought has spread to yet another sport: New Englander James "The Bear" McDonald pulled off an upset victory in Wing Bowl 21, edging three-time champ Jonathan “Super” Squibb to take the title.
One of five out-of-town ringers brought in to challenge Squibb, McDonald lived up to his bidding as the 2012 All Pro Eating Rookie of the Year and fulfilled his prediction he would out-eat Squibb for the title.
“This wasn’t necessarily as intimidating as I thought, but the final result was a lot closer than I thought it would be,” McDonald said amid a rain of boos from a drunkenly partisan crowd. “I had to really push it.”
McDonald built a slim lead heading into the finals and held off Squibb and Dave “U.S. Male” Goldstein, who won the local competition, downing 287 wings to beat Squibb by just five wings.
It was a stunner for Squibb, who came in as a 3-2 favorite after losing his crown last year to Japanese sensation Takeru Kobayashi.
Alone in the tunnel beneath the Wells Fargo Center after the confetti guns had blasted all around him to signal a second straight bitter defeat, Squibb didn't make excuses for his performance, which bettered his total last year, but didn't quite get to his goal of 300. It simply wasn't the Winslow Township native's day, it seemed.
“I don't know that anything went wrong,” he said. “I just lost.”
Squibb was in the rare position of trailing the entire competition—after the first round, Goldstein was in first, with 148 wings, to Squibb's second-best 140, and McDonald led by 12 after the second round, heading into the final sprint.
Though Squibb put up a valiant fight in those final two minutes, standing up and gyrating like a maniacal marionette as he devoured wing after wing, McDonald's second-round push proved far too much.
It came down to a shift in strategy because of the consistency of the wings and issues with the chicken bones, according to the newly-crowned champ.
“I had to change the technique I've been working on for the last month,” McDonald said. “That's why my second half was better than my first half.”
The competition was, as it always is, almost a sideshow to the freakish behavior surrounding the event, which even porn star Ron Jeremy once called bizarre—from fans drunk in the beer bottle-strewn parking lot at 4:30 a.m., to legions of Wingettes, some of them professional strippers, to an appearance by new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, and a requisite E-A-G-L-E-S chant that thundered through the stadium just before 8 a.m.
An always-rowdy crowd was whipped into even more of a frenzy this year, with the inclusion of the out-of-towners, who milked it during the procession into the stadium, making obscene gestures at fans, who in turn rained down beers, foam footballs and everything else available.
Apart from McDonald, though, none of the outside competitors challenged for the win, despite the hype. Jordan "Baby Face" Avalos, of Dallas, who hilariously skittered back up the entrance aisle after being pelted with junk on his way into the stadium, turned out to be the weakest of the bunch, vomiting early in the competition—one of three competitors who would be knocked out by the "if you heave, you leave" rule.
Three Bucks County contestants, Robert “Farmer Bob” Garges from Warrington, Anthony “The Wiz Kid” Wisniewski from Levittown and Andrew “King Disco” Cordisco from New Hope, made a good effort to suck down as many wings as they could, but none of them made it past the first round.
For the new champ, his plastic chicken-bedecked crown askew on his head, as bizarre as the scene may have been, it was an experience unlike any other.
“This is the most insane eating event in the world,” McDonald said.
While McDonald vowed to return for Wing Bowl 22, for the three-time Lord of the Wings, a run at the throne again next year may not even be in the offing.
“We'll see,” Squibb said. “We'll see. I might have to take a couple of years off.”