No, it wasn't about Kevin Garnett and the Boston Celtics visiting. Nor was it whether or not Johan Santana would sign with the New York Mets, or a stop by Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils. No, the Wachovia Center was about to play host to a classic clash of two eating titans on Friday morning, Joey Chestnut and Bill "El Wingador" Simmons, in the 16th Wing Bowl, the annual Philadelphia affair that's more indoor Mardi Gras than anything remotely close to an athletic contest, more an intoxicating celebration of one city's ineptitude to produce a world champion in 100 seasons (none of the four major Philadelphia pro sports teams have won a world championship in 25 years).
The event, hosted each year by sportstalk radio station 610 WIP, takes over the city the Friday of Super Bowl weekend, and is enough to cause two sports fans in a deli line to analytically look at the eaters as if comparing the range of Phillies MVP shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the Mets' Jose Reyes.
What made it unique this year, other than the pageantry of characters that yearly cavort through the Wachovia Center like a Friday night at Caligula's palace, is that it marked the first time the legendary Simmons, a five-time Wing Bowl champion who even has a banner hanging from the rafters of the Wachovia Center, faced off against two-time defending champion Chestnut, the world's best competitive eater who already downed one legend last July, when he out ate Takeru Kobayashi in The Nathan's International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest.
This time, it was a case of the young buck, Chestnut, shattering all records by chomping down an astounding 241 chicken wings in 30 minutes, an average of eight wings a minute, outdistancing 22-year old Patrick Bertoletti, who finished with 227, and Simmons came in third with 205.
For his intestinal fortitude, Chestnut, who made over $100,000 in competitive eating in 2007, walked away with a Harley Davidson 860 Roadster, a $26,000 Toyota Tundra and a diamond encrusted gold ring. Chestnut lived on water, milk, diet soda and vitamin supplements since Tuesday. It was nice to eat something solid for the first time in three days. The last time he had anything to eat, he munched on 200 wings.
"I feel great, believe it or not," said Chestnut, 24, a project engineer for a construction company located in San Jose, California. "But this is probably it for me. This is an amazing contest, because you push your body to extreme limits with this, I've just figured out ways to stretch my stomach. For the most part, I get into a perfect rhythm like a marathoner. I just continue eating, that why it's so hard every year to go into this with goals. It's a big contest and it takes a lot to get ready for, but it also takes a lot out of you. I don't feel too bad right now."
Though sweat droplets were beading on his forehead under his Wing Bowl crown, and lines of sweat were running down the sides of his face.
"It's just my body heating up and that makes me break into a sweat, and actually, that makes me feel pretty good, too," Chestnut said.
It looks as if Chestnut will be joined in eating retirement with Simmons, 46, who has parlayed his eating exploits to open up a New Jersey restaurant and he even has his own wing sauce. He came back after a two-year hiatus in an attempt to dethrone the mighty Chestnut, who has become the despised Dallas Cowboys, New York Mets, Boston Celtics and New York Rangers all rolled up into one to Philly fans.
"Hey, I gave it my best shot, but Joey is a great eater," Simmons said. "He got booed when he came in here today, but Joey is a really good guy. I think the difference I may have made with Wing Bowl is that we put it on the map. To be the best in the world, you have to face the world's best. Chestnut and Bertoletti are the world's best. I'm done, I've had enough. No more Wing Bowls for me. What I am doing next? I'm not going to Disney World, I'll tell you that."
There was some talk that 610 WIP would discontinue Wing Bowl after this year, with its two biggest attractions saying that they're done. But that probably won't happen, considering the event sold out the 20,000-seat Wachovia Center in 45 minutes, and tickets were selling between $24 to $101 on ticket Web sites (tickets go for $5 each, with WIP giving the proceeds to charity).
Three hours after Wing Bowl 16, a group of men were sitting eating lunch at Citizens Bank Park, where the Phillies play across the street from the Wachovia Center, doing what Philadelphians tend to do this time of year: Talking about Chestnut eating 241 wings, about the eater's entourages, about the scantily clad women that filled the place ... talking about Wing Bowl and not a Philadelphia championship.
Joseph Santoliquito is the Managing Editor of Ring Magazine and is a frequent contributor to SI.com. He can be reached at JSantoliquito@yahoo.com.