PHILADELPHIA (AP) — With those around him sick and stuffed, Dennis Rodman needed to brush up on the rulebook.
When a queasy chicken-wing contest competitor could digest no longer and heaved brown, lumpy chunks on a plate of discarded bones — and the crowd roared with unapologetic glee — the basketball Hall of Famer wanted to make sure where things stood.
“Throw up and you’re out?” he asked.
And so it is. The Wing Bowl slogan, after all, is: “You heave, you leave.”
Wing Bowl is a whole other bizzaro universe, even for a celebrity who had a high-profile dalliance with Madonna, wore a wedding dress to a book signing and counted Kim Jong Un among his friends.
“This is crazy,” Rodman said.
This unappetizing tableau of ravaged wings was again on the plate at Wing Bowl, Philadelphia’s annual bloated exhibition where gut-stuffing entrants tried their finger-licking best to devour saucy chicken wings at a heartburn-inducing pace.
Rodman was the guest of honor at Wing Bowl 24, yet seemingly took a backseat to competitors known as Gravy Brown, Obi Wing and Oink Oink. One wing fanatic nicknamed L.A. Beast kicked off the show Friday at the Wells Fargo Center by chowing down with some stunt eating of a mini cactus in the arena where Allen Iverson once did wondrous things with a basketball.
Wing Bowl’s humble beginnings date to 1993 with a bare bones setup in a hotel ballroom, the mad creation of WIP, the all-sports station that airs the debauchery live.
Over time, and empty Super Bowl seasons, the gorge-fest has become an annual winter rite in Philadelphia. Wing Bowl skyrocketed from a hotel to the 20,000-seat home of the Flyers and 76ers and became a ticketed event in 2006, a year after thousands of fans were turned away at the door the same weekend the Eagles played in the Super Bowl.
Fans trudged through the slushy, heavy snow before dawn to get sloshed at the parking lot tailgate parties, then brought the revelry inside. The concession stands started selling beer at 7 a.m. There was a brawl or two in the stands. Women flashed breasts for a few seconds on the big screen.
Strippers served as “Wingettes” for the Wing Bowl eaters, whose arrival into the arena on homemade floats gives the show a Mardi Gras feel. Billed this year as “Wing Bowl: Game of Bones,” the undercard featured a pillow fight inside an MMA cage that included the ex-wife of one Philadelphia Eagles tight end wearing the jersey of another Eagles tight end.
While Wing Bowl has become something of a city holiday, Philadelphia Magazine asked last year if it was time for it to end. Bars open early, shuttle buses herd drunken revelers to strip clubs and casinos, and everyone forgets for a day that the city’s teams stink.
With his dark shades and pierced nose and lips, Rodman was a natural fit.
“They found me at the graveyard and said, ‘Hey, come on up here and join us,’” he said.
But the longtime Chicago Bulls rebounding demon was booed by the crowd when he was introduced and was heckled for his ties to North Korea. The Worm, however, was in no mood to discuss the nuances of international diplomacy. He barely spoke long enough to the crowd to eat up a 24-second shot clock and bolted to the back early in the competition.
Could Rodman, with a hefty appetite for life, eat the usual winner’s haul of more than 400 wings?
“Who can eat that much wings, man,” he said. “Especially at 7 o’clock in the morning.”
P.J Whelihan’s, a popular sports bar in the area, needed about two hours to whip up 10,000 barbecue wings for the event. Wing Bowl has two 14-minute periods and a 2-minute period. With a heavyweight battle brewing, 125-pound Molly Schuyler defeated 2015 Wing Bowl champion Patrick Bertoletti by eating 429 chicken wings. She won a 2016 Harley Davidson Softail Fat Boy, $100,000 and a championship ring from a local jeweler.
Schuyler was estimated to have consumed 33 pounds and 77,650 calories worth of chicken wings.
Once the final bone was picked, co-founder and WIP host Al Morganti stopped by for a recap with Rodman.
“Guys kept throwing up today. It was awful,” Morganti said.
Rodman nodded and remarked to friend. And no one — fan or foe of the Wing Bowl — could disagree:
“Just nasty,” he said.