Under cover of night, the official Wing Bowl wings travel over the Walt Whitman Bridge in a modest motorcade led by Jim Fris in his black SUV, the bright yellow P.J. Whelihan’s box truck containing the wings, and a tired scribe following in tow.
By 3:15 a.m. the wings are safely secured in the Wells Fargo Center's lower press room, and the wings’ handlers settle in for nearly two hours of down time.
“With 27 entourages and floats, the line for the loading docks will be down the street,” said Fris, P.J.'s chief operating officer. “We need to get in before them.”
Seven P.J.’s employees sit down in an empty press room to play cards while floats adorned with bras and beads wait outside. In the dressing room across the hall, strippers will soon be changing. On the chilly event floor, operations workers hurry to complete a stage setup converstion--or reconstruction--after the last night’s Lady Antebellum concert. The parking lot won't open to tailgaters until 4, but many attendees have undoubtedly already started their descent into drunkenness.
“In the hours from 7 to 10 a.m. on the morning of the Wing Bowl, this place will sell more beer than any concert or sporting event all year,” said P.J.’s Steve Annable. “It’s like Mardi Gras in here.”
Sponsorship abounds throughout the concourse and seemingly every seat in the lower bowl is draped by a strip club t-shirt. Even the suppliers of the feast have a sponsored participant: "U.S. Male," Haddonfield’s beloved mailman.
But when it comes time for the competition, you won’t catch the P.J.'s crew rooting him on. They’re focused on distributing the food.
"When it comes time for the contest itself, our heads are down,” said Annable. “We have no time for anybody."