The parking lots surrounding the Wells Fargo Center were abuzz early Friday morning. Thousands gathered before the sun even emerged in anticipation of WIP's 23rd annual Wing Bowl - an eating contest that has grown into a notorious Philadelphia tradition.
Music blasted from car speakers, and the unmistakable scent of alcohol filled the cool, crisp morning air. The atmosphere was celebratory as attendees were excited to have a day off from work to participate in the Wing Bowl's distinctive debauchery.
"The day is finally here," one man exclaimed before polishing off the remains of his Miller Lite.
"There is just nothing like it," he said.
"Getting 20,000 people from the city together this early in the morning to basically just celebrate is awesome. Any excuse to get up and drink is good with me," his friend added.
The excitement and support for the event were evident. Outside the venue, there was more buzz than there has been for any single Sixers game this season. Inside, a near-capacity crowd roared consistently for nearly three hours as the competitors tried to eat more chicken wings in one sitting than many have in a lifetime. Beads were thrown, chests were exposed, and a time was had.
But not all those who woke up at the break of dawn to make the trip to South Broad Street were there to show support.
Lining the sidewalks along Broad Street was a string of protesters, disapproving of Wing Bowl and its reputation as a city spectacle. They held signs, shouted, and engaged in animated discussions with Wing Bowl enthusiasts.
"It is a big, disgusting spectacle of gluttony," said a protester who held a sign that read: "What are you teaching your son?"
Others maintained that women were being exploited.
"The Wing Bowl objectifies women," another sign read.
Another protester, part of a group who referred to themselves as "King's Men," held a sign in each hand. "The Wing Bowl exploits women," one read. The other: "The Wing Bowl encourages infidelity."
When asked about his group and why the men were there so early to protest, he explained: "We are just a group of religious, moral men who don't think an event that relies heavily on alcohol and the objectification of women should be celebrated in the city."
The demonstrations sent a clear message that despite the contest's popularity, it remains controversial. While the protesters said they don't necessarily expect change, they felt it was important that their opinions be heard.
"We know we are in the minority, but since thousands show up to support it, we thought we should be here to show that not everyone in the city supports [Wing Bowl]."