As the clock wound down after the second round, Patrick Bertoletti winced in pain. He had fallen six wings behind defending champion Molly Schuyler heading into the final round. The positive outlook he had going into Wing Bowl 23 was diminishing with each passing wing ingested.
When the final horn sounded, the look on his face was the same. His eyes were glazed over after ingesting more poultry than any human being should in one sitting. With chicken wing sauce all over his face, he raised his fist when Angelo Cataldi shouted the words he longed to hear.
"The winner of Wing Bowl 23, and new champion, Patrick Bertoletti," Cataldi exclaimed over the loudspeaker at the Wells Fargo Center. Bertoletti celebrated in a stiff, limited motion that only eating to more than capacity could have caused.
Bertoletti ate 444 wings in a total of 26 minutes to set a new Wing Bowl all-time record. He edged out Schuyler by four wings, out-eating her by 10 wings in the final two minutes. Schuyler and Bertoletti shared an embrace after the result was announced. It was the closest result in Wing Bowl history as well.
"I was full at the end of the second round and I had to dig deep I didn't want to lose," Bertoletti said as the digestion began. "She's amazing. Just the best."
"He's awesome," Schuyler said of Bertoletti. "No shame in losing to this guy. I love this guy."
Schuyler's only competitive eating loss was in a pie-eating competition about a year ago, according to Cataldi.
Notorious B.O.B. was the local winner, coming in third place. Tiger Wings and Things came in fourth place, consuming 243 wings, all before 9 a.m.
Bertoletti, who hails from Chicago, Ill. came into the day with 5-1 odds, but walked away with the largest prize in competitive eating history. He won a Fatboy Harley Davidson and $10,000 cash on top of their championship ring.
In the college competition, Stormin' Norman from the University of Pennsylvania won, letting him take home a brand new Chrysler 200.
As for the Wingettes, Kate, Wingette #5 took home the title, and the $5,000 prize.
There is something uniquely haunting about seeing the Wells Fargo Center parking lot full and lively at 5:00 a.m. as it would be for a Flyers game at 5:00 p.m, nonetheless, fans piled into the parking lots to tailgate the 23rd edition of the WIP Wing Bowl.
Some began filing into the arena when the doors opened at five, but many stayed behind to adult friends (and probably beverages) in the parking lot. For those who did make their way into the home of the Flyers and Sixers, they were treated to WIP narrating their flagship event.
Molly Schuyler came into the day with the best odds (2-1), looking for a repeat of her Wing Bowl 22 title in which she crushed the all-time Wing Bowl record by eating 363 chicken wings.
"There's some security out there because it is going to be a rambunctious morning in Philadelphia," host Angelo Cataldi said at the start his 6 a.m. timeslot on WIP, blasted across the sound system in the arena.
"Only a country like America would allow a competition like this," Cataldi added. No, only a city like Philadelphia.
Just after 6:10 in the morning, the entourages starting parading around the floor of the Wells Fargo Center, led by Big Daddy Graham with the ceremonial first chicken.
At 45-1 odds, Matt and Cheese was the first eater to enter the arena. Naturally, he rode a giant box of macaroni and cheese, tossing the college staple into the crowd.
Next up with 50-1 odds, South Jersey Keith came into sight. He carried a picture of a tank (no actual tank or float), wearing a Joel Embiid jersey, paying homage to the Sixers and Tankadelphia, of course.
Demo Dan, who ate a two pound burrito, made his way to the competition with 20-1 odds. His float was made of a "brick wall" which his entourage was demolishing.
Love Handels was next to make an appearance, riding in on a float with the City of Brotherly Love on it. He was a studio wing-off winner, giving him 75-1 odds.
Coming in eating 10 hot dogs and 12 Krispy Kreme donuts in six minutes to qualify, Santa Dog popped out of a big Christmas gift wearing nothing but briefs.
Qwazy was next in line to meet the Wing Bowl crowd with tallest float of the morning, on top of a high-reach at least 15 feet above the floor.
The Animal Cannibal rode to the floor closed in a case, looking like Hannibal Lector from Silence of the Lambs. Classic movie.
Next up were those of the college ranks. Saint Joseph's representative led the way. With college odds of 6-1, Ginger Wings rode in with "The Hawk will never die" plastered all over the place.
Representing the University of Delaware, Big Fat Hoss came out to an entourage themed entourage riddled with Blue Hen attire. Imagine that.
Cataldi slipped on a Marcus Mariota Eagles jersey (sigh) just before Brutus was the next college eater (Westchester) to emerge into the spotlight wearing all togas.
The Ivy League made their first appearance of the day when Stormin' Norman from UPenn came out. He was inexplicably wearing a Penn State football jersey. Not sure why.
Meat Fridge was one of the few college eaters to actually build a float, rocking a massive refrigerator from which he emerged from the top.
Eagles long-snapper Jon Dorenbos made his appearance from section 113 in a green tuxedo as the commissioner of Wing Bowl 23, fresh off a Pro Bowl appearance in Glendale, Az. You decide what's more of an honor.
Skin and Bones started his day wearing all Phillies gear, resembling closer Jonathan Papelbon. His float was essentially a pitchers mound. No crotch grab to be seen.
Coming out to the Rocky theme was Nacho Extreme. He had Vince Papale in his entourage rocking a Delaware football jersey.
Egghead came in dressed in the now patented Chris Christie red Cowboys sweater and a pig mask when his entourage turned on him and starting beating him. Well choreographed.
Cataldi used the opportunity to play the video of Christie, met by boos from the crowd. Cheers erupted when the video showed Christie missing his seat completely and falling on the floor of the WIP studios.
Moe Train had a tough act to follow, but the float was extensive. A human heisman trophy was next to the eater with an Eagles helmet on, referencing Marcus Mariota (again).
Tiger Wings and Things brought the first Deflategate reference of the morning, messaging a giant deflated football while members of the entourage had Tom Brady jerseys on.
El Clownador came in dressed like a clown, pulled by a tractor with a circus tent float. Very extensive, very well prepared.
Ukraine Train graced the crowd after the break with an Eagles jersey and a blue and yellow mohawk, which brought out cheers.
Cheesecake Beefcake had a float that was a tribute to breast cancer. Aside from the pink, you can imagine what was on there.
Iceman brought the crowd another Chris Christie reference, this time in a much more vulgar manner than before. The Christie blow up was then stomped on with vigor.
Notorious B.O.B made a huge cutout of himself wearing the same thing he stood in front of the cut-out with a massive B.O.B chain. A certain finger was sticking up on the cut-out. Use your imagination.
Patrick Bertoletti came in at 5-1 seemingly dressed as Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader of North Korea. The chances he gets hacked are slim to none.
At 7:40 a.m., Cataldi mentioned that the eating would begin in just a few minutes. The winner of the event would get a Fatboy Harley Davidson and $10,000 cash on top of their championship ring, the largest prize in competitive eating.
On came the heavyweight. The Mystery Man, whose height and weight are unknown, but his odds were 4-1. There was some mystery as to which person in the entourage was the actual eater until he stepped on stage.
"5-foot-7, 125 pounds, 2-1 odds, Wing Bowl 22 Champion, Molly Schuyler," graced the speaker system as the favorite and defending champion was introduced to the crowd.
And then came the headliner.
"One of the most extraordinary entertainers in American sports history," Cataldi said as legendary wrestler Mick Foley entered the arena, and it was time to eat.
"I've been thrown off steel structures and not been this exhilarated," Foley said of the atmosphere.
National recording artist and retired Navy Petty officer Generald Wilson graced the crowd with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem, joined by a slurred rendition from the crowd.
Some ground rules were laid out for the eaters such as clean your meat, and "you heave, you leave."
Right out of the gate, Schuyler jumped out to a big lead. Cataldi remarked that they have never had someone clean wings the way she has the last two years.
"Molly is just crushing these first round of plates right now," Josh Innes said.
While the eaters pounded down ungodly amounts of poultry, the crowd sang along to Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline," booing when it was shut off and Cataldi came back on.
Mick Foley was thrown out of the competition for throwing wings into a fanny pack with just a few minutes left in the first round.
While the wings were being counted in between the first and second round, the best entourage award was given out. The winner, who won 12 trips to Riviera, went to Qwazy.
Stormin' Norman from the University of Pennsylvania won the college competition, which won him a brand new Chrysler 200.
At the end of the first round, there was a different eater than expected in first place. Schuyler was not in first, but second with 206 wings. In first place was Patrick Bertoletti, two wings ahead of the reigning champion.
Rounding out the top five were Notorious B.O.B with 138, Tiger Wings and Things with 136 and Gravy Brown with 131.