By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — On Friday morning, Jon Squibb will do what he’s done before. Steal away in his own little fortress of solitude for a few minutes somewhere in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center. He’ll climb the summit of a mountain in his mind and image himself as the wing-eating version of Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, Ryan Howard, LeSean McCoy and Jrue Holiday all wrapped up into one.
That’s the kind of heat the three-time Wing Bowl champion is placing on himself as he attempts to regain his title. World professional eating champion Takeru Kobayashi dethroned him last year by devouring a Wing Bowl-record 337 wings, all this despite Squibb downing a personal-record 271.
This year, for Wing Bowl XXI, the format and the stakes are a little different. For one, the 27-year-old, 6-foot-4, 235-pound Squibb, the antithesis of the bloated, belly-over-the-belt wing-eater, will be competing against eaters imported from Dallas, Boston/New England, New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The other motivation, aside from winning a fifth automobile (Squibb won the local eater version last year), is regaining his title. It’s the first time Squibb ever lost, and though it came against the world-class Kobayashi, it was still difficult to take.
Each year Squibb’s total has increased, from eating 203 wings in 2009, to 238 in 2010, to 255 in 2011 and finishing second behind Kobayashi with 271 last year.
“I’m shooting for 300 wings this year; that’s my personal goal,” said Squibb, a CPA during the day with a graduate degree from Rutgers. “Last year taught me that I have more to do to get better, and that I can never be complacent. I think that’s what happened a little bit. I’m pretty honest with my technique, but I want to break into the Kobayashi threshold. He’s human, just like me. There has to be a way to get there. That’s refocused me. It’s convinced me that I have to put more work into this.
“I’m a pretty motivated guy and it was the first time I lost at Wing Bowl and didn’t have my hand raised. Going out and celebrating a second-place victory is not the same as celebrating a first-place victory. I don’t think I ever wanted to win more than I do this year. The loss last year attributes to that, but the position that I’m put in this year, with the new set up, means a lot. I am representing the city. It means more now and the thing I love about representing Philadelphia is the passion of the fans. Being from this area and wanting to win and overcome your rivals, the chance to represent the city in that light is surreal to me. It’s the only thing I can think of that pushes me to win so badly this year.”
You get the sense talking to Squibb, being around him, it’s more than just winning a car. He can still remember driving around a few years back in a rusty 1993 Pontiac Grand Prix with over 200,000 miles on it, and lugging around a rather gooey 300 pounds as a two-way lineman on Winslow Township High School’s football team. Or the big time he tried out for Wing Bowl—and failed. He came back to spoon down two tubs of cottage cheese inside of three minutes.
Above everything else, Squibb is a competitor. Squibb’s biggest threat could be Jamie “The Bear” McDonald, representing the Boston, New England area.
Squibb is ready. He hasn’t altered anything. He trains by eating wings and getting into a rhythm. Timing has a lot to do with it, as does focus. Squibb was a competitive rower at Rutgers and says eating wings on this grand a stage is as draining as any 2-K rowing event he’s ever competed in.
“The Bear is on my radar and I know he’s fully committed to this as well,” Squibb said. “The way I’ve approached this is the same way I’ll approach this one. I know certain goals that I want to eat this year. I don’t really concern myself with the other competitors. It is kind of like with Tiger Woods in golf, it’s him and the ball, only with me, it’s me and chicken wings. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m not chewing rocks or anything like that. I’m doing the same things that I’ve done in the past and methodical in how I train—and I train for this like an athlete.
“There are different levels that I’d liked to hit. It’s consistent eating for half-an-hour and I break it down like a science. At the end of the day, if you treat it like a sport, and seriously enough, you’ll have the outcome that you want.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.