By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS)—It is unlike anything else in the world, at least during contemporary times. Roman emperor Caligula may have had a few Wing Bowls in his day. Jamie “The Bear” McDonald certainly never experienced anything like it before last year.
The throbbing crowd. The insane ambience of gorgeous women pulling up their shirts. And 20,000 filling a major sports arena at 6 a.m. roaring over the gastronomic extremes of a bunch of belly-over-the-waist wing eaters.
At first, it caught the 38-year-old U.S. Navy veteran from Granby, Connecticut, who was donning a New England Patriots’ Tom Brady jersey. Quickly, after one round, McDonald fell into a rhythm, was able to block out the swirling white noise of the pulsating Wells Fargo Center and concentrated on what he came to Wing Bowl to do—eat. And win.
McDonald downs 287 wings in 30 minutes, edging out three-time Wing Bowl champion Jon “Super” Squibb, who finished with a career-best 282.
Now McDonald is back to defend his title at Wing Bowl 22 on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s a deeper group of eaters than he’ll contend against, starting with Squibb, and including Molly Schuyler, a mother of four, and competitive eating veteran Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti.
“I think the biggest thing I learned from last year was not to be distracted from everything that’s going on around you,” said McDonald, who opened his own restaurant called, well, what else, “The Bear’s Smokehouse,” in Windsor, Connecticut. “I would say Wing Bowl is unlike anything else in the world. I think what separates me from most is the ability to block everything out and perform. I know Squibb is very good at doing it. After I won, I thought I received a great reception from the people there. But I know they have their local favorites and there is a lot of pride in the people from Philly.”
This year, McDonald is aiming at Takeru Kobayashi’s all-time Wing Bowl record 337 wings (which he accomplished in 2012). He says he’s shooting for 340. He’s been pushing his training hard, and feels he’ll do much better than the 287 he devoured last year. He’s gone with a simple principle that he’s incorporated into his preparation: concentrate solely on eating wings.
“There is a technique in eating wings and I’ve played with a couple of new techniques and I’ve come up with one I really like that’s been really good,” McDonald said. “Over the last couple of months, it’s been all wings. I know what I’m against. Everyone is going to be pushing hard. If I didn’t think I had a good chance to win, I wouldn’t compete. I compete to win.”
McDonald has eaten against Schuyler and Bertoletti. But he says he wasn’t as sharp as he vows he will be for Wing Bowl 22.
“Once after the Wing Bowl ended, because I started the restaurant, I wasn’t really training at all and I was still hanging in there against Molly and Pat,” McDonald said. “I beat them a few times; they beat me a few times. They’re great eaters. But now that I’ve actually been training, I think the gap between me and them will expand quite a bit.
“The thing about Wing Bowl is that it’s a long contest. It’s a lot of will power, and that’s something Squibb has shown. He knows what he’s doing. Molly has never done this before, for this long. She is very good, don’t get me wrong, especially with the short stuff. It’s very demanding. It’s 30 minutes and that takes a lot out of you. You’re tired. You’re body is drained.”
Now that he’s been through it, McDonald says everyone should expect more. He makes a great point. In Wing Bowl 21, McDonald was third after one round. He got progressively stronger as he continued.
“My numbers were better during the second half, I know now what to expect,” McDonald said. “You have to think about it while you’re doing it. You have to adjust throughout it. Just after that one round, I had to do things a little bit differently. I have a beard now and put on a little more weight to personify the ‘Bear’ nickname. I’m excited about it. It’s a great time. I plan on coming away with $22,000 to invest in my restaurant.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.