Despite its faults, Wing Bowl a Philly staple

Wing Bowl 37
The 2014 Wingbowl at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday, January 31, 2014. Credit: Charles Mostoller/METRO

In the aftermath of our most successful Wing Bowl, the event is under a louder and more venomous attack than at any time in its 22-year history. It gives me no great joy to have helped create a spectacle so appalling to so many people, and yet I will not sit by while critics try to steamroll it into extinction.

What follows here is not just a defense of the annual kickoff to Super-Bowl weekend in Philadelphia, but also a declaration of war against everyone actively trying to banish the event because it doesn’t conform to their definition of proper behavior. In all honesty, Wing Bowl is not exactly my idea of a perfect winter morning either, but clearly it has won a place on the cultural calendar of our city.

Most critics have never tried to understand the value of the event, which began as a WIP radio promotion designed to fill an annual sports void during a dark time in Eagles history. Once every year, a group of contestants enter an arena not as fans but as stars, replete with all the cheers and jeers synonymous with our loud city. For one brief moment, they are not plumbers or accountants or salesmen. They are sports heroes.

Yes, the scantily-clad women and the vomit and the alcohol-fueled idiocy in the stands are outrageous, but no more so than the self-righteousness of people who feel a compulsion to ruin the fun. At Wing Bowl 22 last Friday – an event that sold out all 20,000 tickets in record time, just a few hours – Catholic schools threatened students planning to attend, protesters picketed outside the arena, and columnists destroyed it.

These same zealots have been whining for years about the drunkenness at the Mummers Parade, the fan incidents at sports events, and – knowing them – the crack in the Liberty Bell. Why is Wing Bowl such a polarizing issue? Doesn’t the Catholic church have far more worrisome issues than this? Don’t all of these grinches have something better to do with their time?

Among those in the crowd last Friday were Flyers hero Bernie Parent, Sixers coach Brett Brown, Eagles president Don Smolenski and Academy Award winner Chazz Palminteri. Eagles center Jason Kelce actually competed in it. They all expressed amazement at the turnout; Brown even begged the fans to fill the arena again for a Sixer game that night. (They didn’t.) Obviously, not everyone is disgusted by the debauchery.

I have often joked that my worst nightmare is to have Wing Bowl in the first line of my obituary. But after the events of the past few days, I feel a newfound pride that, if nothing else, we created something politically incorrect at a time when so many people are afraid to speak what they feel or do what they want.

I was going to tell all of these naysayers to go to hell, but now I’ve got a much better way to punish them. I think I’ll invite them all to Wing Bowl 23.

Manning’s place among greats destroyed with loss

After a dominant performance, the Seattle Seahawks are worthy Super Bowl champions, and yet they were merely a subplot Sunday to the utter humiliation of a future Hall of Fame quarterback, Peyton Manning. It is hard to imagine a more spectacular choke job than Manning’s horrific 43-8 loss in New Jersey.

With the distinction of being the best quarterback of his generation at stake, Manning handed the honor right back to Tom Brady with an array of morale-killing interceptions, timid play-calls and even a bumbled snap that gift-wrapped for the Seahawks the first two points of the game. How could a player that good play that badly? Fans will be debating that question for the next six months, at least.

A bigger issue now is just how good – or not so good – Manning really has been. The statistics he had compiled in the past 15 years scream of his brilliance, but also of his futility in the biggest games. Not only has he lost two of his three Super-Bowl appearances, but he also has a career playoff record of 11-12. When it comes to his most important challenges, he fails more than he succeeds.

Before the Super Bowl, the debate was whether Peyton Manning deserved consideration as the best quarterback ever, usurping Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas and Sammy Baugh. That discussion ended early on Sunday night, probably forever. Now the new question is where Manning ranks among the greatest chokers in NFL history.

After the loss, Manning actually said he was “not embarrassed at all” by the debacle. Well, he ought to be.

Sandberg regime to contain more discipline

Ryne Sandberg is planning to revive the aging Phillies roster this spring with something it has lacked for most of the last decade – discipline. The Charlie Manuel Country Club is closed for good, based on comments Sandberg made as the Phils continued their media campaign last week.

Sandberg’s most revealing revelation was that every member of the team (except the starting pitcher) will stand on the top step of the dugout for the national anthem before each game. Players will also be required to report to the clubhouse at a specific time this season, unlike the more flexible Manuel schedule.

Despite the ongoing love affair between Manuel and the fans, the truth is that even his best Phillies teams lacked discipline. They were always among the least patient teams at the plate, they were never strong on the fundamentals of baseball, and they pretty much did whatever they wanted the rest of the time.

Sandberg’s biggest challenge in taking this stand is the age on his roster; he will indeed be trying to teach some old dogs new tricks. And speaking of dogs, it is highly unlikely that Sandberg will tolerate Jimmy Rollins’ lack of hustle. Baseball purists will applaud this approach, but the new manager risks losing his veteran team in the process.

This is a noble experiment that Ryne Sandberg is about to embark on, but success is unlikely. Charlie Manuel is a hard act to follow, especially if his successor wants the Phillies to approach the game the right way.

Idle thoughts

  • If the Phillies want to show that their recent media tour is more than the usual spring propaganda, they should sign free-agent pitch A.J. Burnett. At 37, he is looking for a one-year deal and would be a formidable No. 3 in the rotation behind Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. It’s your move, Ruben Amaro.
  • The Sixers are really awful this year, but new coach Brett Brown continues to make the most of a horrible situation. He actually called a timeout with the score 2-0 last week against Phoenix, then didn’t call one before a last-second shot by Evan Turner beat Boston. Brown is unconventional, and he is smart. Now he just needs some players.
  • Jerry Jones is strongly behind the addition of two more NFL playoff teams as early as next season. What a surprise. The Dallas owner has seen his Cowboys make the post-season once in the last six years, and they haven’t won the Super Bowl in 18 years. Obviously, the current rules are not working for Dallas.
  • Marshawn Lynch’s semi-boycott of the media at the Super Bowl was stupid and insulting. At one point, the Seattle running back said reporters will never be a bridge between him and his beloved fans. Of course, he disclosed this to the media, which then informed his fans.
  • Eagles owner Jeff Lurie stumped hard last week for a future Super Bowl in Philadelphia. No, thanks. A week of traffic headaches and security nightmares is simply not worth a few days of international attention. The Super Bowl is a great event to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

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