Having spent a good deal of time bar-hopping for sport, I have come to the realization that there are few things so simple and pleasing as a perfect bowl of Buffalo wings.
The tangy spice of the sauce, the crispy bite of the skin and the juicy burst of the delicious meat all come together to make the perfect snack. Naturally, when I was presented with the opportunity to join my fellow wing-lovers at Hightopps Backstage Grille for the second-annual Wing Wars competition, I jumped at the chance.
Now I usually stick to eating for quality, not quantity, but having sampled and enjoyed Hightopps’ wings in the past and with the knowledge that the event was for charity with the proceeds benefiting The United Way, I decided to put my critic hat away and throw myself full-fledged into the ranks of competitive eating.
For weeks leading up to competition day, I trained like a prizefighter of gluttony—hours of chewing gum to strengthen the jaws, meals consisting of filler to stretch the stomach, nights spent at local taverns to gather my mind, and of course, the 12-hour fast before the big day.
When I arrived at the venue I was confident yet cautious. The lot slowly filled with both competitors and supporters alike, and as the kickoff drew near I sized up my fellow eaters. The field was a collection of men and woman (yes, just one) young and old, all of us joined by our common desire to conquer the mighty wing. We were quickly broken down into our groupings: the corporate team competitors, the amateurs (myself included) and finally the pros.
The team competitions kicked off first, and as I watched the brave men of such companies as Holly Poultry and Miller Lite attack their buckets with vigor, I knew I had a tall task ahead. While I was impressed at their feats, I was not yet intimidated, and before I knew it, the amateur competition was upon me.
Our event MC, the incomparable Brad Jackson of the Super Bowl-winning Baltimore Ravens, called us to the stage one-by-one. He jeered me for being “another Italian” but it only filled me with pride. The crowd cheered us on as we took our places atop the stage, each of us focused on the task at hand.
As I approached the table I set my goal at completing at least one bucket. Unfortunately, when I arrived at my station I realized that each bucket contained roughly 50 wings. Admittedly, I was daunted. I stared into the bucket, which seemingly had miraculously become 12 feet deep, but I reminded myself that all my fellow eaters had the same task ahead of them.
The crowd counted us down and we were off. I attacked the wings like a rapturous dingo, knocking down the first dozen in just over a minute. As I dove face-first into my bucket I was surrounded by the chorus of noise—the audience’s cheers, the cackles of my brother and cousin giggling as I filled my face with drumsticks, the deafening chews of the competitors at my flanks.
At the three-minute mark I turned my head and saw that I was well ahead of the eater to my left. I felt a surge of confidence for just a moment until over the speaker I heard the call for a second bucket for the eater behind me. I looked down and saw my bucket still half full. As I raised the next drumstick, I swear it looked like a turkey leg. My eyes went wide, my stomach tightened, my brain tried its best to tell me continuing was a terrible idea, but nevertheless I pressed on.
While the first dozen took just seconds, now each wing was a tedious task, and as the clock ticked down, hope was fading fast. With just 10 seconds left my misery was evident but I gathered my strength and chomped down a final few.
I left the stage doing my best to hold my head high, but unfortunately the gargantuan mass of chicken meat in my belly seemed to drag my whole body down. As I awaited the results I felt like a meteor had crashed to Earth and lodged itself in my stomach. Yet looking around the venue and seeing the festivities in full swing lifted my spirits. The results came in, and as expected, the heroic eater behind me took first prize. The competition awarded prizes to the top three, however, so I still had hope. But as the results were read, I tragically did not hear my name.
Now I’m a man of humility so I congratulated the victors and kept my cool. That was until I checked the final tallies and discovered that I had finished fourth by a margin of 2 ounces. Now I’m no mathematician, but I feel fairly confident when I say that losing by 2 ounces means I lost by roughly one large wing. Call me bitter if you will, but stuffing yourself like a Christmas turkey just to find out that two more bites would have meant victory stings just a little bit.
So, I suppose I have a year to stew in my defeat until I get my chance to redeem myself next year. For now I take solace in the fact that Saturday’s event raised more than $10,000 for a really good cause. To all of my fellow competitors, I want to extend a fond "well done." You stood beside me and braved the dangers of the bucket. For those of you who came out to support, all I can say is thanks, and I hope you enjoyed watching us torture ourselves for your amusement.
And for the rest of you out there who couldn’t make it to Wing Wars this year, clear your calendars for next year’s event. Hopefully you’ll see me on the podium.