It's not that Dave Goldstein was deemed a long shot; he was supposed to have no shot at all. They claimed he couldn't eat with the professionals. Heck, they went on, he couldn't even eat with the amateurs.
And when he entered the Wachovia Center on Feb. 2 for Wing Bowl 2007, a chicken-wing eating contest developed by morning sports-radio personalities Angelo Cataldi and his co-hosts at 610 WIP, Goldstein found himself a 200-to-1 underdog — the worst odds for any eater registered.
But at least the 20,000 fans were rooting for the underdog, right?
Not exactly. In true Philadelphia sporting tradition, he was booed loudly whenever his face wound up on the arena's large TV screens.
The contempt for Goldstein stemmed from his qualifying efforts for the competition held at the WIP studio a few months ago. While others like John the Bulldog ate 100 shrimp in five minutes, Goldstein — a postal worker who goes by the name "U.S. Male" — said in advance that he would eat letters (as in mail). But when he entered the studio with pancakes shaped like letters (as in A,B,C), he was scorned for the gimmick by Cataldi and company, and yet still managed to gain entry into the contest.
At the actual Wing Bowl — which was broadcast in its entirety on WIP from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. — Philly fans let Goldstein know of their distaste for his hi-jinx; they wanted him to eat his words.
But if Rocky Balboa could attempt to end the Cold War, or go the distance with the champion of the world when he's approaching his 60th birthday, then Goldstein can win Wing Bowl 2007 and turn this crowd to his side, right?
"I've been training hard," said Goldstein, 39, who said he routinely put away more than 70 wings during each of numerous 14-minute training sessions, in an effort to simulate what he'd face in an actual round.
During the first round, Goldstein ate 89 wings, putting him in third place — 14 wings better than the defending champion Joey Chestnut and five wings better than 2004 winner Sonya "the Black Widow" Thomas, both professional eaters who came to town especially for the event.
"That's ridiculous!" Cataldi said on air, while he and the rest of the morning team discussed the early scores.
During the second round, the boo birds who'd taken after Goldstein began to subside.
"People just thought I was a fraud," said Goldstein, "but after the first round, they saw what happened."
In the end, the man devoured 138 wings in 30 minutes, placing him fifth overall. (Chestnut rallied back to win with 189.)
"This total unknown, in his very first Wing Bowl, knocked two professional eaters out of the competition, and ate over 130 chicken wings in 30 minutes," said Cataldi via e-mail a few days later. "His performance was one of the 10 most incredible achievements in the 15-year history of Wing Bowl."
Goldstein now becomes arguably the best Jewish Wing Bowl competitor, surpassing 2002's "Lord of the Wings" Alix Friedman and last year's "Hungry, Hungry Hebrew" Adam Taxin, who both failed to make it to the second round when they competed.
When things got rough during the contest, Goldstein looked at pictures of his sons — 6-year-old Ryan and 11-year-old Joshua — for inspiration. Joshua suffers from Joubert syndrome, a disease that affects motor skills, speech coordination and restricts the boy to a wheel chair.
"When I felt like I was full, I just looked at [the pictures of] my sons [and imagined them] saying, 'Go quicker, eat harder,' " he said.
Goldstein had hoped to place high enough to win one of two cars given out as prizes — which he then planned to sell to help pay for his son's medical bills.
That didn't become a reality.
Nevertheless, along with the glory of making it to the final table came the reality that his stomach had to digest pounds and pounds of chicken wings.
"How did I feel? I felt stuffed!" he exclaimed.
"My stomach [felt] about six months pregnant."
Yet even with all the physical discomfort, Goldstein said that he would "no doubt" compete again next year.
"I think they're looking forward to me [competing again]," he remarked. "I think I'll be one of the higher favorites of the local guys."