By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer
Al Marnoch consumed 17 buffalo wings before 9 a.m. last Wednesday.
It’s not his usual morning ritual. Typically, he sticks to just doughnuts and coffee, but these weren’t typical circumstances. He was in a one-on-one matchup against a man who called himself “The Bottomless Pit” live on Sportsradio 94WIP, and Marnoch proved himself to be more bottomless.
In five minutes, Marnoch, also known as “Love Handles,” took down 17 P.J. Whelihan’s wings, described as “extra meaty” by WIP host Angelo Cataldi. His opponent ate only 11, earning Marnoch a seat to compete at Wing Bowl 23.
That’s after having the usual doughnuts and coffee breakfast to calm his nerves on the way from his home in Horsham.
“They weren’t even talking about me,” Marnoch said. The hosts seemed to pay more attention to The Bottomless Pit, a skinny, first-time competitor. “I was a silent killer.”
He followed his victory with a joyous shout, fist pump and a finely-tuned truffle shuffle. After all, he had waited five years for this moment.
“I’ve never seen anyone more excited to get into Wing Bowl,” Cataldi said after the chicken bones were tallied.
Each year, Marnoch tried and failed to make it into Wing Bowl doing various food challenges. Last year, he was a “half a handful” of lima beans away from competing at Wing Bowl 22.
“I didn’t cook them. I just put them in a bag,” he said. “It was a mess.”
Since, he’s been waiting in the wings for his next shot at the big stage. This year, at 51, his time came again and he dove right in, saucy fingers-first.
“Once you stop, you’re done. I had to keep going,” Marnoch said.
That’s a method he’s going to have to stick to for Wing Bowl 23, which takes place on Jan. 30 at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s a tradition that has been going strong since 1993, when Cataldi and fellow talk radio host Al Morganti first brought it to Philadelphia.
Last year’s champion, Molly Schuyler, polished off a total of 363 wings and she’ll be back again for Wing Bowl 23, so Marnoch definitely has his work cut out for him.
“I have not practiced one day,” he said, but he has been eating buffalo wings. Earlier in the week, he lost a tooth in the act, which his wife, Terry, convinced him not to get fixed until after the competition.
“She told me if I got it replaced, I’d end up eating it today,” Marnoch recalled.
Despite his lack of practice, Marnoch does have one thing going for him — he was born and bred in the cheesesteak capital of the world, where large-portioned, grease-laden, stick-to-your ribs meals abound.
He lived in the Summerdale neighborhood of Northeast Philadelphia for most of his life.
“Everybody says it’s Oxford Circle, but it’s Summerdale,” he said.
Marnoch cites Charlie’s Pizzeria and Chris’ Steaks as routine destinations when he was honing his chops growing up.
“You’d come home from swimming, and get a pizza steak and a fountain Cherry Coke at Chris’,” he said. “Those were some of the best spots.”
Nine years ago, he moved into the Horsham area, where he’s been living ever since with his wife. He has four children and three grandchildren, and plenty of supporters.
For Wing Bowl, he’s expecting an entourage of 50 to 100 people. He’s already lined up sponsorships from All American Sporting Goods and Phanaticwear.com. He’s also trying to get a team donation together for the Philadelphia Police Survivors Fund, which benefits families of fallen officers. Every year, the Wing Bowl donates to this cause.
“I’m ecstatic. Even if I wasn’t in it, I go every year anyway,” Marnoch said. “What can I say? I’m fat and I’m happy.”