By Joe Darrah
By now, we know enough about Chip Kelly’s “sports science” to know that it’s legit. The personalized smoothies, the message therapies, the up-tempo and music-infused practices, the rather blasé training camp of sorts that didn’t have coaches overly concerned with tackling as the season approached — it all contributed to his Eagles winning the NFC East during his first season, hosting a home playoff game for the first time in three years, boasting the league’s leading rusher and Offensive Player of the Year in LeSean McCoy, establishing the greatest surprise at quarterback the league’s seen in some time in Nick Foles and producing five Pro Bowl selections (tied for third most in the NFC). We also know that he quickly resurrected Eagles football in this town after the Andy Reid era crumbled in quick fashion. But it might be Eagle Jason Kelce, favored by some analysts as one worthy of being a sixth Pro Bowl invitee from the Birds 2014 roster, whom offers the most unique and unanticipated benefit to the Kelly method — competitive eating prowess.
Kelce, the 6-3, 295-pound center drafted No. 191 overall in 2011, recently participated in Wing Bowl 22 in South Philly. Having never performed in any official eating event prior to his appearance last Friday, Kelce had barely more than a week to “prepare” himself to chain swallow the lukewarm barbecue wings and drumsticks that are ushered out 20 to a plate as fast as strategically clothed “Wingettes” can get them to the devouring stations as the sun rises in the mid-morning hours.
Invited to perform in the competition by 94.1 WIP host and Wing Bowl co-creator Angelo Cataldi, Kelce, who would go on to eat 68 wings through the 14-minute opening round, had originally intended to appear simply as one of the morning’s multiple special guests. But a spur-of-the moment question during a radio interview quickly changed everything.
“I knew they wanted me to come out and eat a ceremony wing, or something like that, but then they busted out that they wanted me to compete,” Kelce said after the event at the Wells Fargo Center, his white T-shirt rather clean for having minutes before tore into nearly 70 pieces of chicken off the bone. “I’ve always been curious to see how well I’d do [in Wing Bowl], so I was more than willing to do this for sure.”
He was quick to credit the conditioning he’s become accustomed to through Kelly’s training regiments for not only allowing him to eat as many wings as he did as quickly as he did, but for not getting violently ill in the process, a fate that has befallen novice and experienced Wing Bowl eaters alike.
“I stuck to the same rules that we do leading into a game,” Kelce said. “We’re firm believers in plenty of sleep and plenty of hydration, and I stuck to that. I woke up at 5 a.m. [the morning of Wing Bowl] on purpose and drank another 60 ounces of water to really get my stomach ready. “
His output did not advance him to the 14-minute second round, but it did earn him enough satisfaction, and with it a raucous ovation from the capacity crowd, for surpassing Cowboys fan “Dallas” Mike Gall, a West Berlin, NJ, resident among those to compete within the local-eaters bracket along with Kelce and Northeast Philadelphia’s Dave Brunelli, among others.
“I was certainly happy with just beating that guy,” said Kelce, acknowledging that he did get a few unsolicited pointers related to Wing Bowl strategy from those who’ve been there before.
“People who’ve done it before tried to help me out [with advice],” he said. “They told me to drink a lot of fluids leading up to the event to help expand my stomach and to make it more elastic. It’s really just trying to get the wings down by using your thumb to slide the meat off while you’re eating them. With the drumsticks, you just want to twist them. But if you try to swallow the food so fast that you don’t chew it enough, it’s almost like that gag reflex. But I never thought I was going to hurl or anything.”
Whether or not he became nauseous later in the weekend, particularly on Sunday night as the Seattle Seahawk defense ripped to shreds the NFL’s best offense, is another story.
It makes this author wonder how close the Eagles actually are to being able to make the Super Bowl over the course of the next several seasons, let a lone win it. This Birds team may have quite a different look to it depending on how (and how successfully) they draft this spring and which free agents they retain/sign vs. allow to leave. A team that was essentially wading the waters of the NFL’s toilet just a year ago is in a much better place going into next season regardless of how well the ‘Hawks or any other team is put together and will most likely (and deservedly) be favored to win it’s division for a second consecutive season, but this is Philadelphia. And a team that’s slated to be rolling with its now seemingly stable franchise quarterback and elite rusher who play behind a reputable offensive line anchored by Kelce, unmistakably innovative head coach and money at its disposal is going to have lofty expectations no matter how fair they are.
We’ll get a good perspective on how close they’ll be to the defending Super Bowl champions when they face them in the regular season. Still, it will be a regular season wrought with a beyond-difficult schedule that will also include 2013 fellow playoff teams Carolina, Green Bay, San Francisco and Indianapolis as well as Arizona, which would have qualified for the postseason in just about any other NFL postseason in history or had the Cardinals played in any division not named the NFC West.
Granted, Seattle will have to battle the elements that any champ endures, namely the “hangover” syndrome that comes with a shorter offseason and avoidance of the injury bug; plus, it too occupies a West division that will likely beat up on one another again (the Eagles go up against the Rams too). But as long as quarterback Russell Wilson continues to excel and Marshawn Lynch runs holes into the earth, there may be little hope of taking over this team.
Not that any of this is an exact science.