In the predawn hours on the Friday before every Super Bowl, after he's cooked 10,000 chicken wings and transported them to Philly's debaucherous celebration of the decadent and depraved — Wing Bowl — chef Rich Friedrich makes one last important phone call.

"I call my daughters during that morning to make sure they're not at Wing Bowl," he said.

As culinary director for the P.J.W. Restaurant Group, Friedrich and a team of 11 staffers are responsible for cooking the wings that a field of competitive eaters consume as exotic dancers and a sold-out crowd of 20,000 drunken revelers cheer them on — at 6 a.m. — at the Wells Fargo Center.

"You couldn't hold Wing Bowl anywhere else but Philadelphia," Friedrich, 50, said. "It's Mardi Gras meets the Mummers meets WWE Monday Night Raw."

A competitor enters the 2017 Wing Bowl on a float accompanied by wingettes.
David Swanson / Staff Photographer
A competitor enters the 2017 Wing Bowl on a float accompanied by wingettes.

The event was started in 1993 by WIP sports radio hosts who wanted something to look forward to, since the Eagles hardly ever make it to the Super Bowl. But with the Birds set to face off against the New England Patriots in the big game just two days after Wing Bowl this year, Friedrich expects it to be "an event to remember," at least for those who remain sober enough to remember anything at all.

"I think this Wing Bowl will surpass any other with excitement and fan participation," he said. "Tailgating will be unlike any other tailgating that Wing Bowl has seen before."

Friedrich, who was born and raised in Philadelphia's Spring Garden section, got his start in the restaurant industry two days before his 15th birthday, when his dad dragged him to the South Philly restaurant where he worked to wash dishes. After high school, Friedrich attended the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, N.Y.

Rich Friedrich arrives at P.J. Whelihan’s Haddonfield location at 10 p.m. the night before Wing Bowl to start the process of cooking 10,000 wings for the event.
Michelle Gustafson / For the Inquirer
Rich Friedrich arrives at P.J. Whelihan’s Haddonfield location at 10 p.m. the night before Wing Bowl to start the process of cooking 10,000 wings for the event.

For 16 years, Friedrich worked for Aramark and has served as executive chef at Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field and the Wells Fargo Center, where he got a real sense for Philadelphia's sports fans.

"I think Philadelphia truly gets a bad rap for being overly passionate about their teams, but we definitely are not," he said. "We are appropriately passionate about our teams."

Having worked at South Philly's sports stadiums, Friedrich was no stranger to Wing Bowl when he joined the P.J.W. Restaurant Group in 2013. The group, which owns the P.J. Whelihan's chain among other restaurant properties, has had the Wing Bowl account since 2008, according to Jim Fris, the group's chief operating officer.

"A sports agent came to us to try and sell us Wing Bowl. He left us a tape of exactly what it was … so we brought it to the president of the company," Fris said. "He watched the video and basically said, 'Are you guys nuts?' and gave us the boot."

Spectators at Wing Bowl 2017.
DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
Spectators at Wing Bowl 2017.

It wasn't until WIP sent former Flyers player Chris Therien, who served as a color analyst on the station, to talk to P.J.W.'s president that the restaurant group agreed to take on the chicken-wing challenge.

Friedrich typically arrives at P.J. Whelihan's Haddon Township location around 10 p.m. the night before Wing Bowl to prep the restaurant's kitchen. The first basket of wings is dropped in the fryer around midnight. By 3:30 a.m., the cooking is done and the team transports the 1,000 pounds of wings to the Wells Fargo Center in hot boxes that have a digitally controlled temperature between 141 and 148 degrees.

Friedrich even uses an infrared laser thermometer to check the temperature of the wings every eight minutes, which is probably the fanciest thing that occurs at Wing Bowl.

Rich Friedrich will cook 100 batches of wings to supply the needs of Wing Bowl.
Michelle Gustafson / For the Inquirer
Rich Friedrich will cook 100 batches of wings to supply the needs of Wing Bowl.

Shortly before the wings are plated for the contestants, Friedrich's team slathers them with 16 gallons of barbecue sauce.

Friedrich said he and his team look forward to cooking for Wing Bowl every year like kids look forward to Christmas morning.

"As a group, it's almost like a family event to us," he said, making him the only person to ever refer to any aspect of Wing Bowl as "like a family event."

Of all of the Wing Bowl memories he's willing to share — and he won't tell us the really good ones, because his daughters might read this — Friedrich said the first year was the most memorable for him.

"We were arriving into the arena and we're wheeling the 10,000 wings out onto the arena floor to the cheer of 20,000 fans who were just excited to see that the wings had finally arrived and Wing Bowl was about to start," he said. "The roar of that crowd was unlike anything I've ever heard."

Why Philadelphia?

"Well, I was born and bred here in Philadelphia, and the passion that we have for our sports teams — and our wings — are pretty much the same. We wear our emotions on our sleeve and we're proud to say that we're truly big Philly sports fans."

What’s been a classic Philly moment for you?

"I guess for me the most classic moment was probably working the Republican National Convention down at the Wells Fargo Center and feeding a little over 120,000 people over the length of the event."

If you had a wish for the city, what would it be?

"To bring home that Lombardi Trophy and parade it down Broad Street and give the Philadelphia fans what they've deserved for so long."

Know someone in the Philadelphia area whose story deserves to be told — or someone whose story you'd like to know? Send suggestions for We the People profiles to Stephanie Farr at farrs@phillynews.com or call her at 215-854-4225. Send tips via Twitter to @FarFarrAway.

Want more We the People?

  • Last week's profile: Sunny Bear is a Philly dog with more than 41,000 Twitter followers who channels The Art of War.
  • From Jan. 17: Brothers Joe and Vince Lattanzio tackle the Eagles' dirty laundry at their South Philly dry-cleaning shop.
  • From Jan. 10: Every Wednesday for 27 years, Kurt Martin has played the piano at the Lits Building food court.
  • From Jan. 3: At 88, Elaine Peden, who secured honorary U.S. citizenship for William and Hannah Penn, crashed a VIP event to meet Joe Biden.
  • From Dec. 27: Bucks County native Tracy Locke is one half of Girls Gone Green, a Philadelphia Eagles song parody duo.
  • From Dec. 20: Every Christmas season, Benjamin Franklin impersonator Robert DeVitis gets into character to ring the red kettle bell for the Salvation Army.
  • From Dec. 13: Hip-hop Grandpop Matt Hopkins busts holiday dance moves at City Hall.
  • From Dec. 6: People pay $1 just to take a photo of Anthony Smith and his dogs, Noodles and Diva. Smith takes his well-dressed dogs to events around the city in his bicycle basket.
  • From Nov. 29: Danie Ocean, a musician with a rare eye disease that's left her legally blind, is one of the founders of a co-op music studio that requires its members to do community service.
  • From Nov. 22: Nearly every day for 17 years, oil painter Mark Campana has hauled his easel from his home in South Philadelphia to Rittenhouse Square to paint scenes in and around the park.
  • From Nov. 15: Haircuts 4 Homeless barber Brennon Jones continues to serve people who are homeless at his new barbershop, which was given to him by a stranger who was inspired by his mission.
  • From Nov. 8: Street performers Eli Capella and Seraiah Nicole create music in real time that's inspired by the people who pass them on the streets of Philadelphia.
  • From Nov. 1: John Sebastian, the maintenance director at Reading Terminal Market, was a steel drummer who toured with a Caribbean orchestra and jammed with Jimmy Buffett.