© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

This One's For The Chicken: A Super Bowl Party With A Purpose

 Many will compete, but only one will be crowned Chicken Bowl champion this Sunday.
Photo illustration by NPR Staff

This Sunday will mark the 16th annual installment of "Chicken Bowl," my Super Bowl party, which doubles as a grand fried-chicken-eating contest. As many as 80 friends, coworkers, enablers and hangers-on will cram into my long-suffering house for this noble occasion.

But even with all the extravagances I've cobbled together to keep them happy — large TVs, vintage arcade machines, working toilets — there has never been a shred of doubt that chicken is king.

I spend more at Popeye's on this particular Sunday than I spend on my wardrobe in a year, so great is the demand. Even vegetarians are both welcome and well-fed at Chicken Bowl, though I insist that they be cordoned off from the rest of the party and forced to watch "tofutball," a meatless football substitute in which slightly built men strike each other gently with pillows.

Chicken Bowl began back in 1997, as a way to combine my love of football with my love of sitting still and eating fried chicken while watching football. But over the years, it's grown into a heated battle in its own right, with past contests mirroring the thrilling heroics of the Super Bowls themselves.

In 2003, as the New England Patriots kicked a last-minute field goal to beat the Carolina Panthers, I set a Chicken Bowl record for most pieces eaten during the game, with 18. But I lost that year: A coworker of mine at The Onion had consumed 17 pieces, yet scored more points. In Chicken Bowl, as in life, breasts are worth 1.5 points, thighs 1 point, legs 0.5 points, and wings 0.5 points. The Al Gore of competitive chicken-wolfing, I had lost in the poultry equivalent of the Electoral College.

My luck would improve. Ever since I moved from Wisconsin to the East Coast in 2006, I've enjoyed a natural advantage over the arugula-chomping soccer-watchers with whom I work at NPR. At my first D.C.-area Chicken Bowl, surrounded by scrawny temps and horrified onlookers, I breezed to a virtually uncontested victory. My Midwestern roots and history of gluttony served me well, as I ate 14 pieces and barely broke a sweat.

But the East Coast is finally catching up to the trend-setting Midwest, gluttony-wise, though I've helped spur on the progress by providing incentives to compete. Back in Wisconsin, Chicken Bowl champions would settle for the entirely figurative Chicken Bowl Championship Trophy. In lieu of a statue of a chicken — or a fist holding a drumstick — winners were urged to find the trophy within.

Lars Gotrich, assistant producer for NPR Music and winner of the 2011 Chicken Bowl.
/ Mike Katzif/NPR
Mike Katzif/NPR
Lars Gotrich, assistant producer for NPR Music and winner of the 2011 Chicken Bowl.

Eventually, however, it occurred to me that "the trophy within" consisted of a giant wad of partially digested fried chicken, which seems scant if bragging rights aren't your thing. Thanks to the magic of mail order, I now bestow upon each year's winner a very real Chicken Bowl Championship Tiara.

On Sunday night, I will dig deep, look to my months of training, and hope that luck and skill conspire to help me don that tiara after eating several entire heavily breaded fried chickens. When and if that time comes, I will feel like a Super Bowl champion and the prettiest princess in all the land, rolled into one greasy, misshapen ball.

A writer and editor with NPR Music — and a panelist on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour — Stephen Thompson intends to periodically shirk his Chicken Bowl hosting duties long enough to live-tweet the big event at @idislikestephen.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the weekly NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.