Ladies and Gentlemen! Now presenting
the Hardest Working Bird in Show Business,
the Godfather of Feathers,
the Mascot of the Millennium,
The Famous Chicken himself...
The San Diego Chicken!!
While he's never hit a grand slam, sunk a 3 pointer, kicked the winning field goal, or won a gold medal, The San Diego Chicken is one of the most popular sports figures in America. Though he's most commonly known as The San Diego Chicken, in parts of the country that consider any of the San Diego professional sports teams their biggest rivals, he's simply known as The Famous Chicken. Yet while that city is in his name, he is not the official mascot for the Padres (baseball), the Chargers (football), Gulls (minor league hockey), Sockers (soccer), Spirit (women's soccer).
He is most commonly seen at baseball games, but this Chicken has been a guest at nearly every popular sporting event imaginable. He's been the guest of the White House for at least two administrations, appeared with David Letterman, sang at the Grande Ole Opry, and has jammed on stage with bands such as the Doobie Brothers, Jimmy Buffet, George Thorogood, the J. Geils Band, Cheap Trick, The Ramones, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis. He was even at an Elvis concert where The King found him so funny that he had to stop mid-song because he was laughing so hard. His career looks more like a Rolling Stones world tour than a man in a chicken suit. He's been to all 50 states, 8 countries, and 4 continents - all live performances. In addition to his live appearances, he's acted or cameoed in several TV series and commercials, and was even in Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.
Before The San Diego Chicken, there were no professional sports mascots. The only entertainment at a baseball game (besides the game itself) was the organ player. He also popularized the playing of rock and country music at the games - because how else could he dance on the dugouts? In fact, the term Stadium Rock wouldn't be around if it weren't for this avian. He was also the first mascot to be interviewed on a national television talk show (with NBC's Tom Snyder).
Anyone who has ever seen The Chicken perform will probably never forget him. The act is known for its incredible improvisation - it's never the same thing twice. Regardless, there are several things you can expect if you see him. He is wildly animated, loves slapstick, satire, and regularly makes fun of the players, managers, coaches, referees, and umpires - but it's all in good fun. He's the funniest third base coach you can imagine. He's always ready to "participate" in the pre-game stretching, between inning warmups, and he always takes advantages of timeouts and delays in the game to keep the audience entertained. He signs his chicken scratch autograph (for free) during and after the game until the lines are gone, and there's no doubt that someone's head will be in his beak at some point.
It is 4 or more hours straight of live unrehearsed comedy, in a extremely hot chicken suit, trying to communicate with tens of thousands of people without words and make them laugh all on the first try. It's amazing.
Yes, believe it or not, THE man. The chicken is not a franchise - there is one man who always plays the chicken, and there are no plans to pass the torch to anyone else once he retires. That man is Ted Giannoulas.
He got his start as a college student who needed a little money. The local San Diego, California radio station, KGB Radio, needed to find some shmuck to wear a chicken suit for a promotional scheme at the local zoo. The person would give Easter candy to kids and would be paid the paltry sum of $2 an hour. As luck would have it, the first person on the San Diego State university campus who showed any interest in the job was Giannoulas. They could not have found a better person if they had held a national audition.
The one week job at the zoo turned into a 5 year job promoting the radio station. It was incredibly popular and then one day it was over. The radio station unceremoniously fired the chicken. By this time, however, the character had taken on a life of its own. Giannoulas continued to make appearances, and the radio station tried to sue, but lost. Giannoulas won the right to continue his career as poultry.
After winning his case, it was decided that the San Diego Chicken needed a rebirth, so in June 1979 the chicken returned to sports. Following a California Highway Patrol motorcade, he rode into the Padres stadium on top of an armored truck inside a huge egg. To the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey he was lowered (in his egg) by the players onto the field after which he was hatched and born again. (Needless to say, this answers the age old question, Which came first: the chicken or the egg?) There was a standing ovation of over 47000 people. He has been doing his act with that same 1979 custom ever since. He makes about 175 appearances a year. In his 7500 professional sporting events and twice as many total appearances, he has only missed one gig - and he didn't really miss that one. It seems the airline lost his luggage which contained his chicken suit, so he couldn't do his whole act. Fortunately he always carried his head and tail as his carry-on luggage. For this hockey game, he actually went out on the ice in his underwear, socks, chicken head and tail feathers. Needless to say, it was a sight to behold, but it wasn't quite the same. He visited again the next week with his whole costume, but never flew on that airline again.