A look back at the colorful history of the San Diego Chicken
With today’s headline that the man behind the San Diego Chicken, Ted Giannoulas, was thinking about “flying the coop” in what is now his 35th season of harassing umpires and fighting other mascots, the Entertainer figured now to be a good time to take a trip down memory lane with some SD Chicken history and some of our favorite pictures and movies of the Chicken’s hilarious antics.
There is a pretty ugly misconception out there among many of us whippersnappers in the iGeneration (a phrase you can pay me royalties to use) that the unusually large and unusually hilarious poultry mascot, the San Diego Chicken, was created by a soulless corporation to team up and provide comic relief to a panel of ‘experts’ including Dale Earnhardt Jr., the blander of the two James Browns, and Mr. ‘commercial’ himself, Peyton Manning.
No, the Chicken once had a shtick far superior to selling us flat-screen televisions and getting violent when people tell him, “I don’t really like sports.” In fact, the Chicken’s antics date far back to the “pre-Peyton on your television screen 24/7” era.
The Chicken actually got his break in show-business as the animated star of a commercial airing locally back in the 1970s for the kick-ass classic rock station 101.5 KGB. Somewhere along the line, the advertising gurus at KGB decided it would be a good idea to turn the cartoon chicken into a real life chicken, so they had an audition and hired San Diego State student Ted Giannoulas to wear the suit and debut the real-life Chicken to hand out easter eggs at the San Diego Zoo. It was only to last one week at pay of $2/hr.
After that successful appearance, Giannoulas lobbied KGB to have him appear at Padres games, as a way to advertise for the station (even though he really just wanted to watch games for free).
This one week gig amazingly became a steady five year gig until 1977 when relations between Giannoulas and KGB broke down. He was fired and a replacement was found for the suit. After being booed loudly by Padres fans who knew it wasn’t the “real” Chicken, Giannoulas and KGB went through a lengthy court battle, with Giannoulas prevailing in 1979.
This, of course, led to the triumphant return of the Chicken — known as “The Grand Hatching” — at Jack Murphy Stadium:
He quickly became a folk hero in the San Diego area, and eventually became the original prototype for the modern mascot. He once appeared in a stretch of 520 Padres games in a row and was also named one of the 100 most important sports figures of the 20th century by The Sporting News. He brags that he’s visited eight countries, four continents and all 50 states.
His bio indicates the kind of impact he has since had on the sports world: “For an athletic industry in a rising tide of bluster, attitude, arrogance and human chemical alterations, here is Ted Giannoulas and his comic musings in a chicken suit — perhaps the las voice left — to remind us that, indeed, it is just a game after all.”
The reviews were rave, with famous San Diego sportswriter Jack Murphy writing, “The Chicken has the soul of a poet. He is an embryonic Charles Chaplin in chicken feathers.”
Today, the Chicken mostly sticks to minor league baseball games, where attendance is known to increase dramatically when he makes an appearance. When asked why he doesn’t do major league games anymore, he told USA Today, “I find that the ‘boys of summer’ spirit still exists quite a bit in the minor leagues. Big league sports have obviously gotten very, very corporate and very button-down in their approach. And while I still enjoy it, let’s face it. The game, in general, at the corporate level, at the major league level, is not as colorful as it used to be.”
Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
But no matter what the chicken’s future holds, many San Diegans have fond memories of the Chicken, and we bid “good (c)luck!” to Giannoulas, and will cross our fingers that someday the Chicken will make an appearance and at an upcoming Padres game, because let’s face it: the mood PETCO park needs some lightening up right about now.
The chicken’s history is rich and antics are endless over the course of his 17,000 appearances, which is why we will now switch to bullet points. Here is just a taste of what the Chicken has gotten away with over the years:
- 1978 — In San Diego’s inaugural Holiday Bowl, security tries to remove the chicken from the field, but he refuses to leave. Eventually, he was removed and while BYU was on their game-winning drive, the crowd continually chanted, “We want the chicken!”
- 1976 — The Chicken crashes an Elvis Presley concert at the San Diego Sports Arena and causes Elvis to stop mid-song due to laughter at the Chicken’s dancing.
- 1979 — Chicken records famous cover of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”
- The Chicken was sued by Barney and Friends producers for beating up a Barney look-alike. The Chicken again prevailed in the case.
- The Chicken (suit worn by Pete Rose) appeared at Wrestlemania XV and proceeded to be “tombstoned” by Kane.
- 1991 — The Chicago Bulls sued the Chicken when he allegedly injured a cheerleader after tackling her.
Video about the legend of the Chicken along with a nice helping of “Chicken Schtick”:
Chicken smoking a blunt & posing as Burt Reynolds:
At Allman Brothers Concert at Balboa Stadium, 1976: