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The San Diego Chicken




Mascots have carved their own niché in the world of sports. From the Philly Phanatic to Steely Steeler, each hold a special place in the hearts of their fans. One of the more unique mascots is the San Diego Chicken.


The Conception


In 1974, San Diego's KGB-FM Radio decided to produce a television commercial. Cartoonist Brian Narelle drew the image of an acrobatic chicken which subsequently drew interest from viewers.


A short while later, the station was doing a promotion at the famed San Diego Zoo and wanted to use a live actor to fill their recently acquired chicken suit. the producers looked around the gathered crowd and pointed out an unassuming 20-year old journalism major from San Diego State named Ted Giannoulas.


He impressed and grew comfortable in the role over his 10 appearances at the zoo. After his role was complete, he went to the offices of the San Diego Padres and asked if it would be alright if he went to their games dressed in a chicken suite, standing in the aisles and performing hijinks such as giving fans "eggs". The Padres liked the idea and signed on.



The San Diego Chicken made his Padres debut at their home opener on April 9, 1974. While the Padres lost to the Astros 9-5 and began the year 0-6, failing to win consecutive games until the 18th game of the year, his charm and charisma was sorely needed. As the Padres stumbled through a lackluster 60-102 campaign, the San Diego Chicken never failed to pump up the crowd, no matter how low the attendance.


He wasn't limited to just baseball games and it wasn't uncommon to see the San Diego Chicken at as many as six to eight events around the city in a single day. Several years into his routine, the San Diego Chicken made it out onto the field where his hijinks and shennanigans stepped up a notch. Every home game, fans were treated to his dancing routines, casting spells on the opposing teams and irritating the umpires to no end. At one point, he attended 520 consecutive Padres home games.



In 1977, he nearly caused an international incident when the San Diego Mariners hockey team played the Russian national team. Before the game, the chicken wore a red shirt emblazoned with the letters "KGB" (as in the radio station), stood behind the Russian goal and cast a spell on famed squad. the Russians were understandably irate and refused to leave the locker room nor play the Americans unless the San Diego Chicken was removed from the premises. Somehow, the Russians were convinced that it would only make matters worse if the chicken was removed and went on to defeat the Mariners convincingly.


After Ted Giannoulas was fired by the radio station in 1979, he talked the Padres into hiring him full time. He even talked the Padres into giving him an attendance-based bonus on his reintroduction to the fans on June 29, 1979, with $1.50 per person above the expected 18,000.


The event was quite a spectacle. Coming out of the catacombs of San Diego Stadium, the San Diego Chicken sat inside an oversized egg that rested atop an armored truck that was surrounded by a police escort. Rolling down the field, the crowd of more than 41,000 roared its approval as the San Diego Chicken hatched from the egg. And thus, a new era was born.



The $43,000 game check that Ted Giannoulas was paid was eight times more than what the highest paid major league (Rod Carew) made that year. Of course, that check was quickly eaten up by legal costs concerning KGB Radio's rights to the San Diego Chicken. It was a battle that Ted would ultimately win.


Over the next few decades, the San Diego Chicken became world renowned, even scoring invitations from three presidents: Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. He even starred in the children's television show The Baseball Bunch with Johnny Bench and Pete Rose for five years.


In 2011, Ted Giannoulas was inducted into the Baseball Reliquary Shrine of the Eternals and today, the original San Diego Chicken costume resides in the Baseball Hall of Fame.



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