Unlike the Brett Favre saga, here’s a will-he-retire-or-won’t-he story that actually has my interest. Ted Giannoulas, who has donned a chicken suit to entertain the sports masses for the past 35 years, says that he may retire as The Famous Chicken. For me, this is akin to Willie Mays hanging up the uniform, or Lassie refusing to save Timmy from the well.
Giannoulas is not planning to hang up the feathers because he has lost the drive to perform. He’s 55, but still has some antics left in him. But there aren’t as many gigs as there used to be; just about every pro and college sports franchise now has its own mascot, due in major part to the fact, ironically, that Giannoulas made mascots popular back in the day.
Down from about 250 games each year in his heyday, Giannoulas said he’ll leave his San Diego home for just 50 appearances this summer, including Amarillo, a city he repeatedly has called one of his favorite stops.
“At the end of this season, I’ll make a determination if I think I can go another season. I can’t say for certain. I’ll just see how my body feels, what my energy level might be going forward,” Giannoulas said. “The fun and energy is still at the ballpark. I still get a charge out of it.”
Regrets? He’s had a few. The Famous Chicken has never played Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park. That’s because, he said in a 2007 interview with ESPN, those organizations “have no sense of humor.” Also, apparently, there’s a feud with the Phillie Phanatic, which I think is fantastic.
Is there a city of venue you hate playing?
I’ve gotta say Philly. Philly and South Jersey. That corridor of fans there, they’re a hard sell. They try their best to hold in their laughter. They can’t do it, but they feel some sort of loyalty to their local character.
Philly will never let me in, because they know I’d steal the thunder of the Phanatic. I could sell 60,000 tickets like that. But they don’t want me because I’d steal that guy’s thunder. The dirty little secret of the Phanatic though is that when they started him in the winter of 1977-78, the director of promotions called me up and said, “Ted, how do you do it? We want to start a new character, and we’d like you to consult with us.” They called me 10 times that winter to consult.
Originally conceived as an animated commercial for KGB radio in San Diego in the early 1970s, The Chicken came to life soon thereafter when Giannoulas — then a student at San Diego State — was hired to don a chicken suit for a promotion to distribute Easter eggs to children at the San Diego Zoo. The KGB Chicken soon became the San Diego Chicken, appearing at Padres games and concerts. He was fired by KGB in 1977 because of conflicts with the company due to his burgeoning popularity. But in 1979 he won rights to the character in court, and became The Famous Chicken.
His athleticism and imagination are what set Giannoulas apart from the rest — and occasionally got him into trouble. But if he is remembered for no other reason than kicking Barney the Dinosaur’s ass on multiple occasions, that will be enough.