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Famous Feathers: Celebrating the San Diego Chicken

Photo: Chris Vaughan (Flickr)

Here at the Sofia Hotel, we recently noticed a great writeup on one of the mightiest institutions our fair city of San Diego has produced.

And, yes, we’re talking about the guy dressed up as barnyard fowl.

For more than four feathery decades, Ted Giannoulas has portrayed the San Diego Chicken—also known as the “Famous Chicken,” particularly when he’s making one of his many, many out-of-town appearances. (The Chicken’s done something like 17,000-plus events, including thousands and thousands of San Diego Padres and other baseball games.)

Winding Down?

In August, the New York Times published an elegiac profile of the Chicken—an absolute groundbreaker in the world of sports mascots—in his twilight years. Giannoulas, it’s true, has been kicking around the idea of retirement for some time: His routine, which includes all kinds of highly physical (and unscripted) on-the-field and in-the-stands antics, is a workout to say the least, especially when you consider he pulls it off in a hot, stuffy, basically unventilated chicken suit.

But, as the Times notes, Giannoulas takes inspiration from folks such as Mick Jagger, still strutting his stuff at the head of the Rolling Stones as a septuagenarian. (And the comparison’s kind of apt: Watch the Chicken in action—fleeing groundskeepers, holding dance-offs against fellow mascots, etc.—and it’s tough to say whether Giannoulas or Jagger sweats more during their respective nightly routines.)

A Chicken’s Story

Giannoulas, who hails from Ontario, first donned his feathers in 1974 (when he was a student at San Diego State University) as a promotional gimmick for San Diego’s KGB-FM Radio: For two bucks an hour, the Chicken handed out Easter eggs at the San Diego Zoo. On the heels of that gig, the Chicken started entertaining the crowds at Padres games—and the rest is history.

He’s now a “virtual folk hero” (as the Famous Chicken website puts it), having been celebrated as “the Sir Lawrence Olivier of mascots” and ranked (by The Sporting News) as one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Sports of the 20th Century.” The Chicken’s shimmied alongside U.S. presidents and a whole gaggle of rock stars; he proudly cracked up none other than Elvis Presley during the King’s 1976 concert at the San Diego Sports Arena.

But perhaps the most legendary moment in the San Diego Chicken’s biography was the so-called Grand Hatching, which marked the mascot’s rebirth in 1979 on the heels of Giannoulas’s break from KGB. Nearly 50,000 spectators at a Padres game cheered as a newly plumaged Chicken burst from a Styrofoam egg to the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack.

Catch the San Diego Chicken in Action

Though the San Diego Chicken doesn’t make 275 appearances a year like he once did, Giannoulas’s character is still making the rounds at ballparks, concerts, and other events all over the country. The Times article concludes by noting how the energy of the crowds the Chicken entertains fuels this hardworking mascot:

When hears the laughter and cheers, he says, “the electricity just rips through your body.” The crowd gives him life “and I give them back a few laughs.”

Here’s hoping the Chicken keeps doing his thing awhile longer—and here’s hoping you manage to see it firsthand at a Padres game or some other San Diego happening the next time you stay with us at the Sofia Hotel!