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Friday, May 13, 2005 | Ted Giannoulas is a real-life Clark Kent, an unknown unless in costume. Under the disguise of an orange and yellow fowl, he has been ruffling the feathers of millions of sports fans for more than three decades.
The San Diego Chicken is alien to box scores and record books, but The Sporting News still listed the famous fowl among “The Top 100 Most Powerful People in Sports for the 20th Century.”
His success stems from the ability to entertain fans without being a distraction to the importance of the event. He’s played all the best venues from Madison Square Garden to the White House.
The Chicken used to be a fixture at every Padres home game. His most recent appearance was in September 2003, during the Pads’ final weekend at Qualcomm Stadium. Giannoulas will prove you can go home again, on May 14 with his inaugural appearance at Petco Park.
“From a bird’s eye perspective, I think it’s an unflappable ballpark,” said Giannoulas at a promotional appearance for the Padres on February 7. “A very, very good stage for me to perform in. We’ve got something that’s really beautiful at Petco, and that’s dugout roofs.” The first few rows of seats provided cover for teams at Qualcomm. The Chicken performs without a net or microphone.
Sketches and impromptu antics have put smiles across the faces of thousands of fans time and time again and have led to his worldwide popularity. The Chicken’s wings span all 50 states, eight countries and four continents. Driven by the desire to add to the experience, his tireless efforts at times meant working 80 hours per week. After all, Ted is the one and only San Diego Chicken. No imposters or impersonators.
It all started in March 1974, when San Diego radio station KGB concocted arguably the greatest radio promotion of all-time. Okay, so it was a just simple weeklong promotion at the San Diego Zoo.
Giannoulas, a 20-year-old dishwasher and busboy, accepted a $2-per-hour gig to don a chicken costume and hand out candy Easter eggs to kids. Afterward he asked KGB brass to continue the Chicken promo at Padres home games. KGB kept the Chicken alive for the next five years and the Padres received free on-air advertising.
The Chicken grew into a fan-favorite attraction before KGB fired Giannoulas as the two sides battled for the fowl’s future. In the end, Giannoulas was granted the rights to remain the San Diego Chicken by the California Supreme Court.
In June 1979, “The Great Hatching”- complete with a California Highway Patrol motorcade, armored car and musical theme to the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” – marked the debut of a free bird. He was sporting a new feather suit, which is the same one Giannoulas still puts on today.
These days, however, he does not walk around in webbed feet as often as tennis shoes. Retirement is still off in the distance, but creeping closer.
“Nobody can play forever,” Giannoulas admitted. “I’m not sure of my plans, but I have turned down a lot of teams this year.”
“I still enjoy it. And everyone tells me that I haven’t lost a step.”
Kevin Aron is a freelance writer in San Diego and outright sports junky. Kevin has worked in college sports information, sports agent offices and, most recently, as managing editor of DIRECTVSPORTS.com for nearly five years.