Submitted by SHNS on Wed, 02/23/2011
By David Nielsen
SAN DIEGO - After 37 years of entertaining audiences around the world, the San Diego Chicken aka Ted Giannoulas, has grown accustomed to receiving applause and acclaim. But a golden football trophy? Not so much.
"I am really jazzed beyond belief," said Giannoulas, after receiving the 2011 Super Sage Award trophy Wednesday at PETCO Park, the home of the San Diego Padres. "It felt almost as if I won the Super Bowl as well. This one really puts a feather in my cap, so to speak."
The Chicken earned the trophy after predicting Green Bay would beat Pittsburgh, 31-26. That was just one point off the actual final score of Green Bay, 31-25. Bob Weir, Grateful Dead guitarist and 2004 Super Sage Award winner, was also one point off with his pick of Green Bay, 31-24. But the Chicken was awarded the Super Sage Award after winning a coin flip.
"It must have come up tails," he said.
He became the ninth winner of the Super Sage Award. Golfing legend Arnold Palmer won the first one in 2003, followed by Weir, actor Dennis Farina, former Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, the magician duo Penn and Teller, the Rev. Pat Robertson, actress Patricia De Leon and last year's winner, actor Joe Mantegna.
Giannoulas, 57, has been performing as the Chicken since 1974. He appeared exclusively in San Diego for the first couple of years while working for a local radio station, KGB. His first appearance outside of San Diego came at a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game in 1976.
"After that all the other major league baseball teams started calling me up," he said.
Soon he was appearing all over the country. But that caused friction with the executives at KGB. In 1979, they fired Giannoulas and sued to block his right to work in a chicken costume. The California Supreme Court ruled for Giannoulas, and he has gone on to appear as the Chicken more than 20,000 times, including gigs in all 50 states and eight countries.
"I'm laughing for a living," he said. "How bad can that be?"
While he used to make more than 250 performances a year, Giannoulas expects to appear in about 40 cities this year, mostly at minor league baseball parks.
"I've scaled back mostly to take a little time off for myself," said Giannoulas. "This is now my fifth decade. I'm the Minnie Minoso of mascots."
Minoso appeared in professional baseball games in seven decades, most recently in 2003. How much longer might the Chicken roam baseball parks? Giannoulas isn't sure.
"I didn't think I'd be going into my 38th year," he said. "I don't mean to sound like Brett Favre, but I'm really taking it one year at a time. I can see maybe another year or two. But all my friends tell me I've been saying that for the last 10 years."
The Chicken is most closely associated with baseball -- a replica costume is part of the collection of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But now he'll forever be linked to football. And he's all right with that.
"I've always felt connected to football, especially when they had the wing formation," he said.
(David Nielsen is managing editor for Scripps Howard News Service in Washington, D.C. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org)