August 27, 2016

WHEN THE CHICKEN COMES HOME...

The San Diego Chicken Heads Into a Sunset (PETE CROATTO, AUG. 26, 2016, NY Times)

DES MOINES -- Ted Giannoulas's arrival was delayed four-plus hours; some of his luggage had not arrived. Now, in a brightly lit, empty drive-through restaurant outside of downtown, he savored a double burger as closing time neared. It was a late Sunday night in early August. The surrounding suburban strip malls offered little for sale but boredom.

The next day promised to be better. Men will want to shake his hand. Women will want to marry him. Children will want to take him home.

The San Diego Chicken will have a crowd.

Giannoulas, who turned 63 this month, has spent 42 years as perhaps the most influential mascot in sports history. Geoff Belinfante, a former executive producer with Major League Baseball Productions, said he believed Giannoulas's riotous antics in the 1970s spurred other teams to create their own mascots.

David Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic, said of Giannoulas, "He just created actual entertainment for the fans, and did it in a way that was just spontaneous, interactive and unrehearsed."

Erin Blank, the owner of Keystone Mascots and a former Detroit Tigers and Washington Capitals mascot, added, "We wouldn't be doing what we do today if it wasn't for him."

Giannoulas's business model was always to go where a laugh was appreciated. For years, he pursued them relentlessly, spending up to 260 days on the road.

These days, thanks to the unpredictability of travel and a desire to enjoy life in San Diego, Giannoulas stays still -- or what, for him, passes for still. He hit 11 ballparks in July and August.

He looks uncertainly to the future, unsure about appointing a successor or retiring the character that has been his alone for decades. But he does know one thing.

"It's not the end," he said before the tour, "but I can see it from here."

Jane Giannoulas, his wife, had wondered what the slow times would be like. Though she loved being a part of the rush, the transition to a quieter present has been lovely. Time is theirs. They work in the yard, watch the waves crash onto the beach and devote autumn Sundays to the N.F.L.

Seeing her husband get to enjoy the simple pleasures is like "watching a child experience fireworks for the first time," she said. "People take these things for granted, but to see Ted sit down in the middle of the summer on a blanket at the lake, it's a real special thing."

Yet she acknowledges the Chicken is "in his soul." 


Posted by at August 27, 2016 6:42 AM

  

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