Fowl Play

An athlete’s career typically ends in either a blaze of glory or an indifferent “it’s about time” shrug. Two of the greatest Olympians of all time, Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, capped their careers in Rio by extricating more gold from Brazil than its notoriously corrupt politicians. Meanwhile, Alex Rodriguez was unceremoniously dumped by the Yankees, his latest form making us forget what a truly great player he was before his enigmatic personality and steroid use dimmed his Hall of Fame chances. Somewhere in between was Peyton Manning, whose mediocre final season did not prevent him from earning a long-awaited second Super Bowl title and exiting the NFL on the highest of highs.

How then should we deal with the slow motion withdrawal of someone who has contributed more to the modern-day game of baseball, with its entertainment appeal overshadowing the actual performances on the field, than any player in the last fifty years? Of course, I am speaking of Ted Giannoulas, aka the San Diego Chicken.

Believe it or not, there once was a time when you went to a ball game to watch the game itself. The scoreboards did not explode or tell you when to clap, and there were no furry creatures dancing on the dugout, razzing the visiting team or keeping the kiddies from realizing that they were bored stiff by the slow-moving contest. But the Chicken has been strutting his stuff for 42 years, and is finally tiring of life on the road. He has not set a timetable for retirement or considered a successor, but even he must be weary of donning his yellow tights and matching feathers all over the country.

While mascots now may be forever part of the former National Pastime, they have had some inglorious moments. Consider Youppi, the erstwhile mascot of the erstwhile Montreal Expos, who once committed the mascot cardinal sin of fiddling with a woman’s purse. When the contents rolled out on the dugout, they quite conspicuously included a vibrator. Not content to leave her merely humiliated, he proceeded to pretend to clean out his ears with the device as if it were a Q-Tip. When the stadium camera picked up the action and displayed it on the Jumbotron, the women fled the stadium in horror.

Not so long ago, young boys (and some girls) dreamed of making the Big Leagues. But now that goal has been supplanted by aspirations of the NFL, the NBA and even the concussion-less PGA tour. But, don’t fret. Many, inspired by Giannoulas, have flocked to mascot schools around the country, donning some local version of an over-sized head, through the minor leagues of various sports, in hopes of becoming the next San Diego Chicken. But, while there are many imitators, there is only one original. For my money, one has been more than enough.

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