It must have been 10:30 or 11 p.m. in San Diego when the porter with the mustache and the vacuum cleaner approached Ted Giannoulas and asked him to lift his feet so he could clean the floor. Giannoulas smiled weakly and took another slurp of 7 Up. Some of it dribbled down his chin. "There was a time once when I washed dishes and bused tables at a Howard Johnson's," he said. "I was also a boxboy at a supermarket, and I mopped floors, too." Giannoulas stared at the porter and then said, "I actually did those jobs."
His performance at the San Diego Sports Arena earlier that evening hadn't been one of his best, so he was truculent and, besides, he had a cold. Some disc jockeys at the radio station for which he worked had taken his customized van to Los Angeles for a rock concert, and the van had been filled with his props. "I don't know," he said. "Some days I wish I wasn't a Chicken."
At the time, Giannoulas had no way of knowing that within two months this idle wish would come true, that he would be summarily stripped of his feathers as the result of legal action taken by San Diego radio station KGB. His plucking came at a time when Giannoulas—the KGB Chicken—was riding the crest of a wave of popularity. His appearances at San Diego Padres home games, at hundreds of other San Diego sporting events, at concerts and at supermarket openings had helped keep KGB high in the ratings from 1974 to 1978. In one poll of Padre fans, 11% said they came to games just to see the KGB Chicken.
The Chicken is the most visible—and perhaps most risible—member of a subculture of professional mascots and bleacher creatures that has sprung up across the land. "Even Elvis had his imitators," the Chicken says. "Now there are geese, kangaroos, beavers—I guess I've really spawned something." Says Tubby Raymond, whose son Dave dresses up as the Phillie Phanatic at Veterans Stadium, "I used to be known as the Delaware football coach. Now I'm known as the father of a green transvestite."
The mascots, or cheerleaders, or whatever it is they are, have become an almost standard adjunct of the American sports scene, and the affection felt for the best of them is deep and abiding. Only a few sour notes have been sounded, including one by Montreal Pitcher Bill Lee, who, until the whatevers came along, had cornered the market on weirdness at the ball park. "It gives youth the wrong impression of baseball," Lee said. "All that irrelevant stuff like those Chickens.... It encourages kids to eat junk food at those fast-food chains and that'll kill 'em."
"Every cheer I do," insists Krazy George, "people yell. I just don't accept people not cheering. I say, if you don't yell, I'm gonna knock your teeth out!' That really works. I also tell people that if they can't cheer, 'Get out of the section!' People want to yell, they want to support their team."
Krazy George is George Henderson, a 35-year-old former schoolteacher. For four years he taught electronics and shop at Buchser High School in Santa Clara, Calif., but cheerleading required his full-time attention. Besides, says George, "I'd have gone crazy if I'd stayed in teaching. I wasn't too effective as a classroom disciplinarian."
Krazy George has been a cheerleader for 11 years, though he has made money at it only for the last four. During that time he has flogged his tonsils for the Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints of the NFL; the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League; the San Jose Earthquakes, Oakland Stompers, Dallas Tornado and Tampa Bay Rowdies of the NASL; and the Oakland Seals and Colorado Rockies of the NHL. He works all the home games of the Chiefs, Earthquakes and Lions, and 20 to 30 of the Rockies' games in Denver. He makes $500 to $1,500 an appearance.
At Rockies games, Krazy George doesn't merely lead cheers, he orchestrates them in the manner of, say, a malevolent Georg Solti. Once during a Rockies game Krazy George became so incensed at the McNichols Arena public-address announcer for interrupting him with messages about upcoming games that he incited his section to chant the ominous mantra "Shut up! Shut up!"—until the P.A. man was silenced.
Henderson was not always this way. He was, he says, painfully shy until he was almost 21. When he finally did find a comfortable place, the campus at San Jose State (he had previously spent three years at Napa College), he stayed for eight years. "I was brilliant," Henderson says. "You have to be brilliant to go to college for 11 years, which I did." He says that most of his years at San Jose State were almost totally devoted to the Spartan judo teams; at the time, the San Jose State squad had embarked upon its streak of consecutive national titles, which now stands at 18.