While many of us hide behind a mask or two, the KIMN Chicken has taken this form of self-defense to an extreme. Guarded from the world by a bright suit of yellow feathers and a protruding beak, the human form is so well camouflaged that it is impossible to determine its gender.
It is difficult to accept that Chicken is indeed human. If only there was a real six-foot chicken who could do somersaults and insult referees. To speak of Chicken in human terms makes you feel like a heretic. How awful it is to find out that the Chicken is actually a 34-year-old man with a wife and two children. It doesn't help the illusion to discover that Chicken is not an awkward bungler, but a skilled gymnast with a college degree. And yes, when he is not at a Nuggets or Bronco game, he goes home, not to the barnyard.
Why would any man enjoy the isolation of being a Chicken? The Chicken cannot change facial expressions and he observes a strict code of silence whenever he dons the feathers. He is a celebrity only when he is the Chicken. Otherwise, his 5-3, 145-pound frame is hardly noteworthy.
"I really dig it," said the Denver South High School graduate. "It's a big thrill for me. In a way it's an ego thing, but I know I'm one of the few guys who could pull this gig off."
A brainstorm of the KIMN public relations department, Chicken came into existence in August of 1977, and was envisioned as an advertising vehicle as well as a good-will ambassador for the station. The Chicken has since become a faithful follower of both the Nuggets and the Broncos. He struts through the stands reacting to the action of the game. He is a gimmick, to be sure, but he has also become a personality, much in the likeness of San Diego's KGB Chicken.
"When the station decided to go ahead with the idea of having a chicken they called several YMCA's and rec centers around Denver to get names of people who might have the ability to be an acrobatic chicken," explained the chicken, a state champion gymnast. "We talked for two weeks about the job before we made it final.
"After that Caroline Wilson (a member of the KIMN staff) and I flew out to watch the KGB Chicken in action at a Padres game and at a tire sale promotion thing. I just wanted to watch and get a feel for what a guy might do inside a chicken suit. It was interesting to see how people reacted to him. The one thing I noticed was that he was not the same character at the tire sale as he was at the game. He didn't seem as animated at the sale. That's the one thing I make a conscious effort of doing-being the same character wherever I am-a cocky stumble-bum."
Much of Chicken's appeal has been connected to the secrecy surrounding his human identity. In order to avoid recognition and the physical assaults that the KGB chicken has encountered, Chicken arrives in plain clothes more than an hour before a game. Once inside the arena, he goes to a private dressing room protected by a battery of radio-equipped guards well versed in Chicken security.
"I don't know what it is, but people are really curious about who I am," Chicken said. "There had been a few attempts to de-hood me, but most of the attempts were just kids playing around, nothing serious. One night a guy threatened to curl me into a little ball. I didn't know if he was kidding or not. Last year (at Big Mac) another guy reached over a railing, grabbed my head and started pulling.. I've been lucky, though."
But now the jig is up-he has been exposed. A local publication has revealed Chicken's human name for the first time. "I knew I would be exposed some day, but I never thought it would happen like this," Chicken said, his beak bobbing in anger. "This is a real bummer.
"The station granted an interview to this guy, and we specifically told him he couldn't use my name. It's not as if I'm a crooked cop or a corrupt politician. This is supposed to be a fun thing. Well, he used my name anyway. It was a real chicken thing to do. I could understand it if the guy spent two weeks following me around town, but all he did was to betray a trust. I can't believe it happened this way.
This is not the first time Chicken has had a problem with his role. Last January he had an identity crisis (rumors that Chicken was sent to a state mental home to deal with a split personality simply aren't true). He abandoned his feathers and became an interior and exterior designer.
"There's not a lot of money in being a chicken," he said. "I was always at the station's beck and call. It just didn't seem to be worth it. I wasn't getting much money and I spent a lot of time away from my family."
However, the station found that it was not easy to replace Chicken. Feathers alone did not make Chicken an automatic success. And Chicken missed the crowds and the bright lights.
"I think they had two or three guys work as the chicken while I was gone," he said. "You may think it is easy being Chicken, but there is a lot more to it than just strutting around and giving the refs the thumbs down. You have to be a show-off and I like to get the attention of the crowd. Until I did something else I didn't realize how much I liked the job. I'm getting paid to do acrobatics, and I found out that I really prefer working on a non-scheduled basis. But it was my wife who was really instrumental in me going back. She realized that I was happier as Chicken. She's the one who convinced me that I should forget the money and go back."
He made his comeback this September during a Broncos' game, and now he is convinced that he is the man for the job.
"I think I have a good rapport with most people, and I think the station trusts me. They realize it takes a certain personality to do this job."
Chicken, however, must pay the price for glory and notoriety.
"Unlike Superman, my suit makes my job harder," Chicken said. "It's hard to keep your cool in that thing. The heat buildup is incredible. Taking a beer from a fan is a good way to build up the relationship between me and the crowd. People are always curious to see howl will drink it. Sometimes I use a long straw and other times I simply slip the cup up under my hood. I always like to give people a big hug after they feed me.
"The most difficult part of the job is the acrobatics. I can hardly see, so almost every flip or stunt I do is basically a blind effort. My greatest fear in life is that my hood will fall off during one of the flips. If that happened it would be like standing naked in front of 15,000 people."
As Chicken has become a fixture at Denver athletic events, he has acquired his admirers and detractors. Some people are not amused by a refugee from Colonel Sanders sitting on their laps, and others feel he obstructs their view of the game.
"This is an entertainment thing," Chicken said. "But I realize people do not always find me amusing or funny. I try to read the moods of the people around me. I love to yuk it up with people, but if I get a nasty look from someone then I know it's time to move on to new territory. It's my job to add to the game, not make life unpleasant for the fans. After all, I'm not the main show, the game is."
Chicken may broil in his suit and he may occasionally ruffle the feathers of a few fans, but he has no intention of changing his basic character.
"It can become stale if you aren't willing to experiment," he said. "My son, Chicken Jr., joined me in January and he's as much a ham and cut-up as me. In the beginning I think I was a little bit too concerned with being an exact copy of the KGB Chicken. He is always moving and flapping his wings. He's very fidgety. That's just not my personality. I don't have an ego problem because I'm not the original chicken, it's impossible for me to create the exact same image. Carl Sheer (Nuggets' president) was instrumental in helping me. He saw the KGB Chicken a while ago and he realized that we have two different personalities.
"I'm an acrobat and the KGB chicken is not. My style is more explosive. Instead of constantly moving, I like to create a lull and then at the right time I explode."
Nor does Chicken fear the presence of Krazy George in Denver. The Chicken sees it as a case of brute force versus finesse.
"I like George's gig," the Chicken said. "But we don't compete on the same terms. He is a creator because he can use his voice. With me, I try to react to the action. Then I hope the people will follow my cue. I wouldn't want to be a personality like George. He never has a chance to be anything but Krazy George-he can't ever escape his image. I can do more because, when I'm out there, I'm not a person. I certainly get to hug more pretty girls than George does. I think most women and children think I'm cuter than George. How can George compete with my tail feathers?"
It is children, however, who find Chicken the most fascinating. He is a living cartoon. He drives a small car, rides a unicycle, shakes his head and points his finger at a referee who has the gall to call a foul against David Thompson or George McGinnis. Chicken is a Mighty Mouse or Donald Duck that you can touch.
"Children are the most responsive because they want to believe that I'm a real chicken," he said. "My whole thing is to try to create a laugh-situ-ation and that is rarely a problem with children. They love to seem me coming.
Chicken may be cocky about his ability to make people laugh, but he is sad today. For you see, he really enjoyed being a chicken without a name.
DENVER MONTHLY February 79