By Michael Lewis
Take a look at the photo atop the story. There are two press passes there — with the same date, given to the same reporter, but in different cities.
Yep, yours truly pulled off a rare double, covering events in cities some 60 miles apart and in two countries on the same day.
In the morning I drove west to Buffalo to interview Ted Giannoulas, aka The Chicken, a costumed character that entertained fans at sporting events. Giannoulas was working the Buffalo Bisons game that afternoon.
After the game I ventured east or perhaps it was northeast to Toronto to cover the Toronto Blizzard-Philadelphia Fury game, a contest that was going to decide a wildcard playoff berth in the North American Soccer League.
You might say I was killing, ahem, killing two birds with one stone that day.
But first things first.
I got an opportunity to see and talk to Giannoulas — in person, sans the costume over breakfast. In a week, he was to be in Rochester to Rochester a Red Wings baseball game, so the editors felt why do a feature on him. No photos were allowed to be taken. At the time, no one had any pictures of Giannoulas out of “uniform.”
No problem on my part. I was more interested in what he had to say.
Giannoulas said what he did wasn’t a job. “It’s not work,” he said. “This is like a hobby — making people laugh. There was a time when I bussed tables. or mopped floors or washed dishes. Now, that was work.”
Well, it still was work. His itinerary included a New Orleans Saints exhibition game on Saturday, Aug. 11, the Buffalo Bison baseball game on Sunday, Aug. 12. He flew home to San Diego before traveling to Phoenix on Tuesday, Aug. 14 and then El Paso on Wednesday, Aug. 15 before yet another trip home on Thursday, Aug. 16. He flew to Chicago Friday, Aug. 17-19 before entertaining a Rochester Red Wings baseball crowd on Sunday, Aug. 19.
He received $3,500 for his Rochester appearance, plus expenses. He reportedly made more than $100,000 in 1979, although he went through eight costumes a year at $1,000 apiece.
Then it was off to Toronto to see what the Rochester Lancers’ fate would be. They entered the game with a lead over the Blizzard for the wildcard berth.
Toronto needed a 4-3 win to get maximum points and reach the postseason.
“If its a high-scoring game, then the game is fixed,” said Lancers trainer Joe Sirianni, who accompanied Lancers head coach Don (Dragan) Popovic to the game.
Popovic discounted such a theory. “I just think Toronto will score three goals and they are going to win,” he said.
It wasn’t the best of nights for Popovic. After he got his wife Connie settled, someone mentioned to Sirianni: “I hope Dragan isn’t superstitious. Don’t tell him he’s sitting in seat 13.”
Midway through the second half, a fan climbed over an vacant seat next to Popovic and accidentally kicked him. “Hey’ that’s my suit,” Popovic said.
That was an angry as the sometimes-volatile Popovic got. for most of the evening he sat with his arms folded, his eyes riveted to the artificial turf, his face emotionless.
After the game, Popovic said that he was “not that disappointed.”
“You can’t depend on anyone else. You have to do it yourself – to score three goals yourself,” he added.
With 23 seconds remaining in the match and with Toronto winning, 4-3, the scoreboard started a countdown. When it hit zero, it became official; the Lancers were out and the Blizzard was in. Ironically, the Lancers finished at 15-15, compared to Toronto’s 14-16 record. But the hosts secured the last wildcard berth in the National Conference because they had accumulated 133 points while Rochester collected 132. Toronto had more bonus points, 49 to 42.
Remember, back then each win was worth six points in the NASL as team were able to pick up a point for each goal it scores up until three.
“We have nothing to be ashamed about,” Popovic said. “We wound up with a better record than Toronto.”
The Lancers could have helped themselves immensely on Friday night. They held a 2-0 lead over the New England Revolution could not find a third goal that would have boosted them into the playoffs. An alleged goal-exchange scandal emanated from that Friday game, but certainly was another story for another time.