Hail to the Redskins and a Chicken

'In 1958 Texas oilman Clint Murchison thought he was finally closing in on his dream of bringing pro football to Dallas. Two previous attempts to purchase teams had failed, but now word reached Murchison that Washington Redskins owner George Preston Marshall was eager to sell his club because the team was doing poorly and Marshall needed money. Imagine! The 'Skins in Dallas! But that blasphemy was not to be. For just as the sale was about to be announced, Marshall demanded a change in terms. Murchison told him to go to hell and canceled the deal.'

'The Redskin band was the pride and joy of former owner George Preston Marshall. Coincidently, around this time, Marshall also had a falling out with Barnee Breeskin, the Redskin band director who had written the music to the Redskins fight song. Breeskin, smelling an opportunity for revenge in the strained negotiations, approached Murchison lawyer Tom Webb and asked if he'd like to buy the rights to "Hail to the Redskins." Webb agreed, paying $2,500. He figured this would at least be good for an occasional joke on Marshall.'

'Meanwhile, feeling abused by Marshall, Murchison decided that his best chance of owning a team was to start one himself. In that endeavor he got support from the chairman of the NFL expansion committee, George Halas. Halas agreed to put the proposition of a Dallas franchise before the NFL owners. Unanimous approval would be required for the proposition to pass.'

'As the meeting approached, every owner but one was in favor of the proposal. The holdout? George Preston Marshall. Marshall knew that he had strong fan loyalty in the South and was afraid of losing it to Dallas. So he told the other owners he would not vote for a Dallas franchise. Besides, he told them, Murchison was "obnoxious." '

'But then Marshall found out that Murchison owned the rights to his song. Oh, how Marshall loved that song. Although Breeskin had written the music, Marshall's wife had written the lyrics, so Marshall had made the song the centerpiece of his elaborate pregame and halftime shows. Back then, the Redskin band was a small army in buckskins and headdresses, snappy and well-drilled, featuring a chorus line of prancing Indian princesses. Many fans thought the band, the princesses and Marshall's halftime pageants were more entertaining than the team itself.'

'When word of Murchison's "dirty trick" leaked out, one Washington columnist wrote that "Taking 'Hail to the Redskins' away from George Marshall would be like denying 'Dixie' to the South, 'Anchors Aweigh' to the Navy, or 'Blue Suede Shoes' to Elvis." So a deal was struck. For Marshall's approval of the Dallas franchise, Murchison returned the song. Thus, Murchison's Dallas Cowboys were free to be born.'

'But that wasn't the end of it. Two years later, three Murchison cronies who lived in Washington, plus Bob Thompson, a Texan who was also well-known in the capital, decided to have a little fun with Marshall for being such a jerk when Clint was trying to buy his team. Their target was Marshall's annual Christmas extravaganza staged at halftime during the Redskins' final home game which that year would be played against the Cowboys. So, the night before the game, operatives snuck into D.C. Stadium and spread chicken feed all over the field. The next day, when a team of Alaskan sled dogs would pull Santa Claus onto the field at halftime, a bunch of hungry chickens would be released to gobble the feed. CBS would be televising the festivities live. The thought of those chickens wandering around as the dogs showed up made Murchison's buddies howl.'

'The day of the game, two crates of chickens were smuggled into the stadium, stashed in a dugout and covered with a tarp. All told, there were seventy-six chickens, seventy-five white, one black. At the time Marshall was the only NFL owner who hadn't hired an African-American player. All went well until just before halftime when a Redskins official wandered by and heard the chickens. He queried the guard, who tried to buy his silence with a C-note. The official called the police. Both the guard and the chickens were arrested.'

'Predictably, Marshall was furious when he heard about the prank. He filed a complaint with commissioner Pete Rozelle. He named Thompson as a conspirator. He made ominous threats. But Marshall's pique only heightened the pranksters' resolve. The following year, as the Cowboy game drew near, one member of the group vowed, "There will be chickens in D.C. Stadium." '

'I wish I'd been there. As Dallas News columnist Sam Blair reported: "A few minutes before kickoff it happened. The Indian princesses pranced onto the field, followed by the Redskin band playing 'Hail to the Redskins.' As they reached midfield, four banners were unfurled from the upper deck of the stadium. The banners said: CHICKENS. One was at each 50-yard line and in the center of each end zone." '

'The banners were the cue for the acrobats, reported Blair. "Dressed in chicken costumes, they rushed down through the stands, tumbled over the rail and dashed onto the field. Each man carried a bag, from which he tossed colored eggs as he ran. One guy was grabbed by stadium guards and gave up easily but the other was dedicated to his task." '

'By now the band was playing the National Anthem so no one could stop the man in the chicken suit as he zigzagged through the formation. According to Blair's account, "He pulled one real chicken out of his bag and released it. Then he wriggled away from some stadium guards, jigged up and down, shook his feathers. The real chicken was captured and carried out, but the man was elusive. As stadium guards pursued, he ran out to the middle of the field, turned a cartwheel, fell and sprawled on the 30-yard line. Then, as the teams began to run on the field, the man leaped up, climbed into the stands, and dashed up the steps. The Cowboy Chicken Club had succeeded!" '

'In the game itself, the 'Skins, 4-2-2 coming in, disintegrated before a standing-room-only crowd, as Snead completed only 11 of 27 passes in a 38-10 Cowboys' rout. The next morning, the game story in the Dallas News detailed the Redskins' demise. The scoring summary, in agate type, was the usual breakdown of stats. Only the last line was different:

"Attendance -- 49,888 (and one chicken)."