In all honesty, I had never heard of the Dallas Cowboys Chicken Club prior to doing some research on the history of the Cowboys rivalry with the Washington Redskins. References to the "Chicken Club" kept coming up in the early years, so I dug a little deeper. Most of us have heard the story of how Clint Murchison, Jr tried to buy the Redskins, and move the team to Dallas. We recall how George Preston Marshall backed out of the deal at the last moment. Our history tells how Mr. Murchison came into possession of the rights to the song "Hail to the Redskins" and how it gave him the leverage to establish the franchise we follow today. Well the "Chicken Club" also traces its origins back to 1958 when Marshall backed out of the deal to sell the Redskins.
The Dallas Cowboys Chicken Club actually came together in 1961, when a group of Murchison's cronies who lived in Washington, DC decided to take matters in their own hands and get a little revenge on Marshall for acting like a jerk during the sale negotiations, and for later telling his fellow owners that Mr Murchison was the one who caused the pending sale to fall through because he was obnoxious and not a gentleman. At least three, and perhaps as many as five, Washington area VIPs and one Texas businessman who had frequent dealings in the capitol are believed to be the masterminds behind the "Chicken Club". Of these men, the only one who has been openly identified was Bob Thompson, the Texas business man. The only reason we know of Thompson's role is because after the first incident Mr Marshall filed a formal complaint with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, accusing Thompson of conspiracy.
The Dallas Cowboys Chicken Club launched its first attack on George Preston Marshall during the Redskins' final home game of the 1961 season. At halftime of the game with the Cowboys, Marshall intended to continue his annual tradition of having Santa Claus and his sleigh pulled across the field by Alaskan sled dogs. Unbeknownst to Redskins and league officials, members of the "Chicken Club" broke in to the stadium the night before the game and scattered chicken feed all over the field. They also stashed two crates of hungry chickens in one of the baseball dugouts, and covered the crates with a tarp. They even went so far as to assign someone to stand guard until halftime, when the chicken would be released as Santa made his arrival. The plan worked perfectly right up until the critical moment. Just before the time for their release, the chicken started making noise which alerted a team official who, in spite of being offered a $100 bribe by Thompson, in turn alerted the DC police. Both the guard and the chicken were taken into custody.
One interesting tidbit is that there were 76 chickens in the crates. 75 white ones and one black. The reason? George Preston Marshall was at that time the only owner in the league who refused to sign African-American ball players. His public policy was that he would not sign a black until the Harlem Globetrotters signed a white. The "Chicken Club" had intended to make a socio-political point with their stunt as well.
In spite of their initial failure, the Dallas Cowboys Chicken Club swore that there would be chicken in the stadium the following season. Naturally, the Redskins took what they considered to be appropriate precautions. The field was guarded closely to avoid a recurrence of the previous year's prank. It was a wasted effort since the "Chicken Club" had other plans. Perhaps out of concern that Mr Marshall would miss his Thanksgiving dinner the following day, the "Chicken Club" had invested in a large and rather ill-tempered tom turkey, and smuggled him into the bathroom of the hotel suite Marshall had reserved for himself. When he attempted to answer nature's call, Marshall was attacked by the tom and chased, not only out of the bathroom, but through his suite and out into the hallway. Allegedly, Mr. Marshall drew additional attention to himself with a chorus of screams that brought other guests out into the hall.
Round two did not end the night before the game. The "Chicken Club" hired two acrobats who donned chicken suits just before kick off. As the Redskins band struck up the national anthem, four banners, one in each end zone and one on each side of the 50 yard line, were unfurled. They read simply "CHICKENS". The acrobats burst from the crowd, vaulted over the railings onto the field, and began tossing colored eggs into the stands. One was quickly apprehended, but the other made his way to midfield where he released a live chicken onto the field. By this time, the teams had begun to run onto the field, and the acrobat was able to use the confusion to make his getaway. The Dallas Cowboys Chicken Club had fulfilled its vow that there would be chickens in the Redskins stadium. Their mission completed, the "Chicken Club" faded off into history. The final reference to their efforts came from the Dallas Morning News. The last line of the box score for the game listed the official attendance as 49,888 and one chicken.
Special thanks to former Dallas Cowboy defensive lineman, and current DC area resident Pat Toomay for his original efforts at preserving this tidbit of history regarding the Cowboy-Redskins rivalry. Pat, as some of you may know, is the author of the book "On Any Given Sunday". He also grew up in the northern Virginia area during the time the "Chicken Club" was on the loose. Thanks, Pat.