As if one thrilling comeback wasn’t enough for Cajuns fans, the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns have a second surprise up their sleeve in the coming days.
Just a few days before the men’s basketball team captured their biggest come-from-behind win of the season against Georgia Southern on Jan. 28, it was announced that the Fabulous Cajun Chicken will be making his long-awaited return to the Cajundome on Feb. 4 after a 20-plus-year absence.
On the same night Louisiana will be honoring seniors Terence Lewis II, Jalen Dalcourt and Greg Williams Jr., Russell Heim will return with his beloved mascot and collection of skits to entertain and energize the home Lafayette crowd.
“I tell folks, ‘I’m just the chicken’s driver,’” Heim said. “He’s not very good at following instructions or timeouts properly. He does his own thing.”
The 65-year-old personality emphasizes that the mascot’s main priority for Senior Night is to fire up the fans and instill noise in the dome.
“I told them in our production meeting, ‘Ok, this is a good start, but I can’t guarantee the chicken’s going to follow this,’” Heim said. “Depending on how the game goes, I’ll drop a skit to get people fired up.”
Many of Heim’s skits resonate with fans so much because they resemble a popular mid-twentieth-century “Looney Tunes” cartoon.
“I try to use the chicken kind of like the coyote-and-the-roadrunner cartoons,” Heim said. “Me and my assistant used to have a couple margaritas and we’d go to Toys-R-Us and wander the aisles and pick up all sorts of toys and say, ‘What can we do with this?’”
For Heim, it is more about the fan interactions and the work he did with children and charity rather than sports itself.
“There was one special child who would come see me at every basketball game and he didn’t talk,” Heim said. “One game, I told him, ‘Hello,’ and he looked at me and said, ‘Hi,’ and I looked up and his mom was crying. She goes, ‘That’s the first time I’ve ever heard him tell somebody hi.’”
Heim often visited hospitals, schools and the Special Olympics on a regular basis to speak with and entertain children.
“That is 10 times better than winning a championship,” Heim said. “They make me feel 10 feet tall and an inch tall at the same time.”
Before moving to Houston for 11-and-a-half years, Heim was a Ragin’ Cajuns season ticket holder after the school decided to go in a different direction with their mascot in 1999.
He insisted that the school’s sporting events should be centered more around the students rather than entertainment hired from the outside.
“The chicken became too popular for his own good,” Heim said. “The students come first. This is the university; it’s not the chicken’s show.”
When Heim and the university mutually parted ways, he willingly offered UL Lafayette the trademarks and copyrights associated with the character. The university declined, leaving the door open for a possible return.
A lot has changed since Heim last performed in 1999. He mentioned airing on the side of caution with some of his skits.
“There were things that we did that could be perceived in the wrong way, so all of that is being pushed aside,” Heim said. “We don’t want to offend anybody, and we don’t want anybody to feel like we’re trying to offend them.”
When asked about making additional appearances in the future, Heim said he wants to leave that door open.
“We have to see how my dilapidated body holds up,” Heim said. “I’m in good shape for somebody 65 and I don’t think it’ll be a problem. We talked about baseball games and as long as it’s not a hundred degrees, I’ll be good.”
A piece of Ragin’-Cajun culture will be reborn on Feb. 4, and it may not be the last we see of Heim and his poultry alter-ego.