Video: Fans sacrifice a chicken, presidents race runs backwards to end Nats losing streak

Washington Nationals Rubber Chicken Sacrifice Burn SageWashington Nationals Rubber Chicken SacrificePresidents race runs backwardsNationals rubber chicken man sacrifice breaks bad luck
With the Washington Nationals coming off a 4-game losing streak, and the red hot Cincinnati Reds coming to town, fans, players, and team officials alike pulled out all the stops Thursday to exorcise whatever demons were plaguing the team.

At high noon in front of the Nationals Park center field gate, fans gathered as the Nats’ self-appointed “Rubber Chicken Man” Hugh Kaufman sacrificed a chicken after burning sage to help break the bad juju, performing the Kaporos ritual then slicing the chicken’s rubber head off as it was held by Caps superfan Jenn Rubenstein.

Video of the ritual below courtesy of the excellent report at DC Sports Nexus.

On the field, Manager Davey Johnson shuffled the lineup, inserting Steve Lombardozzi in the two spot and moving Jayson Werth to cleanup. But it was pitcher Gio Gonzalez, who took on the cause of Chicken Mode last season, who emerged as the star of the game, pitching a one hit gem.

In the fourth inning, the mascot team took their superstitions to a new level, running the presidents race in reverse for the first time in history.

Starting from the usual finish line in foul territory, William Howard Taft got the best start of his short racing career. Taft hung onto his lead until the Rushmores were approaching the new finish line at the centerfield gate, but he simply ran out of gas, and George Washington took the win.

That’s right. It seemed that the Nats were willing to try anything to change the team’s luck Thursday, but they still didn’t let Teddy win for the first time in 2013.


Photos and video courtesy of Hugh Kaufman and Luis Albisu

Video: Chicken sacrifice precedes Nats Game 4 victory

After suffering blowout losses in games 2 and 3 of the National League Division Series playoffs, Nats fan and “Rubber Chicken Man” Hugh Kaufman announced his plans to sacrifice a chicken at Nationals Park before Thursday’s Game 4.

Chicken Sacrifice at Nationals Park - Chicken ModeChicken Sacrifice at Nationals Park dugout - Chicken ModeApparently, it worked.

The videos below show Kaufman leading a crowd including two stilt walkers (!) in the sacrifice before the game, and completing the ritual above the Nationals home dugout.

“What you want to do (first) is see: Is there evil eye on the dugout?” Kaufman explains.  “In Italian it’s called the malocchio.”

Kaufman then brings out the beheaded rubber chicken to complete the ritual. “In the latin culture, there’s a religion called santeria, similar to the Jewish culture of Kaporos,” Kaufman says. “You put the animal over the area that needs help.  You take the sins, and you put it into an animal, and you sacrifice the animal.”

Kaufman, has sacrificed dozens of rubber chickens since 2005 on behalf of his beloved Nationals, attracting the attention of fans and of pitcher Gio Gonzalez, and inspiring Chicken Mode t-shirts.  With Gio on the mound Friday to start game 5, expect to see some Chicken Mode on display.

Davey Johnson calls for the sacrifice. Chicken Man delivers.

After Monday night’s game vs. the San Diego Padres, Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson was asked whether the already injury-riddled team was snakebitten after losing two catchers in just three days.

“There’s been superstitions, to change our luck and do different kinds of things,” he said. “Sacrifice a chicken or something. I mean, you know, I’ve heard it all.”

What Johnson didn’t know was that Hugh Kaufman was listening.

If you’ve watched the Nationals on TV, chances are you’ve seen Kaufman. The self-styled “Rubber Chicken Man” sits directly behind the Nationals dugout for almost every game, waving a red Curly W flag in one hand and a bright yellow rubber chicken in the other.

And at some point during the season, the chicken loses its head.

Washington Nationals Rubber Chicken Man Hugh KaufmanWashington Nationals Rubber Chicken Man Hugh Kaufman at Nationals Park“The beginnings of the ritual Rubber Chicken Sacrifice started 7 years ago,” says Kaufman. After a hot start to their inaugural season in 2005, the Nationals found themselves losers of 11 of 15 games in July.

Kaufman felt that the good energy had been sapped from the ball park — that the fans and the team had become “flat,” “lame,” “out of sync.” So he got a rubber chicken and ritually sacrificed it at RFK Stadium.

With the bad Juju expunged, the mood seemed to improve, so Kaufman has repeated the ritual at least once a year ever since, starting each season with a new chicken, and decapitating it when it seems the Juju gods have turned on the team.

So when Davey Johnson called for the sacrifice, Hugh knew what he had to do. “I’ve probably sacrificed a dozen chickens in the last seven years,” Kaufman says.

At high noon on Wednesday, Kaufman and some of his Facebook followers met at the gates to Nationals Park, and the deed was done.

Washington Nationals Rubber Chicken Man Hugh Kaufman displays his Chicken Mode T-ShirtRubber Chicken Man Hugh Kaufman and Let Teddy Win Sacrifice a chicken at Nationals ParkIn response to Davey Johnson, Rubber Chicken Man Hugh Kaufman Sacrifices a chicken at Washington Nationals Park“I think Davey has recognized the whole history of baseball Voodoo into the whole history of the sport, and so again has shown tremendous leadership for this squad.”

Kaufman did his homework, following the orthodox Jewish tradition of Kaporos, in which chickens were ritually sacrificed before the Yom Kippur holiday. “This is an offshoot of that,” Kaufman explained before pulling out his butcher knife. “That’s where you transfer the sins to the animal, and so if there are any hidden sins in that Nats locker room, Cool Heat or something like that, that gets transferred to the chicken so when you take the head off, that gets rid of the bad Juju.”

After spinning the chicken counterclockwise above his head, Kaufman asked me to hold the bird, and brandishing a Davey Johnson autographed baseball, finished the job.

Kaufman, an engineer and longtime administrator for the EPA, has built a following since those early days at RFK Stadium. Last season, he started passing out rubber chicken pins from his perch above the Nats dugout as a means of welcoming members to the “Secret Society of the Rubber Chicken,” a group that now claims several Nationals players among its ranks (full disclosure: I am a long-time member as well).

Chicken Mode T-Shirts at Nationals ParkAt spring training this year, some members sported new Chicken Mode t-shirts as a fan counter-point to the “Beast Mode” shirt that’s most closely associated with outfielder Michael Morse.

“Michael Morse loves his “Chicken Mode” shirt,” says Kaufman, “even though he can’t stop laughing every time he looks at it.” Pitcher Gio Gonzalez is also a fan.

As for the chicken? It’s not going anywhere. “The Juju gods have been appeased,” says Kaufman. “No more injuries.” And for the rest of the season you’ll still find Hugh Kaufman right above the Nationals dugout, waving a red flag and a now-headless rubber chicken.

Update: DC Sports Bog’s Dan Steinberg was there and filed this report for the Washington Post

Video to follow. Update: Here it is.

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