When a Blue Hen fights an Eagle, anything could happen.
It's best to acknowledge that before exploring the origins of the University of Delaware mascot in a way that could be construed as giving the subject either too much or too little respect. When the Georgia Southern Eagles play the Fighting Blue Hens in the NCAA FCS Semifinals Saturday at Delaware Stadium in Newark, Del., the respect will be mutual.
But why on earth does Delaware have a blue-hued chicken as its mascot? True, the Blue Hen is the state bird of Delaware, and has been since the Delaware General Assembly declared it so in April 1939. It's probably best not to speculate what would happen in a scrap between a full-grown Blue Hen chicken and Georgia's state bird, the diminutive brown thrasher. While both states rank in the top 10 for poultry production, no chicken breed has been granted as much official recognition in Georgia as the Blue Hen has in Delaware.
The Fighting Blue Hen has its origin in the sport of cockfighting, now banned in all 50 states. But what University of Delaware officials emphasize - including a source at the university's sports information office and info available online via www.bluehens.com - is the Blue Hen's proudly patriotic origins in the Revolutionary War.
On Dec. 9, 1775, the Continental Congress resolved that a battalion should be raised from "the lower counties on the Delaware (River)." Eight companies of men at arms were called up from New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties, and Capt. John Caldwell, a cockfighting enthusiast from Kent County, commanded the second company.
The militia men joined in their captain's favorite entertainment, and so were nicknamed for the Kent County Blue Hen after demonstrating similar pluckiness through several engagements with the British.
One version of the story claims that they rushed into battle shouting, "We're sons of the Blue Hen and we're game till the end!"
Predating the Blue Hen's recognition as state bird, the name was used continuously by all University of Delaware intercollegiate athletic teams beginning in 1911.
Blue Hen chickens aren't totally blue but have some blue plumage, especially on their wings and tails. The Blue Hen is no longer recognized as a standard chicken breed, but the University of Delaware's College of Agricultural Sciences maintains a "breeding group" on its campus farm, said Scott Selheimer, assistant director of athletics for media relations at Delaware.
Visiting Eagles fans are more likely to see YouDee, the blue and yellow-gold uniformed Blue Hen mascot, who stands 6-foot-8 and wears size 28-FF sneakers. Five or six carefully selected students take turns bringing him to life.
Of course, the Eagles will be much more concerned with the football team fielded by Blue Hens head coach K.C. Keeler. While GSU fans may wish to recall the two teams' last playoff game, which the Eagles won 27-18 on Dec. 9, 2000, Selheimer reminded us that this wasn't the last time these birds were in the pit together.
When the Eagles met them in a regular season matchup at Delaware Stadium on Aug. 29, 2002, the Hens won 22-19. That happens to have been Coach Keeler's first game with U.D. He led them to a Division I-AA national championship the following year.
Going into Saturday's game, the Eagles are ranked 20th, with a 10-4 record on the season, while the Blue Hens are ranked fifth, with an 11-2 record.
Prodded to say whether an Eagle really has anything to fear from a Blue Hen, Selheimer remained respectful.
"Yes, but I think we have as much to fear of them as they might have about us," he said.
The game will air live on ESPNU Saturday at noon.