Merton Hanks owes his iconic celebration to a place where the air is sweet.
The former 49ers safety revealed to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco in the latest "49ers Insider Podcast" that Hanks' legendary "chicken dance" was not the inspiration for the Bluth family, but an ode to a famous felt figure (not Franklin).
Hanks sat down with his daughter to watch "Sesame Street" during the 1995 season when he saw Bert "Doin' The Pigeon."
"I thought, 'OK, well, let me play around with that," Hanks told Maiocco. "[After messing] around with it in practice, it popped up ... in the Dallas Cowboys game when Elvis Grbac [made] his first start and Jerry Rice had, like, an [81-yard touchdown] to kick things off. It kind of came out in that game."
Hanks picked up a fumble and returned it 38 yards to score within the first two minutes of the 49ers' 38-20 road win over the rival Cowboys on Nov. 12, 1995. San Francisco, then 11 weeks into its Super Bowl title defense after lifting the monkey off Steve Young's back the previous season, needed some swagger.
The "pigeon dance" provided it."Deion Sanders had left (for the Cowboys)," Hanks recalled. "Ricky Watters had left (for the Philadelphia Eagles). My contract was coming up, and we felt like our on-the-field product was pretty solid as far as play, but we needed something to differentiate ourselves."
Hanks spent eight seasons with the 49ers, becoming synonymous with the dance over his final four.
His 31 interceptions are the fourth most in 49ers history, but the dance is what most fans remember. Hanks' jig even transcended football, when eventual Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal incorporated the celebration into his repertoire early in his eight-season stint with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 49ers embraced Hanks' era last season by wearing 1994-inspired throwback jerseys. Someone in San Francisco's secondary surely could do Hanks' dance this year, but we'll be left wondering one thing.
Can they also tell us how to get to "Sesame Street?"