Whenever some uninformed media person who knows little about Philadelphia or our sports fans wants to make a point about how “mean and nasty” we are, they always point to one incident: when Philadelphia Eagles fans threw snowballs at a “helpless” Santa Claus. Like many things about our dear city, this is one incident that is completely misunderstood.
In 1968, the Eagles were horrible. Eight years prior, the team had won the NFL Championship. Those days were now just a distant memory. The team was 2-11, and fans were frustrated. Besides the fact that the team was awful, the following factors have to be taken into consideration:
- Owner Jerry Wolman had taken a once great franchise and completely disemboweled it.
- Head coach Joe Kuharich, who was also general manager, had traded the team’s best player at the time (Sonny Jurgenson) for a scrub named Norm Stead. Fans were so upset with Kuharich that they chanted “Joe Must Go” at games. One fan even paid to have a banner flown around Franklin Field.
- The team had won their previous game, ensuring they would not receive the first overall pick in the 1969 draft. That meant that they would not get to draft coveted USC runningback and future hall of famer, OJ Simpson.
Despite all of these negative factors, almost 55,000 people still showed up in the middle of a brutal snowstorm on December 15, 1968 to watch the putrid Eagles with their horrible coaching and lack of direction take on the Minnesota Vikings at Franklin Field on the campus of University of Pennsylvania.
Despite all of the negativity that Eagles fans had experienced the past few years and in the awful 1968 season, many fans were looking forward to halftime of the Eagles/Vikings game because there was going to be a Christmas Pageant. However, due to the poor field conditions and trouble getting around the city, the Christmas Pageant had to be scrapped. Instead, the Eagles hired Frank Olivo, a 19 year-old fan direct from the Franklin Field bleachers to be a stand-in Santa Claus. Olivo’s job was to jog between the cheerleaders, and around the field. Olivo had no idea what was coming to him.
While doing what he was recruited to do, fans were stunned. It was one more disappointment in what had been a long string of disappointments. Fans were fed up. They were fed up with Wolman’s lousy ownership. Fed up with Kuharich’s lousy couching and his awful decision to trade Jurgenson. Fed up with the team being so awful they couldn’t even get the first round draft pick. Therefore, the fans unleashed a barrage of boos and snowballs at Santa Claus. Did Santa have it coming? Most fans who were at Franklin Field that day say the Santa was pretty lousy, but state that Santa got the snowball treatment due to the constant barrage of disappointments delivered by their beloved Eagles.
Since occurring in 1968, this story has become the event that no-nothing outsiders always point to when trying to trash the Philadelphia sports fans. What’s amazing is that Philly sports fans have had much worse instances to be ashamed of. Fans cheering Michael Irvin’s possible paralysis come to mind. The drunken idiot who fired a flare gun across The Vet also comes to mind. Lets also not forget the drunken brawl between rival Catholic high schools that occurred during one Phillies opening day in the 700 Level of The Vet. Yet, this story always gets referenced because it is absurd, and can be viewed as unfathomable by people who are ignorant.
What always seems to get ignored is that Olivo, the man who played Santa was actually fine with the whole thing. He has stated numerous times that there was nothing wrong with what the Philly fans in attendance that day. “I’m a Philadelphia fan. I knew what was what. I thought it was funny,” Olivo was quoted as saying.
Regardless of the context it is currently presented in, it is another example of the colorful history of the Philadelphia sports fan. We have our black eyes through the years, but we also are some of, if not the most knowledgeable and passionate fans in the entire country. With passion comes anger and disappointment, but with that same passion comes unbridled loyalty and support for our hometown teams. I’ll take unrelenting passion with a few black eyes over apathy any day of the week. Besides, Santa deserved it.