You Have to be a Philly fan to get it.
On December 15th, 1968; the craziest Christmas story ever told occurred. And to think, this story almost was never known. In fact until Howard Cosell released the news and showed some footage on his weekly show, hardly anyone outside of Philadelphia even knew it happened. After Cosell reported it, it had a mind of it’s own and it became a part of football lore.
A Miserable Day:
It was a miserable cold December day in Philadelphia, and the fans were not in a good mood. To be honest fans in Philadelphia are rarely in a good mood but they had reason this time. Their fans are unlike any other fan base in sports. They might be the smartest in the U.S., but they also will go off in a heartbeat if they feel things aren’t going well. Fans that day had arrived to over a ½ foot to a foot of snow on their seats in old Franklin Field. In true Philly fashion, 54,000 die hard Eagles fans came to see one of the worst teams in the NFL on a terrible winter day.
A few weeks earlier there was joy with many fans thinking the Eagles would have the worst record in the NFL. This would mean they could draft a cant miss super star in USC tailback OJ Simpson. Sadly, they won 2 meaningless games so they now had the #3 pick in the draft. Buffalo chose Simpson #1 and the Eagles chose Leroy Keyes, a RB out of Purdue. He showed so little promise at RB that they moved him to Safety after 1 year. Keyes was out of the league in 4 years and OJ became one of the greatest RB’s in history. Their fans knew.
Philadelphia fans are as passionate as any fan base in history. They treat their teams like family members. Tough, rough and hardcore, if their teams do well they will be favorite sons. If they fail, they will rip them to shreds like newspaper. Not every athlete can play in Philadelphia. Thin skinned, sensitive athletes need not apply.
Philly fans are the “schleprocks” of the sports world. They feel there is a black cloud over them at all times, just waiting to drop down a curse that will eventually ruin even the best of seasons. I remember a tweet by a Philly fan a week ago. He said, “I’m so freaking scared; things are going too good. I know something is going to happen”. The next game star QB Carson Wentz tore up his knee and is now out for the season.
On this cold day in 1968, there was nothing to play for. The Eagles lost to the Vikings but that was not the story. Already in a bad mood, the Eagles fans wanted nothing to do with cheer or with crappy halftime entertainment. The temperature had now dropped to the low 20’s with wind gusts to 20-30 mph. At half time the Eagles had promised a small parade. The Philly cheerleaders would be in cute elves costumes followed by a large band. They also had a Santa float. The Santa float started to go across the field but fans booed because it got stuck due to the bad conditions. The worst part is that the Santa that they had hired, didn’t even show up and wasn’t in the float as expected. There are still stories that he may have possibly had too many adult beverages after seeing how cold it was outside, but that isn’t confirmed.
Eagles Entertainment Director Bill Mullen had an idea. He saw a 20 y/o fan by the name of Frank Olivo in the stands who was dressed as Santa Claus. At 5’ 7” and about 170 lbs., he was a poor imitation at best. Nicknamed “beefy”, Frank was a small, portly Italian man who had lots of personality and he loved to ham it up. Never shying away from attention, Frank agreed.
Olivo found out quick that Eagles fans were in no mood for second class entertainment. Seeing a wannabe Santa was too much for them to take and they started to boo. After someone in the upper deck chucked a snowball at Frank, it created a domino effect. First a few and then dozens of snowballs from all over the stadium started to rain down.
Matt Millen Remembers:
At 11 years old, a young Matt Millen knew what being an Eagles fan was all about. The future Penn State and Raiders star was all Pennsylvanian. He knew that he was a part of a generation of Philadelphia fans and there was a passionate responsibility to it. As your fathers and grandfathers go, so go the children.
“I was 10 or 11 at the time and it was a miserable day and they were a miserable team”, said Millen to reporters. “To be honest the snowball throws were the only fun thing about the game. Dads, kids, grandfathers, and even old ladies started throwing them. I mean he had it coming. When the band played Here comes Santa Claus, that was it. It was no big deal. It was just what we did”.
Matt Millen said it was a much different era obviously. “Fans of today don’t realize how serious Philly fans take their football. Franklin Field was a crazy place to play. More than a few times people would leave the stands and go onto the field to physically confront players and coaches alike if things weren’t going well”.
Frank Olivo from the start was a good sport about it. “I’m one of them”, he said often. “I understand them so I didn’t take it personally. They didn’t like anyone at that moment. I do admit though when the Eagles asked if I would do it again next year I said no”.
Frank did admit he never booed a player ever again. “When they boo, you feel like they’re all against you individually,” he said. “And that’s why, when I heard it, I said to myself, ‘My God, what do these players think or feel when they’re getting booed?’ It’s like you’re being told you’re not good enough to be here.”
Frank and his family members were eventually priced out of Eagles games not being able to afford the PSL’s with the new stadium. Much like in other areas, the most diehard of fans were eaten up by the greed machine that is the NFL.
Years later though, Frank was asked to be Santa at a 76ers game reliving that day and he accepted. At first they cheered him on, and then in true Philly fashion, they realized that for old times sake they had to boo Olivo. He loved it. Frank passed away in 2015 but he treasured his memories of his beloved Eagles until the day he died.
The latest situation where Philly fans took some heat was last year during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Flyers were down 2-0 to the Washington Capitals and before game 3, they were honoring owner Ed Snider who had recently passed away. Every seat had a white bracelet on it that lighted up. The light show before the game in honor of Snider was a sight to see and everyone was in great spirits before the first puck dropped. That feeling eroded though.
As the Capitals pulled away late, fans began to pelt the ice with the bracelets. The game was halted for a time. Not even the Flyers ice girls; who pretty much wear strip club school girl outfits; could stop the madness. The white bracelets were literally impossible to clean up because they matched the color of the ice. This incident also included a few obscenities yelled out by some fans during the moment of silence.
What Will Happen on Christmas v.s. The Raiders?
Things are going pretty good where the Eagles fly, but you never know. What if the Raiders somehow beat them? What if Nick Foles implodes. What if somehow something bad happens? If these things occur, I think that whoever is playing Santa better have a thick suit and a thick skin. And if he is anywhere near the good sport and the great Eagle fan that Frank Olivo was, if snowballs come his way then so be it. He would understand. You have to be a Philly fan to get it.