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Philadelphia Fans Attack Santa - True Story
My biggest pet peeve as a life long Philadelphia sports fan is the long standing Santa Claus snowball incident. Every time a Philadelphia fan hits the national news, which has happened twice recently with the Taser incident and the incident involving a fan intentionally vomiting on another fan last month, the national media feels the need to impugn all Philadelphia sports fans by saying 'these people booed Santa Claus', referencing the incident that occurred FORTY-TWO years ago. As a Philadelphian, I feel the need to set the record straight.
In December of 1968, the Eagles were a bad team. They opened the season 0-11, and by the time they played the Minnesota Vikings on December 15th, fans were seethed at the meager two game winning streak that was hurting the Eagles draft status. The Eagles owner, Jerry Wolman, had pulled apart a regular contending team, in his tenure leading up to 1968, which was inciting fans. He even traded Hall of Fame QB Sonny Jurgensen to the Washington Redskins (sound familiar Donovan McNabb(notes)?) Over 50,000 fans still showed up that day despite a major snowstorm. So the Eagles were bad, with terrible ownership and horrible coaching, and the fans were cold and frustrated, braving a blizzard to watch their 2-11 team. Also, a halftime Christmas show was promised that day. That's important.
The Common Media Version
To hear talking heads on ESPN tell it, you would think Santa Claus was sitting in his chair. A line of Philadelphia children were there waiting to tell Santa how good they've been and what toys they'd want for Christmas. It was a smiley event, and everyone was happy. Everyone except the Philadelphia fans, who with evil intentions pelted Santa with snowballs for no discernible reason. This is the scene the media has painted for years. Every time anything fan related happens in Philadelphia, this is their go to story. Unfortunately, it's not exactly true.
The Accurate Version
Remember that Christmas show that was promised? That never happened. The event was canceled, according to the Eagles, because of the weather. The original idea to have Santa move around the field on a nice Christmas float never happened. In fact that man hired to be Santa never arrived, for reasons still unknown. In their infinite wisdom, the Eagles PR people found a barely 20 year old guy in the stands in a Santa suit to fill in at the spot. Obviously, this was far from what the Eagles promised. This whole thing pretty much summed up what had happened to the beloved Eagles fans over the years. Glen Macnow and Anthony Gargano recount this version in The Great Philadelphia Fan Book. The authors contend that the Santa that day was representative of the ongoing failures of those running the Eagles. Even the man who played Santa that day, the kid from the stands named Frank Olivo, understood. Said Olivo in the book, "I'm a Philadelphia fan, I knew what was what. I thought it was funny." The current Governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, also attended that game and points out what was going on with the fans that day.
The Santa Claus incident will likely never die, and each and every time Philadelphia fans, especially Eagles fans, are talked about in the media, this story will always be mentioned. It's like the line in the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence —- "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." So it goes with the story of Philadelphia fans and Santa Claus