Philadelphia, PA - With the 50th anniversary of the “Eagles-fans-booed-and-threw-snowballs-at-Santa Claus” incident approaching, VISIT PHILADELPHIA® would like to be clear about what happened on December 15, 1968, and what has transpired in the nearly 50 years since.
As the city prepares to host the NFL Draft, April 27-29, 2017, we ask the sportscasters and sportswriters of America to let this snowball melt and consider a new story about Philadelphia.
- Eagles fans booed a Santa substitute, not Santa. The real Santa Claus was stuck in a snowstorm (through which 54,535 fans still made it to the game). A 20-year-old fan in a red corduroy Santa suit, sitting in the stands, filled in as Santa for the halftime Christmas Pageant at Franklin Field. This stand-in Santa is the one who fans eventually booed and threw snowballs at. It’s still not a proud moment, but given the Eagles 2-11 record, the cold, slushy weather, the seemingly inferior Santa, and the fact that this event occurred before most NFL players were born, maybe it’s time to retire the story. Local media paid little attention to the 1968 news, but Howard Cosell showed the incident on his weekend report and embedded it in Philly lore. (See The Great Philadelphia Fan Book by Glen Macnow and Anthony Gargano for the full story.)
- The substitute Santa, Frank Olivo, made peace with his fellow Philadelphians before he passed in 2015. In a December 15, 2008, ESPN interview, he said, “I understood what was going on. I knew what it was all about. … The Philadelphia fans are the best in the world. I don’t care what anybody says; they live and die with their teams.”
- It’s been said in all sorts of ways—Philly fans are loud, passionate, and loyal. They’ll boo when it’s deserved but will scream loud and proud in appreciation. They cheered ex-Sixer Allen Iverson for 10 minutes when he returned to the Wachovia Center for his first game as a Denver Nugget in 2007. They took over an entire section of Chicago’s Wrigley Field in August 2016 and executed a perfect E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles chant while cheering on their beloved Phillies. And they gave former Phillie's second baseman Chase Utley three standing ovations when he played his first game in Philadelphia as a Dodger in 2016.