Originally created 01/30/05

Eagles fans earned their Boo Birds rep



PHILADELPHIA - Those famously churlish Philly fans can't hide behind the urban legends. The truth is out there: They simply booed Santa Claus.

Frank Olivo - the erstwhile Santa in question - wasn't drunk, nor was his red suit in tatters that December day in 1968 when he walked onto the field for the halftime show, only to be met by a chorus of jeers and a snowball fusillade from Eagles fans.

"The fans carried on like that because the Eagles were horrible," Olivo said.

The antics at halftime of the Eagles' final regular-season game, beamed around the country on Howard Cosell's national sports show, helped cement Philadelphia's reputation for having rogue, rowdy sports fans.

"There's nothing that sounds worse than throwing snowballs at Santa," said sports radio host Glen Macnow of WIP-AM in Philadelphia. "It's like spitting on Miss America."

While the vibe in Philadelphia is decidedly more brotherly this year with the Eagles headed to the Super Bowl, the 1968 team, at 2-12, was truly bad.

Of course, the Eagles were just good enough to give Buffalo the top pick in the next NFL Draft - running back O.J. Simpson.

Olivo, whose family held Eagles season tickets from 1958 to 1985, revels in his unlikely place in franchise history. The booed Santa affair merits an entire chapter in The Great Philadelphia Fan Book, which Macnow co-wrote in 2003.

"I'll be dead and that book will still be at the bookstore or on somebody's shelf. That means something to me," said Olivo, 56, of suburban Media, Pa.

Still, he wants people to get the story right.

By 1968, Olivo, then a skinny 20-year-old kid, had been wearing a Santa suit and fake white beard to the last Eagles home game for several years. As halftime approached in the game Dec. 15 against the Vikings, the Eagles' entertainment director asked him to replace a snowstorm stranded Santa.

As instructed, Olivo ran downfield past a row of elf-costumed "Eaglettes" and the team's 50-person brass band playing Here Comes Santa Claus.

Thunderous boos erupted from a crowd of 54,535.

"It became a thing that Philadelphia sports fans became famous for doing, and it will never die, I guess," Olivo said.

In 1989, even Gov. Ed Rendell played a role in the misbehavior when he bet fellow fans in the rambunctious 700 level of Veterans Stadium that they couldn't reach the field with snowballs.

Rendell, then the city's district attorney, made good on a $20 bet, but later apologized when the story inspired bad press.

"I assume they used my $20 to buy beer," he said.