KETR

Philly Frustration, 1968: 'The Day That They Were All Against Everything'

Dec 15, 2018
Originally published on December 16, 2018 2:08 pm

Mention the Philadelphia Eagles and last year's Super Bowl win comes to mind. But so does that time fans booed and pelted Santa Claus with snow balls.

It happened 50 years ago on Saturday. The game on Dec. 15, 1968 between the Eagles and the Minnesota Vikings wasn't memorable, but what happened at halftime was.

The basic story has been repeated over the decades, but this is what it boils down to. The Eagles were having a bad season. This game wasn't going well, either, so the fans held on to their anger for the halftime show.

"Poor, little, old Santa Claus got bombarded while my dad and I sat in the stands with our hands over our heads," remembers Gail Wehmeyer, an Eagles fan and season ticket holder since 1961.

Wehmeyer says fans behind her didn't have great aim. So she got pelted, too.

The man in the suit was 20-year-old Frank Olivo. He's since died, but he spoke about that day with ESPN seven years ago.

"I remember watching a fellow make a snowball and throw it at me," Olivo told ESPN. "And I just walked up to him, you know, at the bottom of the wall there. And I said, you're not getting anything for Christmas."

That attitude is one Philadelphians can respect. Over the past five decades, Olivo became a minor hero. Local news outlets ran feature-length obituaries when he died in 2015.

On Philadelphia streets now, a few people say they're a little ashamed that fans gave Santa a hard time 50 years ago. But outside a popular cheese steak restaurant before last Sunday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys, fans like Zane Major remained unapologetic.

"It's part of our reputation of no nonsense," Major says. "We don't even respect Santa Claus. We respect the win — the Eagles to win. That's what — all we want for Christmas. If he's not bringing that, then go away Santa Claus — snowballs coming."

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Sports fans in the City of Brotherly Love have a tough reputation and history in part because of the images of Eagles fans booing and pelting Santa Claus with snowballs 50 years ago today. NPR's Philadelphia correspondent Jeff Brady talked with locals about that anniversary.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: When it comes to Philadelphia Eagles fans, Gail Wehmeyer is among the dedicated.

GAIL WEHMEYER: I've been a season ticket holder since 1961.

BRADY: I caught up with her at her day job at a bowling alley in Northeast Philadelphia.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOWLING PINS FALLING)

BRADY: Somebody is hitting a lot of noisy strikes. So we head into a quiet room to remember December 15, 1968. The Eagles played the Minnesota Vikings on a very snowy day. The game wasn't memorable, but halftime was.

WEHMEYER: Poor, little, old Santa Claus got bombarded while my dad and I sat in the stands with our hands over our heads.

BRADY: Wehmeyer says fans behind her didn't have great aim. So she got pelted, too. Here's the basic story that's been repeated over the decades. The Eagles were having a bad season. And this game wasn't going well, either. The fans held on to their anger for the halftime show.

WEHMEYER: The Eagles fans are either all for you, or they're all against you. And this was the day that they were all against everything. And poor Santa Claus was the target.

BRADY: The man in the suit was 20-year-old Frank Olivo. He's since died. But here he is seven years ago in an ESPN video.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRANK OLIVO: I remember watching a fellow make a snowball and throw it at me. And I just walked up to him, you know, at the bottom of the wall there. And I said, you're not getting anything for Christmas.

BRADY: That's an attitude Philadelphians can respect. And over the past five decades, Olivo became a minor hero. Local news outlets ran feature-length obituaries when he died in 2015. On Philadelphia streets now, a few people say they're a little ashamed that fans gave Santa a hard time 50 years ago. But outside a popular cheese steak restaurant, before last Sunday's loss to Dallas, fans like Zane Major remained unapologetic.

ZANE MAJOR: It's part of our reputation of no nonsense. And we don't even respect Santa Claus. We respect the win - the Eagles to win. That's what - all we want for Christmas (laughter). If he's not bringing that, then go away Santa Claus - snowballs coming.

BRADY: And this attitude extends beyond the Eagles fan base.

REBEKAH ADENS: Hi, I'm Rebekah. I'm from Philadelphia.

BRADY: OK. And you're wearing green. Is that because you're an Eagles fan or?

ADENS: Nope. It was on sale.

BRADY: Rebekah Adens had never heard of Frank Olivo or that fans pelted Santa with snowballs. But she's not surprised.

ADENS: That's Philly. We're pretty rude. That's messed up.

MAJOR: Sorry about that.

BRADY: But you say that with a smile.

ADENS: Because we're proud of it. That's why. It's terrible. We want to be better. But we won't (laughter).

BRADY: After last year's Super Bowl win, the Eagles are not doing as well this year - six wins and seven losses so far - not as bad as 1968. Still, Sanchanina Ball wonders if Eagles fans might be in the mood to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that day when fans threw snowballs at Santa.

SANCHANINA BALL: So they going to do it again...

MAJOR: (Laughter).

BALL: ...At the stadium? (Laughter).

BRADY: I don't think that's the plan. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Philadelphia.

But you're fun.

BALL: Thank you, you too (laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.