The list of Philadelphia sports greats is long and storied, and earlier this week, the city lost another. While he was far from a household name, sports fans the world over knew his story, for better or worse. Frank Olivo, the substitute Santa Claus who was pelted with snowballs during an Eagles game in 1968, passed away Thursday night. He was 66.
Today a great eagles fan passed away. My cousin Frank Olivo, Philly's 1968 Snowball Santa, will definitely be watching this draft #RIP— Nomo (@buo_nomo) April 30, 2015
The story of Olivo and this event have been used by fans and Eagles haters alike to demonstrate either the passion or vitriol of Eagles fans, depending upon which side the storyteller fell. But the real story goes like this: in 1968 the Eagles were in the midst of yet another terrible season.
Ownership had dismantled the once-proud franchise, trading away Eagles great Sonny Jurgensen. Sitting at 2-12, the Eagles were terrible, but not terrible enough to land the first overall pick in the 1969 Draft. With that pick, the Eagles could have rebuilt their roster around USC phenom O.J. Simpson.
Instead, the 54,535 fans in attendance watched their team lose yet another game at Franklin Field. The halftime show that day was supposed to be a Christmas pageant, but with the snowstorm, the team made a last second audible. Instead, a 19-year-old Olivo, who was already wearing a Santa suit, was recruited to jog the field.
From Glen Macnow and Anthony Gargano's book The Great Philadelphia Fan Book, via USA Today:
"Santa had it coming for a different reason actually," says Macnow. "Santa was a surrogate that day for Joe Kuharich and Jerry Wolman and Norm Snead. The poor kid just happened to be representing the frustrations."
In true Philadelphia fashion, Olivo understood the frustration, and always seemed to take the even in stride. In Macnow and Gargano's book, Olivo says, "I'm a Philadelphia fan, I knew what was what. I thought it was funny."
To many Eagles fans, the story of that fateful day in 1968 is as familiar as the story of Santa Claus himself. And while most never knew the name of that teenage St. Nick, he was something of a folk legend to those who call Philadelphia home. And for that, Olivo will always have a special place in Eagles history.