Philly fans set record straight about Philly fans

Jeremy Maclin and the Eagles host the Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. (Ron Cortes/Staff file photo)

The fans pelted Santa Claus with snowballs, because the 1968 Eagles stank like the sewers of Manayunk, because an incompetent coach named Joe Kuharich, who couldn't win at Notre Dame, had been given a 15-year contract by the owner, Jerry Wolman.

The fans pelted Santa Claus with snowballs because they were fed up with a lousy football team and glitzy halftime shows featuring a 50-piece brass

band, because the Eagles were 2-11 at that point, because the two games they'd won after losing the first 11 would cost them the chance to draft O.J. Simpson.

The fans pelted Santa Claus with snowballs because they would have needed a bazooka to reach the owner's box, and because Kuharich, who had traded Sonny Jurgensen for Norm Snead, was out of reach, in the locker room, where he couldn't see the fans wearing "Joe Must Go" buttons or the airplane toting the banner, "Joe Must Go" in the bleak skies over Franklin Field.

Yo, it didn't help that the regular Santa Claus was snowbound in Absecon, N.J., and they'd recruited a skinny 20-year-old named Frank Olivo out of the sixth row of the lower stands and given him an equipment bag to sling over one shoulder, the bag filled with nothing but soggy towels. No trinkets, no coal for the naughty, no candy canes for the nice.

If it's true that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame, Olivo has gotten about 114,206,400 minutes, with the clock still ticking, because a clutch of sincere, young bloggers (Philly2Philly) have written a book called A Snowball's Chance to defend Philadelphia fans against the national media. The authors are Joe Vallee, Dennis Bakay, Matthew J. Goldberg, Ryan Downs, Billy Vargus.

You know the threadbare story. Something nasty happens at a game in Philly, and the out-of-town journalists shrug and sneer and say they're not surprised, because these are the same fans who pelted Santa Claus with snowballs.

Never mind that it's more than 44 years later. Never mind that Olivo didn't think it was a big deal at the time. Never mind that the team stank and the coach was inept and the naïve owner was frantically treading water to stay afloat financially.

They held a book launching at Chickie's & Pete's, and Olivo was there, wearing a Santa hat, the only part of the costume that still fits. He is cherubic, glib, comfortable retelling the story.

Family had season tickets, wore the Santa costume for the final home game every year. Was recruited by Eagles entertainment director Bill Mullen, briefed on his role, walked down the middle of the field once the Sounds of Brass started playing "Here Comes Santa Claus."

"When the team left the field at halftime," Olivo recalled, "the fans threw snowballs at Kuharich. They didn't start throwing at me until I got to the end zone, where they could reach me.

"I then walked halfway down the track. I remember seeing one guy gathering snow to throw at me and I told him,'You're not getting nothin' for Christmas.'

"Afterwards, Bill Mullen asked me if I'd do it the next year. I told him no, because it might not snow and then they'd be throwing beer bottles.

"I didn't think what happened was a big deal. And then Howard Cosell, in his Sunday night show, made a big deal of it."

Great, it's all Cosell's fault. He's dead, he can't contradict Olivo, although if anybody might try from beyond, it's Cosell. But what about the other stuff, batteries tossed at J.D. Drew, the flare-gun in the stands, the guy vomiting on the little girl, the kid getting tasered on the field, the dogs and the mounted cops on the fringes of the baseball field.

A Snowball's Chance deals with all of that, with the few knuckleheads who can soil an entire city's reputation; with the belated appreciation for the greatest third baseman ever to play the game, Michael Jack Schmidt; with the ardor the fans showed toward Allen Iverson despite his lousy practice habits.

They miss a vital point about the popularity of that 1993 Phillies team, the one that got Carter-ized in the sixth game of the World Series. Macho Row and all that jazz hid one basic point about that team: it led the NL in walks. Yo, nothing macho about a base on balls (or in John Kruk's case, a base on ball), so they didn't brag much about that, Nails and Dutch and the Krukker.

What I really missed in the book was some harsh response to the scene in the much-praised "Silver Linings Playbook," in which a bunch of rowdy Eagles fans brawl with other Eagles fans in the parking lot.

The prowling mob sniffs curry in the tailgate air, yaps at the obviously Indian fans about this being America and how you ought to cook American food. Fists fly.

It isn't enough that the national media too often describe Philly fans as boisterous, belligerent, besotted. Now, Hollywood has to add bigoted to the list? Where's the outrage?

Hopefully, they will deal with it in a second edition. There is bound to be a second edition. You can count on it.

 


Email: stanrhoch@comcast.net

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