Saturday, May 02, 2015

Frank Olivo 1949-2015

Rocky isn't the real symbol of Philadelphia sports. Frank Olivo was and always will be.

Olivo was an otherwise typical teenaged fan who was cajoled out of the Franklin Field stands and into serving as Santa Claus in the halftime show of the Eagles last home game of the 1968 season. The regular Santa, no fool he, had failed to show up.

Among the dozens of truly lousy Eagles seasons in the franchise's history, 1968 stands out. The team lost its first 10 games, then won two, managing to blow their chance to get the first pick in the 1969 draft, their chance to get O.J. Simpson. The crowd for a meaningless loss to the Vikings was well beyond sullen into mutinous.

And so Santa Olivo got booed when he appeared on the field. Booed loud and long. The booing then escalated into the throwing of snowballs. And a national sports legend was born, a legend in which Olivo's home town has always taken perverse and ferocious pride. Who could host a tougher sports crowd? We booed Santa! We threw things at St. Nick!!!!

As an Eagles fan himself, Olivo understood. "They weren't booing me," he said at the time and thereafter, "they were booing everything." He embraced his iconic status as a scapegoat. "I've had my 15 minutes of fame for 40 years," he told an ESPN film crew.

Those 15 minutes should go on as long as they play ball of any sort in the City of Brotherly Love. Every time Ryan Howard strikes out on a breaking ball four feet outside the zone, the first time Sam Bradford leaves the field with an injury and when DeMarco Murray fumbles at the goal line, there will be the noise that is the music of Philadelphia sports, the noise that greeted Frank Olivo that long past December day. He will remain the symbol of the boo as delivered by its undeniable world champions.

Farewell Frank. May there be no boos where you are today. Unless of course, Philly was always your idea of heaven.


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