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No! No! No! Who the Hell Boos Santa Claus?!

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
December 13, 2023 3:01 am

No! No! No! Who the Hell Boos Santa Claus?!

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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December 13, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, in 1968, the 19-year-old Frank Olivo was dressed as Santa Claus at an Eagles’ football game where he was booed and pelted with snowballs. Here to tell the story is Frank’s first-cousin and best friend, Richard Monastra. Here’s Rich starting with a little background on both him and “Snowball Santa,” Frank Olivo.

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Our American Stories
Lee Habeeb

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Some models, trims, and features may not be available or may be subject to change. This is Our American Stories, and we continue with our special Christmas season storytelling. And we do this every Christmas season.

Well, because it's fun to do, and we know we love it, and we hope you do too. Philadelphia has a reputation across professional sports for having the toughest and roughest fans. Nobody knows that better than Frank Olivo. In 1968, the 19-year-old Olivo was dressed as Santa Claus at an Eagles football game where he was booed and pelted with snowballs.

It's such a famous moment that ESPN even made a spoof 30 for 30 about it. Here to tell the story is Frank's first cousin and best friend, Richard Monastra. Here's Rich starting with a little background on both him and snowball Santa Frank Olivo. We were born in the post-war era. Two of us are baby boomers. I was born in 1946. Frank was born in 1948 in South Philadelphia, born to typical Italian immigrant families.

Our parents hailed from Naples, Italy for the most part. We were born and raised in South Philadelphia, went to Catholic elementary schools, Catholic high school. I graduated in 1964. Frank graduated in 1966 from the same high school, Bishop Newman.

I went on to college. Frank decided that he wanted to be a barber, so he went to barbering school. His father was a veteran of World War II.

He had landed at Omaha Beach in the D-Day. He was wounded and wound up with a plate in his head. His mother, Rose, worked their whole life in the tailor shops, which was pretty typical for South Philadelphia women. Frank went to barber school in Central City, Philadelphia, in the area now they call Chinatown. Got his barber's license.

Frank really, really liked that. He liked being a barber. He was very social. By the time he was a kid, he was very, very social.

He got along with everybody. He had a talent early on. We started to see it in him of being a bit of a showman, too. He would do impersonations of actors, movie stars, whatever.

Family really loved it. He was in the neighborhood really when he would imitate our teachers, especially when we were in high school. He sort of liked all that attention. He was sort of deprived of that attention as a kid. His own personal family, his mother and father, I guess you might call them today what we might say is a dysfunctional family.

Rose and Bruno were always working. Frank was on the street a lot of the time. Fortunately, he would come over to our house.

My mother kind of took him in. He was like our brother. That part of South Philadelphia sometimes has a bad rep. A little bit of the so-called mob guys hung out there. There was a place called Pucci's and Nick's Roast Beef Shop.

I think both of those places were kind of fronts for the organized mob guys. But somehow Frank got friendly with those people as well. Every once in a while they would ask us to carry these little brown bags to go from point A to point B.

Little did we know we were carrying number plays or horse bets. Frank spoke up about it one time. He said, what's in these bags you're asking us to carry?

One of the guys at this place called Pucci's showed them. Frankie started to laugh. The quasi-mob guy started to laugh too. He said, I like you kids. You guys are really cool.

You've got a real chutzpah here, so to speak. He gave us a free roast beef sandwich and a half a buck apiece. But as time went on, I went on to college. We were always fans of the Philadelphia sports scene. We used to go up the old Scheib Park to watch the Phillies play. The cops there who guarded the stadium were very friendly. They let you hang outside the stadium and once the first inning was over, they opened up the gates and we all got in for free.

All the kids hanging outside the stadium got in for free. We sat up in the bleachers and watched the ballgame. Once we were a bit older, I guess in our teens, our uncles had eight season tickets, four in one row and four seats right behind the first four. As we grew up, they would take us to the Eagles games as sort of a rite of passage.

That ultimately led up to the infamous snowball event in December of 1968. The Eagles were scheduled to play the Minnesota Vikings, which were a fairly new team at that time. I think they had come into the league about 1961 or 62. They weren't very good, but the Eagles were worse. The Eagles were having a very, very bad year. They were something like 2-10 or 2-11. The schedule was much shorter then.

I think the NFL played a 12 or 14 game schedule then. Anyway, this game, all the sports writers had picked up on it and they were calling it the O.J. Bowl in reference to O.J. Simpson. If the Eagles lost this game, they would get the number one draft choice in the NFL draft. Of course, everybody was touting O.J. Simpson. At that moment, he was probably the best player in the country playing for the University of Southern California. The Eagles weren't really a down period. Their coach, Joe Kaharick, former coach at Notre Dame, had signed a 15-year contract. Can you imagine back in those days? I think Joe Kaharick was a great example of the Peter Principle.

You rise one level above your confidence. He was great as a college coach, but he was lousy as a pro coach. People would boo him routinely every game, win or lose. On this day, there was an airplane circling over Franklin Field, trailing a banner saying, Joe Must Go, and every time the plane went over, fans would cheer. The fans were in a sour mood that day, trust me.

It had snowed the day before Saturday, nothing much. The game started late because they had to clear the field. The game starts, the game goes on, and the Eagles are winning. The fans are booing.

You can imagine. Everybody wanted them to lose so they could draft Simpson. Historically, the Eagles at the last home game used to have Santa Claus come out on a sleigh. He would throw these miniature footballs into the stands, one of which was a gold-colored one. If you caught the gold one, you got a season ticket for the next year's games. Well, that year, December of 1968, for whatever reason, they decided not to throw out the footballs.

People were booing that. Somewhere in the second quarter, this man from the Eagles is looking throughout the stands, and he spots Frankie with a Santa Claus suit. Now, the obvious question is, why is Frankie wearing a Santa Claus suit to the Eagles game? Well, our grandmother, each Christmas, would host a Christmas party for all the grandchildren, and she would give them our gifts there. She was getting up in years, and rather than going visit each one of our households, even though we were fairly close, it was a bit of a chore for her, so it was a big party. All the relatives, all the cousins, aunts, uncles, there had to be 60, 70 people in the house. Well, one of my uncles usually played Santa Claus.

Charlie Simkus had been doing it, but Charlie had lost a lot of weight. He wouldn't fill out the suit, so he drafted Frankie Olivo to do the Santa. So he gave him the Santa suit, and Frankie decided, on a whim, to wear the Santa suit to the Eagles game, because we were going to go right from the Eagles game back to my grandmother's house for the Christmas party. And you're listening to Rich Monastra, and he's the first cousin of Frank Olivo.

And Frank, well, you're going to hear more about this remarkable episode in Philadelphia sports history, and American sports history, for that matter, when we come back, more of the story of the Snowball Santa here on our special Christmas edition of Our American Story. Meet Meeko Mini, the AI-powered robot that's redefining learning. Dive into premium kids content, watch your child master math, explore spellings, enhance reading skills, or just share a laugh with Meeko Mini. It's child safe and ensures end-to-end data privacy. So this holiday season, bring home a companion that inspires and educates.

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Let's continue with the story. So we're in the stands. Frankie's got the Santa suit on. The place is in a sour mood. The Eagles are winning. Planes are flying over saying Joe must go.

I mean, it was really nasty. Anyway, this guy from the Eagles staff spots, Frankie goes up in the stands and asked him if he'd be interested in subbing for the man they had hired to play Santa Claus. Apparently, the guy they had hired, the Eagles had hired, was stranded up in North Jersey somewhere and couldn't get down there to Philadelphia because of the snow.

Okay. PR guy for the Eagles told them what to do, where to be and so forth. And they took him into the one of the bowels of the stadium there. Half time came. The PA announcer gets on the PA and says, Santa Claus is coming to town.

Would everybody welcome Santa Claus? What a big Philadelphia welcome. Well, that's when the fun began.

Frankie enters the field. He's walking around carrying a big Santa bag and he's got some of the Eagles cheerleaders are dressed up as elves. And they're walking around the base of the stadium and all the booing started. People started booing Santa Claus. And then the snowballs came. People are picking up and they're making snowballs and throwing them at Santa Claus and the elves. Well, a couple of the elves ran for cover.

And here's Frankie became the target of all this. Not only did they start throwing snowballs, but they would start throwing anything they can get their hands on. People are throwing beer cans, beer bottles, sandwiches, anything they get their hands on. They're heaving at Santa Claus.

They're taking out their vengeance about the Eagles poor season and winning this game and thereby losing the OJ Bowl. They were taking their frustrations out on poor Santa Claus. So Frankie and what was left of the elves crew made a circle around the field. And then they went back in. Frankie worked his way back to the to our seats. Of course, when we all got back to the Christmas party, we all were telling, you know, the others who were at the party what had happened. You know, Frankie got hit with snowballs and beer cans and stale sandwiches and hoagies and God knows what all. And people were half laughing and, you know, half shocked by it all.

It wasn't until that night somebody had the television on in one of the other rooms at my grandmother's house. And they noticed that Frankie's on TV. So we all ran over to the TV set, you know, and you see him coming out of the tunnel of the stadium.

They're playing some music on the P.A. system and people started throwing snowballs and you hear the booing and all that. Of course, Philadelphia fans have had this reputation for eons about being rowdy fans and, you know, all that stuff. We're the only city that had a judge on site and a sort of a jail in the bowels of the stadium for people who got too rowdy.

So, I mean, it was really crazy. Philadelphia is a great sports town, don't get me wrong, but people can get really crazy sometimes. So this story made national news and at least one aspect of international news.

The London Times picked up on it. He told us he did not expect, you know, that booing. He said booing bothered him more than anything.

He said, you know, he couldn't understand people throwing snow and all that. But he said the booing, he said, who the hell booed Santa Claus? And, of course, that's the line that got tagged to Philadelphia from that point on. This is the city that, you know, booed Santa Claus.

And every once in a blue moon you hear some sportscaster on some station, local or national, throw that line out there. You know, when something happens negatively in the city of Philadelphia, they'll say, well, you've got to remember this is the city that booed Santa Claus. Of course, when he went back to work at the barbershop, he was working in a barbershop in the suburban station, which is the main train station in the center city of Philadelphia. And people would come in there, they would spot him there. Of course, his picture was cut out of the newspapers.

People were hanging up in their windows of the barbershop. He got a lot of customers from local celebrities, business people, television stars. One of his customers was the Archbishop of Philadelphia. At the time it was a man by the name of John Kroll.

He's now deceased. But he was asking Frankie for his autograph. Imagine this, the Cardinal of Philadelphia asking Frankie for his autograph.

So all the local politicians would stop in there. Mayor Tate, James Tate was the mayor of Philadelphia, had his picture taken down in Frank's barbershop. So he became a local celebrity. Frank never got any pay from the Eagles. They gave him a pair of cufflinks, if you can believe that. Frank was not much of a cuff-shirt kind of guy. In fact, one of my uncles, Tony, he was a bit of a loudmouth to say the least, wrote to the Eagles.

And he called them a bunch of cheap SOBs. Anyway, Frank got his own shop. Didn't fare well. It was a bad time.

By this time, it's the early 80s. Had to close the shop down. He went to work at one of the casinos that had just opened up in Atlantic City. As a dealer, he got his license as a dealer. And he ultimately worked his way up to become a pit boss. He got to rub elbows with some of the acts that were appearing there. One of his favorite buddies was Don Rickles. Frankie was on a first-name basis with Don Rickles.

They exchanged cards at Christmas time. I think when Frankie's daughter got married, or maybe it was his son, I forget which, Don Rickles sent him a gift. Throughout his life, however, Frank was plagued by heart issues. Even as a kid, sometimes he'd have to stop playing ball for a bit or whatever we were doing. It became too much of an exertion for him. Frank died on the 30th of April, 2015.

He was about 65 or 66 at the time. I did the formal theology at Frank's funeral. And while I was preparing to do that, I was getting phone calls. When I tell you literally from all over the country, the story didn't die. It just wouldn't leave it.

Even to this day, the fact that you contacted me evidences the fact that people are still talking about it. The day of his funeral, the priest asked me what music they should have for Frankie. Half-jokingly, I said, play Here Comes Santa Claus. The priest looked at me rather puzzled. I said, I'm just kidding, Padre.

But I thought that would have been appropriate because I think he would have loved that. So the legend lives on. He's the gift that keeps on giving. And you've been listening to Frankie Olivo's first cousin, Rich Manastra, tell the story of the Snowball Santa, but all of the story, the neighborhood, the context, the neighborhood stores, and the psychological profile of a Philadelphia Eagle fan, at least a whole bunch. And I was a New York Giants fan growing up in northern New Jersey. And I will never forget my first away game at Philadelphia. And I had the temerity to wear a New York Giants hat that lasted about a second. The story of Frankie Olivo, the story of the Snowball Santa here on our American stories.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-13 04:16:02 / 2023-12-13 04:24:27 / 8

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