The man in the Santa Claus suit who became the target of a hail of snowballs and a shower of boos at a Philadelphia Eagles game in 1968 has died. Frank Olivo was 66.
Olivo died Thursday after a long battle with heart disease, diabetes and other ailments, according to his cousin, Richard Monastra.
The story of Olivo's misfortune has long been held up as a symbol of Philly sports fans' ferocity, but far from minding his moment in sports history, Monastra said, Olivo "gloried in it."
"It was his 15 minutes of fame," Monastra said. "He kind of liked it, actually."
The snowy onslaught began with the "real" Santa Claus stuck in New Jersey and unable to make it to the final game of the season between the Minnesota Vikings and a moribund Eagles team that started the season with 11 straight losses.
Olivo, who was in the stands wearing a Santa suit and fake white beard, was asked to fill in. But when he ran downfield past a row of elf-costumed "Eaglettes" and the team's 50-person brass band playing "Here Comes Santa Claus," boos erupted from the crowd of 54,535 and snowballs began raining down.
The halftime behavior during the team's final home game, broadcast around the country on Howard Cosell's national sports show, helped cement Philadelphia's reputation for rowdy sports fans.
Monastra, who was at the game that night, said he believes the fans were unhappy with the team, which lost the game to finish 2-12, and coach Joe Kuharich.
"They were ticked off at the team, they were ticked off at the coach," he said. "This was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back."
But he said his cousin had a great sense of humor, telling one fan who pelted him that he could expect coal in his stocking.