It has been more than 40 years since Philadelphia Eagles fans pelted Santa Claus with snowballs, and it’s safe to say the incident has haunted—and annoyed—this city’s fanbase like few others: Every time an out-of-town sportswriter wants to illustrate the bloodlust of Philly fans, the Santa Claus incident gets dusted off for another re-telling. Every time that happens, Eagles fans roll their eyes and complain about the laziness of out-of-town sportswriters.
The good news for Eagles fans is this: You may not have to hear that story so often in the future.
The bad news is this: You’re the fans who just spent a season mocking and jeering a grieving father. And when that story is still told 40 years from now, almost nobody is going to laugh about it.
In fairness: This was always going to be a tough season—and probably the last—for Andy Reid. After 2011’s 8-8 disaster and owner Jeffrey Lurie’s ultimatum that a similar record wouldn’t get the job done this year, it felt like (absent a Super Bowl appearance) the clock was running out on Reid’s long tenure here.
But when his son, Garrett Reid, died in training camp in August, it seemed like all bets were off. Indeed, my colleague Michael Bradley urged Eagles fans to write off the season:
Professional football is important in this town, but we learned Sunday that some things are a lot more important. If the repercussions of Garrett Reid’s sudden, tragic death should happen to impact the 2012 season, tough darts.
We hear all the time about how Eagles fans are united and are a community. Well, it’s time to prove it.
Andy Reid gets a free pass for the 2012 season.
No matter what happens, he’s off the hook. If he makes a mistake, it’s not a problem. No complaining. No criticizing. No nothing.
He was right to make that appeal. But I remember thinking at the time: Good luck with that.
Sure enough, the season started badly and got worse. Reid fired his defensive coordinator. Michael Vick kept losing the football, and then took a concussion. The losses piled up, and fans—who have always been trigger-happy with the “Fire Andy!” calls over the years—responded with websites, signs, and songs advocating he get the hook. (Full disclosure: I’m guilty, too, having documented some of this with a smirk for The Philly Post.)
All of it was gleeful. There was no sense, in any of it, that Reid has been part of Philadelphia for 14 years—and that he has been doing his job, this year, under the most emotionally devastating circumstances a human being can bear. Garrett Reid? Forgotten. Instead, the season has taken on other dimensions of life or death for fans.
Mostly, Eagles fans have kind of sucked as human beings.
I’ve written before about how football damages the men who play it. Maybe it also damages those of us who watch it and revel in it. They make Oscar-contending movies about agonized Eagles fans these days, as if the suffering that goes with not watching your team win a Super Bowl is among the more fascinating extremes of the human experience.
Consider this: On Saturday, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and committed suicide in front of his coach and general manager. Within a few hours, Gawker had a piece featuring 15 people worried about how the news would affect their fantasy football lineups.
So maybe Eagles fans aren’t worse than others. Maybe football fans just suck, period.
“Eagles fans pride themselves on their passion,” Michael Bradley wrote in August. “Now, it’s time to boast about their compassion.” The season isn’t over, but the verdict is definitely in.
In a few weeks the season will be over. Reid will be gone—and possibly Vick with him. Faces on the sideline and on the field will change. It probably won’t be long before some fans even start to look back on the Andy Reid era as the “good old days.” But we’re always going to be the town that pelted Santa Clause. And we’re always going to be the town that booed a grieving father.