What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called the The 2nd Happy Holidays Blog-a-thon being hosted by Pure Entertainment Preservation Society. It’s a celebration of all things “Holiday” in cinema, and there’s no way you should miss it
You can see all the contributors to this blog-a-thon here”
Released in December of 1983, A Christmas Story has become America’s de facto culturally-engrained movie. There’s a cable channel that runs this film on a loop for 24 hours beginning on Christmas Eve, and almost every household in America which still has the co-axial serpent of cable television snaking into it’s living will have this movie on at some point that day. When I was a kid, the essential Christmas movie was It’s A Wonderful Life, but unlike that Jimmy Stewart crap-fest, I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t like A Christmas Story (yes, I don’t like It’s A Wonderful Life…fight me! 🙂 )
This movie’s ascent to such a lofty status is somewhat surprising given it was anything but a box office smash upon it’s release. Despite that, it did get good reviews and won two Genie Awards (the Canadian version of the Oscars) for Best Director and for Best Screenplay.
That brings us to the dirty little secret about a movie which has become America’s Christmas favorite…it was largely made in Canada. While the movie is set in northern Indiana…supposedly Hammond… but with the exception of some exterior shots of the family home and some of the “downtown” scenes which were shot in Cleveland, the bulk of A Christmas Story was filmed in Toronto. The dead give-away for this comes to the trained eye of a guy who was affiliated with a railroad museum and now builds and sells model streetcars. The next time you watch this movie, pay close attention to the scene where the family is buying their Christmas tree. Pay even closer attention to the streetcars you will see in the background. They are going to look like this:
Before I turn this into a commercial for the best built-to-prototype, injected-molded plastic, ready-to-run models on the web, the crux of A Christmas Story stem from the memoirs of Jean Shepherd, the humorist whose works centered of her experiences growing up in 1940s Indiana.
The story is told in first person through the eyes of eight-year-old movie Ralphie Parker (played by Peter Billingsley), whose over-arching desire for this particular Christmas is a Daisy Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine Action BB Gun…”the one with the compass in the stock.” His desire for what he calls “as cool and deadly a piece of weaponry as I had ever laid eyes on” lead Peter to become a fun combination of the innocence of a child, a healthy does of a likewise imagination, liberally spiced with an eight-year-old’s vision of what the cunning of a master spy might be.
Ralphie’s main obstacle in his quest is the obvious danger of giving a gun to a child. Granted, A Daisy BB gun isn’t exactly a military-grade assault rifle, but it seems there isn’t a single soul around him that upon hearing his wish for Christmas doesn’t admonish him with one of the memorable lines from this movie: “You’ll shoot you eye out!” Even the department store Santa Claus lays it on him.
Ralphie becomes so tired of that line that it inspires one of his daydreams (which are some of the best scenes in the movie, by the way) in a tale of revenge for getting his mouth washed out with soap for exclaiming “the mother of all curse words.”
One day he appears on parents’ doorstep completely blind; complete with dark glasses, a blind man’s cane, and a beggar’s tin cup. Obviously, his parents are shocked and tearfully ask him the source of his sightlessness.
Ralphie coldly says “Soap poisoning.”
That’s but one example of the brilliance of this movie. Forget about the holiday theme; A Christmas Story is two hours of simple vignettes to which most of of a certain age can relate all bound together by Ralphie’s Christmas wish for the Red Ryder BB gun.
Anybody whose ever had their mouth washed out with soap for uttering profanity understands the significance in the choice of Lifebuoy soap. Not just any soap…Lifebuoy. The icing on the cake for this moment comes when the soap is finally taken out of Ralphie’s mouth. After she sends him off to bed, Ralphie’s mother studies the bar, then sticks it in her own mouth ostensibly to see what it tastes like.
This movie drips with so many soul-connecting moments that no matter who you are, one of them will resonate. If you grew up where it gets cold in the winter, you know all about the “tongue stuck to the metal pole” phenomena. Even if you didn’t, show me the schoolyard which didn’t contain something at least similar to the dreaded “Triple-Dog-Dare.”
We all had parents…or had a friend with parents…one of who has a prized possession which the other absolutely despised. For the Parkers, it was the “Old Man’s major award,” a garish lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg. There’s nothing better than watching Mrs. Parker not-so-successfully hiding her delight at her husband’s struggles attempting glue it back together it was “accidentally” broken.
I don’t care who you are…you either had the awful “Santa” experience, or you know somebody who did. If that weren’t true, you couldn’t fill endless pages of web searches of just such a scene.
For me, it was the horror of being forced to wear clothes given as gift by some fruitcake relative…which you were then forced to wear so as not to hurt the feelings of said fruitcake relative. While I never had a weird aunt who kept thinking I was a 4-year girl, I managed to avoid a pink bunny suit.
Instead, my worst awful clothing horror story involved a western-cut denim vest-and-jeans combination with a deep-V neck velour shirt which had a collar roughly the size of the wings on a B-52. All it needed was the hat and neck scarf, and I could have been an eight-year-old mélange of Roy Rogers and the Village People. To this day, Mrs. J-Dub swears why my wardrobe now resembles that of a “less interesting Mr. Rogers.”
It’s also entirely possible I didn’t even mention your connecting moment to this movie; there’s simply so many of them. My apologies in advance if you were the finicky-eating “Mommy’s little piggie” or if you ever beat the stuffing out of Scotty Farkus.
In many ways, it’s easy to look at A Christmas Story and see it as an homage to an America which no longer exists. While it may be true that nobody has a coal furnace anymore, and I know too many parents who would never give a BB gun to kids they make wear those silly-looking bicycle helmets, but despite that…some things never change. Despite it’s dated overtones, A Christmas Story will remain timeless because of those moments which will always connect with people. “Comedy” has an expiration date; stories that are funny because they are rooted in human nature are forever.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
If the theme here is stories which remain are timeless, and it just so happens those stories are holiday-related, there’s one such tale which stand head-and-shoulders above all others from the world of sports. While I may be among one of the last generations who truly identifies with Ralphie’s plight, as a life-long fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, I am a confirmed member of a fraternity of sports fans who understand angst quite like no others.
For purposes of full disclosure, this applies to all sports fans in the City of Brotherly Love. But it is us Eagles’ fans who bear the brunt of the reputation (fair or not) borne by the the Philadelphia sports fan. I think it’s a bit of broad generalization for those of us from Broad Street.
But across sports, across leagues, and across America, Philly fans are renowned for our ability to trash-talk, throw stuff, and brawl. Even current Eagles’ head coach Doug Pederson is on record saying he had batteries thrown at him as a visiting player.
But the one incident that has been used time and time again took place in December of 1968. If you’re not familiar, the 1960s were a time of major “ups and down” for the Philadelphia Eagles. The dawn of that decade saw them become the only team to beat a Vince Lombardi-coached Green Bay Packer squad in an NFL Championship game.
But by the end of the 60s, the sun had set on Eagle success; in 1968 Philadelphia was the worst team in the league. So, on one particularly lousy afternoon at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, the cork in the bottle that was the patience of the Eagles’ fan base finally popped.
On that gray Pennsylvania winter day, by halftime its was abundantly clear were well on their way to what would be their final home loss to put the cap on a 2-12 season. Being this was the final home date before the holiday, the halftime show was going to feature a 50-piece brass band to provide thunderous welcome for Jolly Ol’ St. Nick himself.
The problem was the guy they had slated to play Santa Claus got stuck on the New Jersey side of the river and couldn’t get to the stadium. It had snowed the night before, and many roads in the area had yet to be cleared. The seats at Franklin Field shared this problem. Faced with a godawful game, increasingly angry fans, and a Christmas celebration with no Santa Claus, Eagles’ management made a fatefull decision.
Being they had no Santa Claus, they decided to pluck from the stands the closest thing they could find…a dopey looking 19-year kid named Frank Olivo. Armed with little more than a dime-store Santa and and even worse beard, they sent Olivo running on to the field.
You don’t need the FBI crime lab to deduce what happened next.
Now, this was over a half-century ago when a football stadium wouldn’t have been wall-to-wall with camera-loaded smart phones. So, there are those who think this story is a bit of an “urban legend.” But it did go down that way. Pennsylvania native and former NFL player and team executive Matt Millen was a witness.
“It was a miserable day and a miserable team. That was the only fun part of the game, and everybody joined in — fathers, sons, even the old ladies. That guy had it coming. I still remember the song, ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ — BOOM! Got ‘im! Hey, it was just the thing to do at the time. No big deal.”~Matt Millen in The Great Philadelphia Fan Book
But that’s not my favorite quote. That’s reserved for former Eagles public relations director Jim Gallagher.
“He was the worst-looking Santa I’d ever seen. Bad suit, scraggly beard. I’m not sure whether he was drunk, but he appeared to be.”~Jim Gallagher in The Great Philadelphia Fan Book
As a gambler, I’m going to put the odds of a fan being drunk at an Eagles’ game…even back in 1968…as being roughly equivalent to those of the sun rising in the east tomorrow morning.
The upside to this story is Olivo never lost his sense of humor about that day.
“When I hit the end zone, and the snowballs started, I was waving my finger at the crowd, saying ‘You’re not getting anything for Christmas!’”~Frank Olivo
Despite what you may think of this entire affair, it did give Olivo that defining first line of his obituary when he passed in 2015. It may not have the panache of “First man on the moon” or “Former President,” but “Philadelphia Snowball Santa” got Olivo more fame than he probably ever would have had.
Not to mention, the popular opinion was Olivo wasn’t really the target of the fans ire.
If you were able to ask former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Stan Hochman, he would be the first to tell you the Eagles’ fans weren’t angry at Santa. Instead, they were taking aim at the target they could reach; they were throwing snowballs at team ownership who refused to invest in building a good team football…or to have the snow shoveled out of the stands.
“The fans pelted Santa Claus with snowballs because they would have needed a bazooka to reach the owner’s box.”~ Stan Hochman
Since he grew up in northern Indiana, it’s quite possible Ralphie was a Chicago Bears fans just like his “Old Man.” But with his level of angst, he certainly would identify with we who support the Philadelphia Eagles. Maybe that’s why Ralphie really wanted that gun…he knew there would be a day he needed the range.
The Moral of the Story:
Until the end of time, every eight-year-old everywhere will be Ralphie Parker. Until the end of time, Philadelphia Eagle fans will have a perennial need for bail money.
P.S. This movie may very well feature our greatest Sports Doppelganger of all time!
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