Aging athletes will tell you the knees go first. In newspapering, it's the mind that goes first. We have to cram so much information into our poor tiny heads day in and day out that, sooner or later, it starts spilling out.

Fortunately, we have a superb backup hard drive of information: the readers. And a vote of thanks goes out to all those alert readers who called or wrote to let me know that Eagles fans did not pelt Santa with snowballs at the Vet, as mentioned in passing here last week. The storied event actually took place at Franklin Field in 1968, three years before the Vet opened.

But despite the fact that this happened in the '60s, a decade no one professes to remember, I don't have an excuse apart from brain cramp for missing that one.

I might have been thinking of the day in 1989 when the Vet faithful pelted Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson with snowballs (ask Gov. Rendell about that one), in a vain attempt to add a few creases and dents to J.J.'s immobile helmet of hair.

But Santa's snowballing occurred on Dec. 15, 1968. I was a senior at Northeast High School, working weekends as a copyboy at the old Evening Bulletin, a few short blocks from Franklin Field. The Eagles were playing the final game of a miserable 2-12 season against the Minnesota Vikings.

The team had started the season 0-11 and was in line for the first draft pick the next spring, which would turn out to be that noted memorabilia collector, one Orenthal James Simpson. But the Birds won a pair of late-season games to drop to third in the draft, behind Buffalo and Atlanta.

Seeing their team finish so badly, yet not badly enough to win the top pick in the draft, the fans were understandably upset with the team's owner, Jerry Wolman; the coach, Joe Kuharich (remember those "Joe Must Go!" buttons?); and just about everyone else in the organization. Unfortunately, Santa was the only recognizable person they saw on the field at halftime. (And what, really, had Santa brought the fans that season?) Never ones to waste a good supply of snowballs, the fans vented their frustration on the poor old elf, but he was merely an involuntary surrogate for the team's management and coaching staff.

This Dec. 15 will mark the 40th anniversary of that landmark occasion of Philly fandom.

Trivia alert:

The Eagles missed out on O.J. in the 1969 draft but chose another running back at No. 3, who was thought of almost as highly. Who was it? (The answer appears at the end.)

The relentless march of NFL player fines continues unimpeded. Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter has been fined $7,500 for unsportsmanlike conduct during Miami's 48-28 loss to New England on Nov. 23. The league said Porter was fined for verbally abusing the opponent after the play was over. Raiders defensive lineman Gerard Warren also was fined $5,000 for roughing the passer against Denver.

Say what? Porter called his opponent a


? And he's still playing? Does NFL stand for National Football League or No Forceful Language? What in the name of Bronko Nagurski has this once-great league become?

It seems as if the officiating crews are getting more clueless every week with non-calls and wrong calls and overblown calls. And then, during the week, the league steps in and starts assessing all these ridiculous after-the-fact fines on top of that. Where does it end?

And fining a guy for roughing the passer? Only if the quarterback is injured on the play. Otherwise, the penalty is sufficient. This is


, for cryinoutloud.

Quick hits and headlines

Customer spots cook butchering deer in pizzeria

This happened Tuesday in Allentown. The pizzeria manager insists that venison is not on the menu. He had shot the deer while hunting and was storing the carcass at the establishment for pickup by a friend, when a cook mistakenly began butchering the deer. This certainly gives new meaning to the term

pizza doe

. I'll have a large pie with extra antlers.

Feds drop 4 counts against Bonds

As long as it's taking this case to come to trial, they'll wind up dropping the other 11 charges after the statute of limitations expires.

Ronaldo wins Golden Ball award

This sounds like something out of a Mike Myers movie.

Cavs' LeBron James not distracted by N.Y. speculation

I'm sure he's seeing what great fun Stephon Marbury is having with the Knicks in the Big Apple, and can't wait to go there. Not!

Flyers C Briere sidelined four to five weeks with groin strain

Wow, and we thought Ron Hextall had retired the groin-injury trophy.

Cowboys top NFL, valued at more than $1.6 billion

No wonder the stock market has been in the tank. Talk about overvalued!

Trivia answer:

The Eagles drafted Purdue star and Heisman Trophy runner-up Leroy Keyes, who starred at running back and defensive back in college and was a two-time all-American. He lasted just five seasons in the NFL, playing his first year with the Eagles (1969) at running back, and rushing 121 times for 361 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. After that season, the Eagles moved him to defense, at strong safety, for the remainder of his time in Philly. He finished his unremarkable NFL career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1973.