'D ear Editor: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Other friends say there is a Santa Claus and bad Eagles fans hit him with snowballs. Papa says, 'If you see it in

SportsWeek

, it's so.' Please tell me the truth. Is there a Santa Claus and did Eagles fans hurt Santa?"

Virginia O'Hanlon

Fifth and Shunk

South Philadelphia

Virginia, your little friends are peddling half-truths. Eagles fans did pelt Santa, but they aren't bad people. Your pals are brainwashed by urban legend, fueled by the mindless chatter of national sports announcers and sports writers piling on Eagles fans as if they were Satan's green-garbed disciples, assaulting St. Nick without provocation.

These critics were not there at Franklin Field on Dec. 15, 1968, Virginia, to witness the icy barrage at a well-intentioned Santa with bad timing. Some fans thought they were defending themselves from the candy canes Santa was hurling into the stands. The rest were in deep depression and coach Joe "Must Go" Kuharich was too far away to reach. It was 28 degrees with a wind chill of 15 and the Eagles were on their way to another defeat in Game 14.

You must understand, Virginia, that fans had high hopes for the ultimate No. 1 draft choice, O.J. Simpson, after 11 straight losses. Then the Eagles ruined that dream by winning the next two games. And here comes Santa with holiday cheer at halftime of the miserable finale of the season.

If the Easter Bunny had hopped into that environment, he would have been egged, Virginia. Misery loves easy prey.

Your friends have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. Some do not believe in Santa; others have no problem believing the fans who were hurling snowballs and insults were very bad people. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds are tiny, Virginia, whether they be children's or the guy with silver skin who wears shoulder pads even when he's not at Eagles games.

Yes, Ginny from South Philly, there is a Santa Claus. The Easter Bunny is a tougher sell, but Claus exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.

Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus? Who else could Eagles fans pelt? It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus? You might as well not believe in Rocky.

As for snowballing, there have been no reports of rooftop attacks on the jolly cherub. They shower him with cookies and milk as long as he doesn't pop up unannounced in the middle of a disastrous game at the end of a pathetic season.

No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood. And if he shows up at an Eagles game at the wrong time in sketchy weather conditions, well, he'd better be ready to duck.