Phillies Phlashback: That time the Phanatic’s head was stolen

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor

Stealing the Phillie Phanatic's head doesn't even sound like a prank that a few first week college freshman would pull. Perhaps it's such an off-the-wall thing to do that college students couldn't even think of the idea. Let's go with that, because in February of 2004, the head of the most popular mascot in sports wasn't stolen by college students, but instead a man double their age. 

As a USA Today article from 13 years ago reminds us, a 37-year-old man swiped the head of the most famous creature to ever come from the Galapagos Islands: 

Tom Burgoyne had taken off the costume for a break and found the head missing when he returned to his makeshift changing room.

There were no leads in the case until Tuesday morning, when a listener called a disc jockey, saying he found the head and that he would bring it to the radio station's downtown offices.

Police arrested [omitted], 37, of Whitehall Township, Lehigh County, after he brought the $3,000 head to the studio about 1 p.m.

Various outlets confirmed at the time that the head had a value of $3,000, and given the panic of Burgoyne, it's evident that there wasn't a backup head. 

How did "omitted" get his hands on the Phanatic's head in the first place? Kathleen Parrish, writing for The Morning Call, says that the current Wells Fargo Center had held a charity auction on Feb. 6, 2004, just weeks after the Eagles fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Title Game, which was the final event ever held at Veterans Stadium. The auction was meant to help find a home for whatever items from the stadium hadn't already found a new home. The Phanatic was present at the event, and as the blockquoted section above notes, Burgoyne couldn't find the Phanatic's head after taking a break. 

Parrish's article notes that Howard Stern, who broke out during his gig on the now-defunct 94.1 WYSP, actually helped to lure "omitted" into making a failed attempt to return the Phanatic's head: 

[Omitted], of Whitehall Township, called radio station WYSP-FM after on-air personality Howard Stern offered cash for the safe return of the Phanatic's green noodle. It had been stolen Feb. 6 from the Wachovia Center during a charity auction of memorabilia from Veterans Stadium.

[Omitted], 37, first told disc jockey Tommy Conwell over the phone that his son had found the head piece while sledding. But when he arrived at the radio station Tuesday to claim the money, he said he recovered it from two 13-year-olds who were running down a ramp at the Wachovia Center.

"He was always kind of hush-hush," said Conwell. "He didn't want to give his name. He said he was from Conshohocken. He pronounced it funny, and that tipped me off a little bit."

A Philly Burbs article notes that "omitted" did claim the $5,000 reward, which he eventually donated:

[Omitted] claimed the $5,000 reward, which was offered by a car dealership, after hearing about it on a radio show.

Philadelphia police learned that [omitted] was at WYSP-FM and charged him with theft, burglary, receiving stolen property and trespassing. The dealership, which had promised the reward for the safe return of the Phanatic's head with no questions asked, paid the money.

[Omitted], who did not return a phone call from The Morning Call of Allentown on Thursday, has since turned the reward over to charity.

Ultimately, "omitted" received two years worth of probation for taking the Phanatic's head, along with a requirement that he complete 100 hours of community service. He – who we elected not to name in this article because he seemingly committed one dumb crime 13 years ago – also managed to tie himself into one of the strangest stories in the history of Philadelphia sports.