How Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers mascot, saved Christmas for local couple

Philadelphia Flyers

When a Philadelphia couple's special Christmas wreath was stolen from their front door, there was only one individual who could salvage their holiday cheer. Someone big and jolly, with a long white beard, a big red hat ... and orange fur and wild googly eyes.

This is the story about how Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers mascot, helped save Christmas. As only Gritty could.

Dan Jackson and Tim Popp started dating around Thanksgiving 2019 and became a "true pandemic love story" after moving in together in South Philly. They're both Flyers fans, although Jackson is more of a die-hard. He's also the more creative of the two when it comes to holiday decor, having created a Gritty ornament two Christmases ago and then a Gritty wreath for their front door this year.

Popp loved the wreath -- bright orange with massive eyes and a Santa hat -- but was immediately concerned. "It was too beautiful and too unique," he said, "it was going to be stolen."

Jackson made it on a Saturday night. It hung on their door for just over a week. The following Monday, Popp took their dog Franklin for a walk at 7 a.m. and the wreath was there. By the time Jackson left for work an hour later, it was gone.

The couple belongs to a Facebook group called South Silly that's populated by their neighbors. Jackson wrote a message in the group that, while not accusatory, let the neighborhood know that someone had filched their Gritty wreath. "I had a homemade wreath on my door and now it seems to be missing," he wrote, "if anyone sees it or knows anything, please let me know."

A Philadelphia reporter made a screenshot of the post and put it on Twitter, declaring that "only in Philly would something like this happen." Eventually, news of the theft found its way to Gritty, who tweeted: "Gritizens and internet sleuths alike, the case of the stolen Gritty wreath is in your hands now. Don't let me down."

Jackson and Popp received direct messages from Gritty on Instagram. "All of the language was in first-person," said Popp, who said Gritty invited them to the Flyers' game against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night.

Unfortunately, that game was postponed because of the NHL's COVID-19 outbreak, news that was relayed by Gritty over another DM. Popp decided to "shoot my shot" and invited Gritty to hang out in South Philly. Gritty responded: "I'd love to make that happen."

At 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, there was a knock at their door. Jackson and Popp expected someone from the Flyers marketing department would deliver tickets. Instead, there was Gritty, dressed as Santa Claus and jiggling in front of a hastily constructed replacement wreath Jackson made after his masterpiece was stolen.

Gritty handed them an autographed photo with an inscription on the back. Jackson and Popp then gave the Flyers mascot some orange flowers and a homemade ornament of his visage. But the gift exchange didn't stop there: Gritty went back to the van he arrived in and pulled out a 6-foot-tall wreath in Flyers colors, with a bow, two googly eyes and a mouth with its tongue hanging out.

A proper replacement for their stolen wreath.

"It's so perfectly Gritty, because it's so thoughtful but also just outside the scope of reality," Popp said. "Like, we can't put this on our door."

Gritty intended to gift them the wreath at the Flyers game. "We would have had to drag a 6-foot wreath out of the stadium all the way back to our apartment," Popp said.

Luckily, they have a deck off their second floor where the new Gritty wreath hangs, on the side of their apartment building. Jackson and Popp will still get their tickets from the team, and a local radio station said there could be more in the offing. But it's the reaction from friends and neighbors that has meant the most to Popp.

"You know, in COVID, I think I've seen people a lot less. A lot of my friends have been sending texts and I keep running into people on the street who stop me because they want to hear the story," he said. "The comments have been so sweet."

So, did Gritty save Christmas?

"It's been a hard year," Popp said. "I work in children's education. Dan works at a grocery store, so he's been on the front lines. It's been very stressful for all of us around the world. We always decorate our home to bring in the holiday spirit. This is a year where we're still not sure if we can be around our family and do things like we want to do them. This whole thing has taken us by surprise and been an amazing memory that we'll talk about for years to come."