Everywhere he went Wednesday, he felt that familiar anticipation, that edge, that the people of this metropolis once conveyed to him. The Eric Lindros era that absorbed most of the 1990s might not have ever grasped that final prize, but it was filled with run-ups such as the one being experienced in anticipation of Sunday’s NFC championship game – elation, anxiety, analysis, all building toward the actual event.
“I always keep thinking about the spirit and what goes on around here when it comes to a big game or a playoff round,’’ Lindros was saying before meeting with the current Flyers at Skate Zone. “Especially the deeper you go in the playoffs, the intensity of it all. And what occurs going into restaurants and grocery stores – people coming up and saying, `Good luck.’ Or, `We’re pulling for you.’
“It adds up. And then you get into the rink and they’re just going bonkers in there.’’
There will be some déjà vu in that regard Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center when the Flyers raise No. 88 to the rafters before their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team Lindros watched as a kid. People aren’t likely to go bonkers when he is introduced before the game, or when the jersey is raised to the rafters. But there will be a prolonged ovation and appreciative emotion.
The bonkers part — that combustible mix of elation, anxiety, and analysis — well, just one team gets all that all this week, and it’s not the middle-of-the-road Flyers or the greatness of their past. Lindros understands that. He lived that. From the moment he moved into that bedroom atop coach Bill Dineen’s rented house in Haddonfield as a 19-year-old, “The Next One” — as he was unfairly dubbed then, in reference to “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky — was under a glare so intense that his eventual evolution into this seemingly well-adjusted 44-year-old husband and father of three might be his greatest achievement of all.
He survived the glare, the unmet expectations, the constant personal warring that emanated from his own missteps and that of this dyed-in-the-wool organization. Barely. He even survived a near-death collapsed lung and a slew of concussions that has informed a post-career activism to improve both research and prognosis of head injuries.
He was an early advocate of Rowan’s Law, Ontario’s first to mandate protocols following youth sports concussions. Named after Rowan Stringer, a 17-year-old rugby player who died after she suffered a second concussion inside of a week, it is at the crux of a far-reaching debate over prognosis and treatment that Lindros — who suffered as many as six concussions as an NHL player — knows only too well.
“We’re trying,” he said. “Some of it deals with culture. It’s switching up a few things but just being aware. Better communication. It starts with basic research. Without basic research, we’re putting Band-Aids on things. And reacting instead of being proactive. No question, protocol has been improved. I just think the research side of things – people sharing information, doing it in a timely fashion, publishing on time and publishing full — letting everyone know what didn’t work so no one has to go through that again. If we worked more as a team, I think we’d get a lot further along.”
Lindros will be the sixth Flyer to get his jersey retired, and the first since Mark Howe. He spent his first eight seasons in Philadelphia, amassed 290 goals and 659 points and led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997. He and his parents also engaged in some infamous feuds with Flyers management during his tenure, culminating in a dispute about medical diagnosis and treatment after a 1999 road game in which the Flyers star suffered a collapsed lung and was later rushed to a hospital.
The subsequent trade that ensued and the rift that followed have long been smoothed over through the efforts of current Flyers president Paul Holmgren, who reached out to Lindros several times in the summer of 2011, paving the way for his participation in the 2012 Winter Classic alumni game at Citizens Bank Park. “It was the spirit of `Let’s move on,’ ” he said. “ ‘Be positive about things. Let’s do better.’ ’’
Since then, he has returned for ceremonies honoring his induction into both the Flyers Hall of Fame and the Hockey Hall of Fame. And with each return, the supremely talented but impetuous youth who — with Allen Iverson — once walked this city as a god, rediscovers us through the eyes of a parent, an advocate, of that well-rounded man. He had never been to the Please Touch Museum until he took 3-year-old son Carl there on Tuesday. “You guys are lucky to have that here,” he said with an air of amazement. “It’s a great spot.”
As is his. An icon who erred and excelled equally here, who has grown to embrace a city that has done its share of that, too.
“The spirit that goes with getting into the playoffs, and just being in the rink,” he said. “You leave your house, you come down three or four hours before the game, and it’s hard to get into the parking lot because people have already started to arrive. That says something, right? People are excited to get going. And that spirit just comes right into the rink. And when you’re playing in front of it, it’s second to none.”