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January 19, 2018

Flyers retire Eric Lindros' No. 88 jersey

Flyers NHL
011918_lindros_usat Eric Hartline/-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Lindros has his number retired during pregame ceremony against the Toronto Maple Leafs last month.

He’s a little thin up top, and carries the jowly, paunchiness of a man approaching middle age, which he is. He’s a father of three young children living the suburban life, putting out the trash, changing diapers, and catching an occasional hockey game here and there. 

But for a few moments Thursday night at a raucous Wells Fargo Center, before the Flyers beat the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime, Eric Lindros was the “Big E” again, suspended in time wielding around the ice bearing that No. 88. For a moment, Lindros was healthy, and agile, and dominating.

For a moment, the head injuries that eventually led to his demise seemed distant.

The Flyers retired Lindros’ fabled No. 88 Thursday night, raising it to the rafters ironically next to Mr. Flyer himself, Bobby Clarke, who when he was the Flyers’ general manager famously and openly feuded with Lindros and his parents during his eight years in Philadelphia, culminating in an acrimonious split in 2001 that sent Lindros packing for the New York Rangers after he had held out for a year.

Thursday night wiped away some of the past and Lindros was grateful for the opportunity to be welcomed back into an arena many credit him for building. There was no mistake about it, despite all the bad blood and his ugly exit, Lindros remains a huge star in this town. When he stepped out on the ice, he was cheered wildly.

“I just walked the concourse and this morning I went for a stroll to see all the shirts in the seats, it’s unbelievable,” said Lindros, 44, referring to the orange No. 88 t-shirts the Flyers hung on the seats. “This is one of those days that you take for the rest of your life. It’s a special moment and you really feel lucky.

“It’s one of those things where people will come up with pictures from the wives carnival, and pictures from in a restaurant or wherever the case may be. It’s just a great chuckle with the memories from different times and different games. We’ve had a great week so I’m looking forward to the rest of the evening.”

You play with the rules that you’re given. Yeah, things were a lot different back then. I am just glad that things have progressed. I’m glad that awareness is really, truly picked up.

He did. Lindros waved to the cameras and smiled when he was shown on the jumbotron during breaks in the game, and he did address some issues of the past — like Clarke, and the concussions he suffered. Can anyone forget his last time as a Flyer, curled in a fetal position on the ice after getting plowed in the chin by a shoulder from the New Jersey Devils’ Scott Stevens in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals?

Once the dazed Lindros disappeared into the darkness of the dressing room runway that May 26, 2000 night that seemed to be the last Flyers’ fans would hear of Lindros.

When Lindros was asked how he would fare in today’s NHL, where head shots are severely punished, as opposed to his time, he said, “I think it’s wrong to speculate. You play with the rules that you’re given. Yeah, things were a lot different back then. I am just glad that things have progressed. I’m glad that awareness is really, truly picked up.

“The league’s done a great job in many areas of this. I just wish there was more research that we could rely upon for changes. To have a foundation for basic research that we can draw from. People working collectively to come up with some solution. These will occur. It’s inevitable, but I think the league has done a lot. I really just hope that they would involve themselves on the research side of things.”

Lindros is a spokesman for concussions. It ended both his hockey career and his brother Brett’s. In Eric’s opinion, concussions aren’t being diagnosed any quicker than when he played a decade ago. “

“No, we’re nowhere near,” Lindros said. “We’re nowhere near and a lot of that stems from the research. It’s a tough one. It’s a tough one to go about. I’m not so sure the research is occurring and getting the most out of it. Are we sharing our results on time? Are we sharing them fully? Are we expressing some situations where our outcomes were poor?

“Well, let’s share those just the same as any wins, so people don’t have to duplicate them. Finds are hard to come by. If people worked together, that would be a really big step. But it’s never really happened in the research world. It’s going to take some time to change that culture.”

And as for Clarke, he was in the building Thursday night, which meant something to Lindros, a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee.

“It was great to hear,” Lindros said. “For Bob to say what he did [about Lindros] for the Hockey Hall of Fame, it was special. It was nice to hear. Great to hear. We disagree on some things, no doubt, right? But when it came down to hockey and if winning is it, I can’t question Bob and his desire to do what he could to in pretty much all cases to win.”