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June 28, 2016

Lindros & Ryan: Brash, controversial, polarizing … and forever Philly

If there was a mythical Philadelphia hotel to house the legends of Philadelphia’s sports history it would be named the Hotel California, because you can check out – but you can never leave.

That point was stressed once again over the last two days in the aftermath of two vastly different occurrences, the election of Eric Lindros to the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday, and the sad news of the death of former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan Tuesday morning.

They were two huge names who made enormous impacts on their respective sports – but even bigger impacts here in Philadelphia. Both Lindros, and especially Ryan, were also part of other organizations, but it was here in Philadelphia they will be forever stamped in local lore.

If Lindros was larger than all in terms of frame, Ryan was larger than life in terms of ego. He was brash to the point of absurdity and he hit the Philadelphia turf with his mouth running.

Mind you, this is the case despite the fact that Lindros never won the coveted trophy that it appeared he was born to hoist – the Stanley Cup. As for Ryan, he not only never won the championship he won as a defensive coordinator in Chicago, he never even won a playoff game in Eagles green.

Doesn’t matter, both Lindros and Ryan left an indelible mark in Philadelphia, and their names will forever be linked with the Flyers and Eagles.

It took seven years for the members of the Hockey Hall of Fame committee to finally elect Lindros to the home of legends. It was certainly appropriate that it was a bit of a struggle to get there, mostly because the career of Lindros was marked by injury and controversy.

Certainly, there was the issue that Lindros never led a team to a Cup, or even a victory in the one finals appearance. There was also a lack of longevity in terms of number of games played, and his MVP was won in a season shortened by a work stoppage.

But Lindros transcended numbers. He was an overwhelming presence when healthy, and he was a singular story from the start when he refused to play with the Quebec Nordiques, and then was the center of controversy when Quebec traded him to both the Flyers and Rangers.

It took an arbitrator to settle the issue, and it turned into just an early chapter in a career filled with wild and crazy chapters.

There is no denying the talent Lindros brought to the Flyers was literally massive. He was a monster of a player who could simply use his huge frame to force his will; a rocket of a shot to score; and soft hands to set up line mates.

It was Lindros who was the center and gravity of the Legion of Doom, still one of the greatest line combinations in a sport filled with great lines.

The dark shadows of his career turned into a foreshadowing of what we are now seeing in not only the NHL, but also the NFL – concussions. It was Lindros and his family that stood up and shouted from the rooftops about the inherent danger of concussions, and time has proven them correct.

In the meantime, there was distrust on either side. It was distrust that led to an ugly situation in which a severe lung injury was not discovered and it led to a public spat between the Lindros family and the Flyers. The situation was never resolved, and the spat continued until there was an attempt to repair when Lindros showed up for the Winter Classic and also took his spot in the Flyers Hall of Fame.

Lindros was a larger than life figure – as was Buddy Ryan.

If Lindros was larger than all in terms of frame, Ryan was larger than life in terms of ego. He was brash to the point of absurdity and he hit the Philadelphia turf with his mouth running.

He made an immediate impact with his locker room and the fan base. He took the team to the playoffs for three consecutive years, and lost all three in the first round, once in the fog of Chicago.

The players loved to play for Ryan, a coach who was not afraid to take on ownership, once calling owner Norman Braman “the guy in the south of France.”

The best part of being a member of the Philadelphia sports community is how you connect with the fans, sometimes good, and sometimes bad.

You get involved in sports in Philadelphia you are a part of it forever.