The Big E(mpty): Requiem For A Hockey Heavyweight Who Wore #88 Finally Getting To The Hall of Fame
I come here not to bury Eric Lindros but to praise him.
Because Eric Lindros was once a Philadelphia Flyer.
And during the time he wore orange-and-black when at his peak, the man was quite simply the greatest all-around hockey player that I ever had the pleasure of watching closely, while this occurred back when that team and that sport still actually meant something to me.
On the ice, Eric Lindros was like LeBron James a full decade before we met LeBron James.
Physically imposing in stature, power and speed but still with Katarina Witt-levels of grace while on a pair of skates.
An incredibly gifted scorer who more than doing that enjoyed making a great pass.
Computer-chip intellectual dexterity and IQ when it came to the game he played.
The first superstar up to the task of fighting his own fights, unlike Gretzky or Lemieux.
A center forward who could get back on defense to rub out a scoring threat with a bone-rattling check or deft stick deflection, seemingly in three strides or less or under two seconds cover the entire landscape a bit like we saw LeBron victimize Iggy with 12 days ago when pinning his shot against the backboard in the waning moments of Game 7.
A player who necessitated so much additional defensive attention especially if he was posting up near a net that his teammates couldn’t help but be made better, with his “Legion Of Doom” line mate John LeClair being at best the Little Steven Van Zandt to Lindros’ The Boss and on the opposite side of him Mikael Renberg being much closer to the Swede version of Tito Jackson to E's MJ than his Clarence Clemons.
Dead Bent, Big E had to be the MF or that Legion was DOOMed.
An absolute human cheat code born to show us what the next level of the game looked like.
But the National Hockey League (while not quite the NFL in terms of its cold and callous levels of attrition) is a far more brutal sport than the National Basketball Association, even when it comes to the biggest and the baddest to lace up a pair of skates.
In fact, sometimes more so for the big dudes, since their size/speed/momentum moving forward can be cracked back even faster the other way much like a big-league-hitter turning on a 95+ MPH fastball while connecting with the sweet spot on the barrel.
And this even truer if they don't see you and you're one of the biggest ones with the biggest hype like the man-child they called The Big E.
Nowadays our thoughts on how to handle health in that sport as well as others (while still sometimes seemingly glacially slow to evolve) have certainly changed enough over the past 20 years that Sidney Crosby should call Eric Lindros after each portion of a season he sits out or each Cup or Gold Medal he manages to win and thank him for the fact that he’s able to have his career.
Because Eric Lindros (and his less talented brother) had to see (or not see) his career die, long before either were near the end of their athletic prime, in order for future generations to live.
Or as R.A. The Rugged Man says at the conclusion of his all-time Top 10 rap pantheon verse on Vietnam that ends “Uncommon Valor” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GX04USVRowQ)……..God Take, God Give.
Because being saddled with a combination of stage parents, a Klitchko/Lennox-like suspect chin susceptible to knockout blows, along with an incestuously nostalgic organization, led during most of Lindros’ tenure by its oldest/biggest hero in the GM seat, whose set of false teeth looked borrowed from the boat George Washington left them in, while crossing the Delaware two hundred years earlier?
Not to mention an owner (RIP to the recently departed Chairmen Ed Snider but the ugly truth is his vision for the franchise died somewhere around 1985) who never bothered to update the blueprint, continuing to bronze the old one rather than brush the cobwebs off of those dusty Cups, won as the Broad Street Bullies those of us under 50 either never were alive to witness, or be old enough to recall coherently?
The revolution, which occurred first in encouraging fits, then later devolved in exasperating bursts, would never officially be televised.
My first memories of Eric Lindros came from the radio actually, SportsRadio 610 AM-WIP, on June, 20, 1992 to be exact, with a splendid bit of sport soap opera that wouldn't be out of place in the year-round-transaction-and-gossip-news-cycle of today’s NBA, or an impossibly inspired alliance you'd see on ‘Game Of Thrones’.
A live broadcast from an arbitrator was going to decide whether the Quebec Nordiques, a franchise in which Lindros’ camp was refusing to play, which eventually doomed their legion of fans to a fate of watching their franchise load up the moving trucks to head south of the border, to become the multi-title-winning Colorado Avalanche with a nucleus built from this blockbuster trade, were going to be trading The Big Upgrade to The Philadelphia Spectrum-residing Flyers, or instead to their much hated Patrick Division rivals playing 60 miles north up I-95, Madison Square Garden’s New York Rangers, with both thinking they had a deal.
Flashbacks of this moment listening on the clock radio in my parents’ kitchen back in ’92 at 16, came washing back over me recently earlier this spring of 20SickDream while now sitting in my own kitchen in Santa Monica, California at 40, when 710 ESPN Radio during the Max & Marcellus show in Los Angeles went to commercial break during their NBA Lottery coverage with only three teams remaining, like it was 1980-1985 again: Boston, LA, Philly.
But this was not for Ben Simmons, a wunderkind whose slight-of-hand/what-did-he-just-do-dishes have already begun to provide a salve to my long-suffering-since-Iverson-left-town Sixer Fan Soul.
Because Ben Simmons (tantalizing a prospect as he is) is in no way a talent on any comparable level to Eric Lindros nor LBJ.
To get a better idea for the analogy, think of maybe Lakers/Celtics or Cavs/Bulls, waiting for a judge to decide who gets Bron in ’04.
Russ Farwell “shoots…….he scoooooores!!!”©Gene Hart
I don’t need to bore anyone with a detailed recap of the events to follow, for anyone who either doesn’t know nor care, or even for the core who were there, who remember the rest like it was yesterday: Claude Lemieux from the Blue, crying at the Hart Trophy presentation while making a promise to the City Of Philadelphia, “a choking situation”, Skinny Joey Merlino, the Brind’amour rumor, rats on the ice, all those goalies, McCarty, Lindros Fam vs Bobby Clarke, the disallowed goal from Game 6 ECF 2000, the neutral-zone trap, or any of that crap.
Because the bottom line is everybody (including he and we) knows there should have been much more.
And none of the rest of it would have mattered or could have ever held that 'much more' back if we only knew then what we know now, or if any semblance of proper concussion protocols had been set back then, at the turn of the millennium.
Armed with the benefit of hindsight and today's more thorough research, no one would now be bickering or taking sides while talking about Clarkie or Lindros' Dad, because his son really was that BAD.
Alas, instead like many other instances in the history of Philadelphia sports for those of us born in the late 70’s or later, instead of “remember when” we are too often relegated to “what if”.
But regardless of that fact: does a generational talent who altered the course of history for not one, not two, not three but FOUR franchises, on his way to winning an MVP Award, making a Cup Finals appearance along with three other Cup Semifinals, who was the best player in the sport for about a half decade stretch, all while only having just over that amount of healthy seasons, belong in the Hockey Hall Of Fame?!?
“You Damn Right”©Ice Cube
So when that ridiculously delayed award ceremony occurring now six years late does take place, much like I was back in the Philly 57 Keenan Era as a kid or during the Lindros era during my teens/early-twenties, I will once again be an unabashed hockey fan again on that night.
O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason…there with E;
My heart was left at center ice there with Stevens
And I must pause till it come back to me