Every sports fan has suffered through a lifetime of heartbreak. However, there’s always one moment as a child where you realize that not only are the good guys not going to win, but your heroes are mere mortals.
For me, that moment occurred on May 26th, 2000.
We all have a favorite player growing up, someone we look up to for any number of reasons. Often, young boys choose the biggest, baddest guy on the block. It’s why all the kids in my 4th grade class were drawn to Darth Maul with the release of the 1999 Star Wars film.
As a 9-year-old, my guy was Eric Lindros.
Hockey was the third pro sport I latched onto in my youth, thanks to a friend in that 4th grade class who did his famous person report on Lindros, an unstoppable machine of an athlete.
While channel-surfing one night on the kitchen floor upstairs at my grandparent’s house, which was next door to where I lived, I stumbled across the Flyers game. I kept hearing about them from my friend all the time, so I figured that they must be the best, and I wanted to see what the hype was about.
I glanced at the score, and to my surprise, the Flyers were trailing 2-0.
The guys in orange were flying around the ice, dominating, but they just couldn’t score. Finally, Lindros took the puck at the top of the faceoff circle and whizzed it past the goalie.
I was hooked.
I went to bed before the end of the game, but I still remember the sports report on the school news station the next morning. When I found out the Flyers won in overtime, I jumped up from my desk and yelled, raising both arms over my head.
My friend quickly became agitated that I was a Flyers fan, and he switched to the St. Louis Blues. We had a spring-long rivalry as the two teams competed for the somewhat meaningless award of best record in the NHL. But it meant everything to me.
My family Lived in rural PA, over 3 hours away from Philadelphia, in an area where we didn’t get the main Philadelphia sports channel. My two main sources of following the Flyers were reading the scores in the newspaper the next day or listening to the scores on the school sports report.
With my excited reactions to the announcement of their scores every morning, I quickly became notorious for being a Flyers fan. I’d get mad when they lost, and kids would try to wind me up by picking on the Flyers.
I collected cards of Lindros and anyone else who had played for the Flyers. I had the teacher print out pictures of them from the internet and taped them all over my desk, and checked out the Flyers encyclopedia from the library so many times in a row, that I’m surprised the school didn’t let me take it at the end of the year.
Soon, the other students had a new button to press.
A week after watching my first Flyers game on TV, Lindros went to the hospital. It was discovered that he had been playing with a concussion that week, and he would miss the rest of the regular season.
Meanwhile, the Flyers continued their dream-season, despite the loss of their fallen leader. I developed new favorite players, like Mark Recchi. I didn’t realize how important his locker room presence was in holding that team together until years later.
Still, Lindros was my favorite.
I only saw him play one other time as a Flyer.
With Lindros still out when the playoffs began, the Flyers won the first round easily, and then an epic second round series over Pittsburgh. By the time the Flyers got to the Eastern Conference Finals, I was floating. I was in love with this band of characters that was defying all the odds.
When they took a 3-1 series lead on the Devils, it was a foregone conclusion to me that my team was going to play for the Stanley Cup.
New Jersey rallied and won the next two games, forcing a Game 7.
Lindros had returned for Game 6 and scored, so when I took a seat on the floor of my grandparents’ bedroom for Game 7 on the evening of May 26th, 2000, I was nervous, but confident that my hero would ride in to save the day.
Seven minutes and 50 seconds into the first period, my sports life changed forever.
Lindros picked up the puck in the neutral zone and rumbled toward the New Jersey blue line. I watched, wide-eyed as he revved his engine. The anticipation built inside of me.
Suddenly, a big red obstacle appeared and smashed into Lindros, ending his rush. My hero crumpled to the ice, motionless.
I was stunned, to the point where tears couldn’t even come out. I just watched, totally stunned and full of emotion as his teammates helped his slumped battered form off the ice.
Little did I know, that would be the last time I’d see him in a Flyers jersey.
I soon found out the name of the guy who hit him was this Scott Stevens character. Stevens and the Devils won, and the Flyers’ magical run was over.
And so, one of the great sports dramas of the modern age took place. Over the next 15 months, Lindros and the Flyers did battle.
It was awkward, because he didn’t want to be a Flyer anymore, but all I wanted was for him to come back and be one. His rights still belonged to the Flyers, and they refused to trade him, so he sat out the next entire season.
Finally, they traded Lindros to the division-rival New York Rangers, and for 10 years, I was bitter, angry at Eric for leaving us.
Eighteen years later, I still haven’t watched the tape of that hit.
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