Tuesday, January 01, 2008

25 Years of Philly Sports Hell: The Worst Moments, Part III

The latest in a series of of soul-cleansing moments for Philadelphia sports fans as we complete a 25 year cycle of unmatched sports futility. For a full explanation of this series, look here. Moment II appears here.

May 26, 2000. I remember it. Eric Lindros probably doesn't.

Dear Lord, I'd like to write a lot about Lindros. The trade. The arbitration following the trade. The MVP Award. The playoff losses, mostly to New Jersey. The tickets for Joey Merlino. The concussions. The parents. The rib injury.

But that will be in the future. Let's just note that of all the guaranteed sure things in NHL history, the Flyers obtained the most star-crossed one (assuming Sydney Crosby doesn't suddenly forget how to skate). And the end of his Flyers career came on May 26, 2000.

The Flyers, it should be noted, probably have the most near-misses of any of Philly's teams in the last quater-century, with three Stanley Cup Finals appearances, 4 additional losses in the Eastern Conference Finals (twice in seven games) and innumerable playoff appearances. The Flyers probably could have won a Stanley Cup, if Bobby Clarke wasn't stuck in the Jurassic Period with regard to his view of speed in hockey, and/or if Clarke hadn't stubbornly insisted that any goaltender could be good enough to win a title (ironic, since the only two titles the Flyers won came thanks to the brilliance of Bernie Parent).

This is one of the near-misses. Game Seven of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals. Goaltender Brian Boucher and Keith Primeau had helped the team overcome the loss of Lindros to yet another concussion. The team even overcame the loss of coach Roger Neilson, who was stricken with cancer in February. The Flyers ripped the Sabres in five games and then won a thrilling six game series over Pittsburgh when Primeau turned the series with a goal in the fifth overtime of Game 4. They won three of the first four games over the hated Devils in the conference finals before losing their concentration and dropping Game 5.

Ah, but Lindros was on the way to save the day... not. Team management, involved in the long-running soap opera battle with Lindros that included stripping him of his captaincy that year, didn't want him to return. His teammates didn't seem particularly enthused by his return.

But Eric returned to play in Game Six at the Meadowlands, which the Flyers lost 2-1, despite a sterling effort from Boucher. The team spent most of the game skating in circles while expecting Lindros to win the game by himself; Big E scored the team's only goal. Perhaps a better reason to keep him out of the lineup was the cohesion the team had developed in his absence, which seemingly disappeared with his return.

Of course, the return didn't last long. Game Seven started with one more rendition of God Bless America, which is the Flyers' good-luck talisman. Even with an early Devils goal, the building was rocking. Then, about 8 minutes in, Lindros skated toward the New Jersey zone, with his head down, just like you're not supposed to do. Scott Stevens, the Devils' best defenseman and a future Hall of Famer known for hitting, approached at top speed.

And destroyed him.

The folks in the building and those who saw it on TV won't forget the hit. Here's how one writer described it...
Lindros' head rocked like you would imagine a person's head in a car accident being rocked. His face went blank, body limp, but still held upright by the terrific force of the collision as if by an invisible rope, then dropping like one of those skyscrapers that are dynamited from the inside.

Lindros looked oblivious, defenceless, out on his feet as he feel earthward, his head then snapping off the ice.

His helmet settled over his eyes as Lindros lay on his side his lips drawn into a tight line, arms in front of him as though handcuffed.
If anything, the impact was worse than what he says. I remember watching and almost gagging.

The Flyers were trailing 1-0 at the time. True to form, the team somehow tied it in the second period on a goal by Rick Tocchet (he must have had money on the game). After Flyers rookie Andy Delmore missed a primo opportunity late in the game to give us the lead, Patrick Elias delivered the series-clincher for the Devils.

And the Flyers lost, again. And Lindros never donned a Flyers jersey again, although he may have needed help removing the jersey since he may not have been able to move his arms. And another superstar left Philly without a title.

Take a deep breath, fellow Philly fans. Let this one go, and let's move on to the next. Only 22 more to go.



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