Commentary

Lindros was feeling the love

Updated: December 31, 2011, 11:03 PM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- They came wearing his jersey. En masse. No. 88 littered all over Citizens Bank Park.

And for many of them, it had been a long time since they desired to wear it.

"It's been in my closet for 10 years," Flyers fan Mike Sweeney said during Saturday's alumni game before a crowd of 45,808.

The 32-year-old Philadelphia native had his Eric Lindros jersey back on, shaking the mothballs off it, a decision shared by thousands of others on this day.

Nearly 12 years since Lindros last played a game for the Flyers, more than 11 years since he forced a trade, it was clear enough time had passed to heal those wounds in this town.

"He had a great playing career and you can't take that away from him," said Sweeney. "Everybody's over it. I am, anyways."

No player was more warmly and loudly received in pregame player introductions Saturday. The message was clear. The fans have spoken. The Big E is welcome back in Philly. All is forgiven.

"It felt warm, it felt really special to walk out and be announced," said Lindros, with a hint of emotion. "I'm thankful. That was great."

This is human nature. It's within the best of us to find a way to forgive.

Wanting to move on is a natural emotion. Time also affords perspective. For Flyers fans, it's about remembering the great years Lindros delivered them, and focusing less on the way it ended.

Who knows, there might even be some fans in these parts who now think Lindros and his parents were on to something when they battled the Flyers on how No. 88 should be treated for his concussions.

This interference from the parents is what irked former GM Bob Clarke the most and led to such a bitter feud and, ultimately, a divorce from his captain.

Given the alarming number of concussions in today's game, a little bit of revisionist history might just be tilting things in Lindros' favor from that regard.

Still, that's just a part of it. Saturday's ovation for Lindros wasn't a calculated decision but rather felt borne of raw emotion. Those of us on hand a few years ago when Patrick Roy's number was retired in Montreal -- time also, in that case, healing old wounds -- can appreciate the similar feeling that Saturday's welcome for Lindros had in this ballpark.

[+] EnlargeEric Lindros
Len Redkoles/NHLI/Getty ImagesIt was just like old times for Eric Lindros on Saturday, in a lot of the good ways.

The fans roared again Saturday when Lindros ripped down the wing on a 2-on-1 break and fed former Legion of Doom linemate John LeClair for the opening goal. Just like old times.

And let's give a tip of the hat to Clarke, who publicly supported the idea of Lindros playing in the alumni game. Clarke could have made things a lot more awkward. He, too, talked about moving on, about recognizing the great hockey Lindros played for the Flyers. Clarke insisted to ESPN.com this weekend that there was no longer any animosity toward Lindros.

"Eric was an MVP in the National Hockey League for the Philadelphia Flyers," Clarke said after Saturday's game. "He was a big part of the Flyers. I'll always campaign for him to be in the (Hockey) Hall of Fame, he should be, I believe. Certainly we had our battles, but once he was gone, it was over, I thought. We're Philadelphia Flyers.''

"We talked this morning, everything's great," Lindros said of Clarke, before adding a kicker with a smile: "We were discussing trainer tips."

The real tip of the cap on this day goes to current Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, who reached out to Lindros months back and invited him for this outing. That took gumption.

"Eric is a big part of the Flyers' history," Holmgren said after Saturday's game. "And he was a great player here for a number of years. It made sense. We're happy that he came back and obviously the fans were happy that he did, too."

In the end, on Saturday a moment came that perhaps no one thought at all possible a dozen year ago: Eric Lindros welcomed back into the Flyers family.

"That really felt special," said Lindros. "It's nice to be back."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.