No. 88 has always hung from the rafters in the minds of Philadelphia Flyers fans.
The organization seemed to revere it as well. No one but Eric Lindros has ever worn the number.
And on Thursday night in the City of Brotherly Love, those fans could finally see it with their own eyes.
The Big E’s famous No. 88 in Flyers orange and black was retired at Wells Fargo Center, raised to hang next to the names of Bernie Parent, Mark Howe, Barry Ashbee, Bill Barber and Bobby Clarke.
“Without any doubt, this is the highest honor the organization can bestow on one of its members,” said Flyers president Paul Holmgren, who addressed the packed house. “Take a look at the rafters, only five players out of 600 to have ever worn the orange and black, and now that number will be six.
“When we raise your number in a few moments, know you’re back where you belong, and this time, it’s forever.”
Moments earlier, Lindros stood at center ice, waving at the standing ovation that engulfed the arena that encircled him.
“Wow. Haha. This is crazy,” Lindros said, peering out into the sea of orange and black as he followed Holmgren at the center-ice podium.
“It’s no secret that when I left Philadelphia, it was under less than ideal circumstances,” Lindros said, crediting Holmgren and his wife Kina with helping him move.
Lindros sat out the entire 2000-01 season due to a contract dispute with Clarke and the organization.
Lindros was crushed by Scott Stevens in the playoffs in the previous season and was only cleared to play the following December. The Flyers had offered, and Lindros refused a two-way qualifying offer. Lindros, instead, wanted to be traded, with his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs the preferred destination after his once-strong relationship with Clarke had deteriorated. Clarke refused to trade him at first, but finally did so in the following offseason, not to Toronto, but to the New York Rangers in the summer of 2001.
“Both, in their own ways, have taught me to move on, put in the past any differences of opinion, any hard feelings,” Lindros said. “It was time to remember the great moments I experienced here in Philadelphia, the friendships I’ve built in this great city and the respect I have for the fans of this team.”
Lindros was a member of the ‘Legion of Doom,’ a line that consisted of John LeClair and Mikael Renberg that dominated opponents and altered the game of hockey in the 1990s. Lindros acknowledged several people, including former general manager Russ Farwell, who brought Lindros, Mark Recchi and Rob Brind’Amour into the team and drafted Mikael Renberg.
Lindros also thanked Clarke, and said LeClair should be in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Lindros was one of the most physically gifted and dominating players to ever play in the NHL, a man who towered over most, skated better than most and score better than most.
Lindros won the Hart Trophy during the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season. He played 486 games in Flyers threads, scoring 290 goals and amassing 659 points.
In 2016, Lindros was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck