Lindros a smashing success in initial Philadelphia appearance

July 16, 1992|By Bill Lyon | Bill Lyon,Knight-Ridder

PHILADELPHIA -- He looks like everything you want in a savior.

Six ax handles across at the shoulders.

Clear-eyed. Firm chin. Square jaw. Bull neck. Cleft in the chin.

Dimples when he smiles, which will make the little girls squeal.

And a sinister, half-moon scar under the left eye, high up on the cheekbone, which suggests unspoken menace and which, his employers fervently hope, will make opponents turn tail and busily skate the other way.

Eric Lindros played Philadelphia for the first time yesterday. And, on another in a steamy string of char-broiled mornings, he debuted as an unqualified five-star smash.

At his official unveiling, while the minicams whirred and the strobelights twinkled, he tugged on the white jersey with the orange and black piping, and those twin 8's on the front stuck out like a pair of colt .45's on a marshal hired to clean up the town.

He towered over the flimsy podium and seemed to fill the ballroom. People in the front row had to crane their necks and look up.

Way, way up.

Which is, after all, the appropriate position when viewing a savior.

But this kid carries none of the trappings of affectation or ego. A newly minted multi-multi-multi-millionaire (reportedly $15 million to $18 million over six years), he shuffled into town in shorts and flip-flops the other night, and you couldn't have picked him out of a teen-age crowd lounging at the mall, just hanging and scoping out the chicks.

Yesterday, on harsh public display, with everyone looking for blemishes and awaiting the first mis-step, he was so smooth you thought maybe he had been buffed by the Zamboni.

He projected quick, wry wit and head-lowered humility, poise and presence, squinty-eyed purpose and unbending resolve.

You will have to be trying very hard not to like Eric Lindros.

He said all the right things, none of which his employers and their fans wanted to hear more desperately than this one:

"I'm here to win."

If the kid can play hockey half as well as he conducted himself at his launching -- and there is universal assurance that he can -- then there is not the least doubt that Lord Stanley's Cup soon will be paraded down Broad Street.

He was so composed, so swift and sure with the riposte, that you forgot he was but 19.

Only twice did he betray his youth.

Remarking about how he had been whisked to Philadelphia aboard the private plane of his employer, he said, with the undisguised awe and earnest appreciation that a teen-age male reserves for cars and certain members of the other gender: "You gotta see this jet, man."

And after he had pulled the official Flyers jersey down over his considerable torso, he did a hesitant, humble, half-hearted imitation of the Rocky salute, both arms raised in triumph, then jammed his hands into his trousers pocket and exhaled long and loudly.

"Whewwwwwwwwww!"

It was a release of sorts, relief that he finally had a team to play for at long last, after so much bartering and hectoring and haranguing.

And it was an audible appreciation of the quest that lies ahead, which is daunting indeed.

All they expect from him are miracles on ice.

And so the selling of Eric Lindros has begun; posters, shirts and assorted baubles to be available at an outlet near you very soon now.

The city waits.

Impatiently, as usual.

It has a gaping hero vacuum at the moment.

Mike Schmidt is long retired.

Ditto Julius Erving.

Charles Barkley has been sent to the desert.

Randall Cunningham, gone for a year, is a cut-knee question mark.

So the marquee is bare.

Philadelphia awaits its next legend.

Other than that, kid, no pressure at all.

"Pressure comes from within," he said, with great assurance, with the breezy confidence of the very young. "Pressure is self-imposed."

He tends to speak in tightly packaged sound-bites. His voice is soft, low.

You have the vague feeling that you should memorize some of his answers.

As when, asked to assess the Flyers' prospects now that they had acquired him, he said: "Things that are great don't happen easily."

Well, the pursuit of Stanley's chalice certainly won't be easy.

The kid said he understood that, and probably he does. But he may not be able to fully appreciate, yet, what unreasonable enormities are expected from him.

There is no way he can yet know the voracious appetite of this city, nor of its notorious impatience, nor how a lot of other clear-eyed, square-jawed, bull-necked saviors have melted into panicked puddles here.

But he will learn very quickly.

Off what you saw yesterday, you have to like his chances.

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