(Updated to include video & thoughts on the Hall of Fame Ceremony from November 22!)
January 23, 2000 was the worst day of my barely-15-year-old life.
Rod Brind’Amour was traded from the Philadelphia Flyers to the Carolina Hurricanes. And I was devastated.
I thank my lucky stars that social media didn’t exist back then, as I surely would have shot off rapid-fire hashtag-heavy Tweets expressing my sorrow and disgust, or constructed a grandiose tribute on Facebook complete with photographs and frownie-emojis. This is why I could never, in good faith, mock the young girls whose worlds were absolutely crushed when Zayn left One Direction. (Yes, I keep up with pop culture.)
Looking back on it now, I was a stupid teenage girl with stupid teenage emotions. But it’s also endearing, in a way, to think that before I became just another adult inundated with “grown up” priorities, hockey was practically my entire world.
Rod Brind’Amour was a huge reason for that.
The Guy With the Tucked-In Jersey
Late spring, 1997: I hopped on the Flyers bandwagon as the team embarked on its first Stanley Cup Finals berth since 1987. Growing up with two hockey-obsessed brothers, Flyers fandom is something I’d always been surrounded by, but didn’t take an interest in until my older brother made me feel guilty about not wanting to listen to one of the Flyers-Rangers Eastern Conference Finals games on the radio. (To paraphrase: “You’re the only one in the city who doesn’t care!”)
Out of fear of being labeled “The Only Philadelphian Who Doesn’t Care About The Flyers,” I started to pay attention. My school had a pep rally once the team won the Prince of Wales Trophy, and I was decked out in Flyers gear that I either borrowed from my brothers or my mom bought last-minute so I could fit in. I cheered with my classmates as our principal announced the Flyers roster, even if I had no idea who anyone was.
OK, that’s a lie. I knew Eric Lindros. Everyone knew Eric Lindros. He was the captain, the superstar, the face of the team. Somehow, I also knew who Ron Hextall was (the goalie). Gradually, I became more familiar with the players as I watched the games and read the newspapers.
There was one player that stood out to me: the guy with the tucked-in jersey. No one else did that. Naturally, that grabbed my attention.
Turns out Tucked-In Jersey Guy was center/winger Rod Brind’Amour, alternate captain and not a part of the Legion of Doom Line, as I erroneously thought at first. (Sorry, Mikael Renberg.) I eventually noticed Brind’Amour for more than his sartorial choices; he was gritty, smart, and seemingly important to the team. The more I focused on him, the more I enjoyed his style of play.
The Flyers were ultimately swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Finals. Even in my short time as a fan, I was disappointed in the Flyers’ unfortunate fate. Despite that, I vowed to keep my seat on the bandwagon and return for the season opener in October as a Flyers fan — and as a Brind’Amour fan.
Heart & Soul & Team Canada Jell-O Spoons
Taking advantage of our newly-acquired dial-up connection, I spent the summer of 1997 researching all that I could about the Flyers and Brind’Amour. I joined a hockey message board to learn what made other fans tick, to see what information they could share with me. The fandom accepted me with open arms, and the conversion to die-hard fan was nearly complete.
As I gathered via fan accounts, newspaper clippings, and hockey cards (I amassed quite a collection of cards!), it became clear to me that Brind’Amour was the “heart & soul” of the Flyers. Words like “leader” and “determined” were often used to describe him. Some remarked that I picked a good player to choose as my favorite.
I came across photos of Brind’Amour wearing the captain’s “C,” presumably from times when Eric Lindros was out of the lineup. “Why isn’t he the captain full-time?” I’d wonder. In reality, he didn’t need that letter to lead. Even without the “C,” or the “A” that he otherwise wore full-time, Rod still embodied what it meant to be a team captain. As much as he took charge, however, Brind’Amour was also very humble, and deflected a lot of extra attention. He just cared about helping his team win.
That type of character appealed to me. Everyone always seems to flock toward the big stars, the flashy guys. And that’s all well and good — they usually put asses in the arena seats. But Brind’Amour’s quiet determination combined with a humility that teetered on self-deprecation was more admirable to me.
Of course, Brind’Amour was also a decent player in his own right. Offensively, he was reliable, even if he did possess “stone hands” (a common gripe from the Philly faithful). Defensively, he was known as a menace to the opposition, something he’d ultimately be awarded for later in his career (twice). His awkward faceoff stance always fascinated me, but it was often effective. It was rare to see him drop the gloves, but it was a treat to see when those buttons were ultimately pushed. (Unless he lost.)
Christmas 1997, I decided it was time to ask for my very first hockey jersey. Under the tree, I found a black Flyers jersey, with a “Brind’Amour 17” on the back. It swam on me, but I wore it with pride.
My first two years as a Flyers fan were tumultuous, but fun. I eventually attended my first game in March 1998, the second half of a home-in-home with Pittsburgh, after Lindros sustained the first of his many concussions. (Looking back, I really couldn’t have picked a better game to call my first.)
Meanwhile, my Brind’Amour fandom was as staunch as ever, as I collected more of #17’s jerseys, T-shirts, cards, article clippings, and trinkets, including a Team Canada Jell-O spoon, which I believe was my first-ever eBay/online purchase.
I was fortunate to meet my favorite player in person a handful of times; they were often brief stops with a small exchange of pleasantries and maybe an autograph or two. The first meeting was in 1998 at a collectible shop signing. Being the awesome sister that I am, I asked Mr. Brind’Amour to sign a picture for my older brother, with a message wishing him well as he started his first semester of college. Rod kindly obliged, and my red-faced self managed a tongue-tied thank you.
I had another opportunity to meet Rod after watching a Flyers training camp session in the summer of 1999. A group of us kids swarmed the poor guy in the parking lot as he was walking to his car, but he made sure to sign every last article of memorabilia before he went on his way.
After that training camp visit, I was more excited than ever for the 1999-2000 season to start. However, that enthusiasm was quickly diminished.
Broken Foot & Broken Hearts
Rod Brind’Amour was known as the team’s ironman, not only for his physique (he was called “Rod the Bod” for a reason) but also for his conditioning, which led him to play an incredible 484 consecutive games. That’s quite a feat in a sport as physically demanding as hockey.
The streak came to a halt in October 1999 thanks to a slap shot to the foot sustained in a preseason match, which resulted in two fractures and two months on the IR. I was disappointed to see the season start without my favorite player in the starting lineup, although I’m sure my feelings paled in comparison to the frustration Rod must have felt from the press box. This is the same guy who once needed to be kept out of a weight room by way of padlock because he just wanted to keep working out.
In mid-December, Brind’Amour returned to the lineup with a healed foot and pent-up tenacity. I made sure I was in attendance for his first game back, sloppy handmade sign in hand. While I had started to take a shine to other players in the lineup, namely a standout rookie called Simon Gagne, I couldn’t have been happier to see the favorite of favorites, #17, back on the ice for the Orange and Black.
That high was short-lived. In January 2000, Rod Brind’Amour was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes along with goalie Jean-Marc Pelletier and a 2nd-round draft pick for center Keith Primeau and 5th-round draft pick.
How did I react? I cried. A lot. Too much.
Why did this happen? Why did the Flyers, who relied on Brind’Amour for so much, give him away for a dude who missed most of the season due to a contract dispute? It made no sense to trade the heart of the team for a player who had a reputation for being selfish. (It is worth noting that Keith Primeau ultimately won me over .)
I was angry, at the Flyers organization for trading away my favorite player (and a fan favorite); Keith Primeau for no reason other than the fact that he was the player going the other way (and a holdout); and my family, who made light of my plight — they just didn’t understand that OH MY GOD, THIS WAS, LIKE, THE WORST THING TO HAPPEN IN MY LIFE, EVER. CAROLINA? WHY NOT JUST SEND HIM TO GOD DAMN MARS?
I know. He was traded, not sentenced to death. But the opportunity to catch my favorite player on a regular basis had become much more difficult. Something like NHL Center Ice (or begging my family to let me move to Raleigh) would have eased the blow, but the reality was that I had to get used to seeing my favorite player a lot less often, and in other colors.
I remained loyal to the Flyers, but created a tiny space in my heart for my favorite player’s new team. Eventually, I picked up a couple of Rod Brind’Amour Hurricanes jerseys, including one from his first season that had #27 stitched on the back and sleeves. Although I was one for authenticity, it still irked me. Rod Brind’Amour wore #17. That’s how it always was. (OK, not in St. Louis.) Eventually, he reclaimed his #17, and he’d keep that number until the end of his career.
Rod Brind’Amour became a legend of sorts in North Carolina, receiving more accolades there than he did while he was in Philadelphia. (There were reasons for that, of course.) In addition to winning two Selke Trophies back-to-back (2006 and 2007). he helped lead the Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup Finals berth in 2002 (they lost to Detroit in six games). In 2006, Rod Brind’Amour, team captain, finally became a Stanley Cup Champion after the Hurricanes ousted the Edmonton Oilers in seven games.
It was bittersweet to watch him raise that cup over his head while wearing red and white. He could have had that moment in 1997, while he was a member of the Flyers, but that obviously wasn’t meant to be. Rod Brind’Amour was destined to become a champion, but not in my hometown. Hell, I’m still waiting to see a Stanley Cup parade down Broad Street in my lifetime, but that’s a lament for another post.
In 2010, Rod Brind’Amour ended his nearly 20-year career. Shortly thereafter, the Hurricanes honored him by retiring his #17 to the rafters, in a ceremony that preceded a matchup against the Flyers, no less.
Tonight, the Flyers are going to honor Rod Brind’Amour in a ceremony of their own as they induct him into the Flyers Hall of Fame. I could get into a rant about how it’s long overdue, or even a little unusual as, frankly, I could argue that he’d be considered a lifelong Hurricane before a Forever Flyer. (He’s currently serving as Carolina’s assistant and development coach, even.)
But, I’ll put those thoughts aside for now. Tonight, I’ll be attending the ceremony with two of my closest hockey-loving friends from high school, wearing the jersey I received on Christmas nearly 18 years ago, showing my appreciation for the player who will always be credited with sparking my enthusiasm for hockey and the Flyers.
Thanks for everything, Rod. You’ll always be my favorite
The Monday Question
Who did you look up to when you were young? Share your stories about how they inspired you in the comments.
Til next Monday!
The Tuesday Update!
Wow. What a tremendous tribute. The Philadelphia faithful were out in full force last night to help honor #17.
The one downer? I missed out on most of the commemorative swag. Yes, I did nab a poster, and one day I’ll hang it on my office wall. But those Brindy masks? I arrived too late to get one. (If someone has a spare they want to trade me…for a cheesesteak, perhaps?) Also, the Hall of Fame pucks and patches were completely sold out by the time I checked out Fan Gear at first intermission. I guess I should let that speak volumes of just how much people care about Rod Brind’Amour (…or for some, buying up stock and reselling at an upcharge on eBay).
But! I do have the privilege of saying I was there, live…in row 15 of the 200s. As the highlight clips played, showing those familiar scenes, I felt like a teenager again. And when Rod had the opportunity to thank the fans for making his time in Philadelphia a memorable one — finally making good on something he didn’t have a chance to do when he was traded 15 years ago — well, let’s just say it’s a miracle that I didn’t cry.
Oh! And the Flyers won, too. In overtime. It’s about time. There are things to like about this current version of the Orange and Black but…aw, I’ll save that rant for another post.
And so it is done. Rod Brind’Amour is a Flyers Hall of Famer. And I was there to witness it.
You can watch video of the ceremony here: