Dave Poulin

The great number debate: Who wore No. 20 best in Philadelphia?

The great number debate: Who wore No. 20 best in Philadelphia?

When starting your athletic journey, the number you choose to wear and represent your city with becomes a part of your identity. It’s forever embedded into the career and legacy that is left behind. Oftentimes, upon hearing a certain number, one athlete associated with it comes to mind. 

Philadelphia has had a fair amount of star players that have shared the same number throughout history. 

And I bet you already had No. 20 in your head — didn’t you? 

Dave Poulin, Mike Schmidt and Brian Dawkins are some of the biggest names for their respective sports that have worn this number. 

But which of these athletes is ultimately the best to wear No. 20? Let’s take a look: 

Dave Poulin 

The Flyers have had quite a list of well-respected captains. While it’s hard to beat the legendary Bobby Clarke, and Claude Giroux is certainly leaving his mark, no other captain has made an impact like Poulin. 

After a crazy route to get to the NHL, Poulin took the franchise by storm once he arrived on April 2, 1983. In his first shift as a Flyer against the Maple Leafs, he scored the first goal of the game and of his professional career.

While the Flyers came up short that season, the emergence of Poulin became a silver lining. He had a strong foundation as a player, but some of the top athletes to ever represent the club noticed the potential in him. Clarke, Bill Barber, Brad Marsh and Mark Howe were all factors in molding his game.

Poulin quickly became one of the best players on the team. With just about one year of experience in the NHL, Poulin was the next in line to add the coveted “C” on his sweater. 

Poulin was a captain for the players. He advocated for his teammates and supported them as a way to make the locker room a more comfortable environment. 

The combination of his leadership and skill made for one of the strongest players the organization had ever seen. With two All-Star appearances (1986 and 1988) and a Selke Trophy in 1986-87, Poulin was eventually named to the Flyers Hall of Fame. 

Mike Schmidt

In the history of the Phillies, no player is more universally known and loved than Schmidt. 

A rocky rookie season was quickly buried among some of the best baseball the city would ever see. Schmidt led the National League in home runs eight different times throughout his career and officially entered the 500 home run club on April 18, 1987, becoming the 14th member. 

Schmidt holds a handful of records within the organization, including most games played (2,404), runs (1,506), home runs (548) and runs batted in (1,595). 

The third baseman had 12 All-Star appearances, collected 10 Gold Glove Awards and six Silver Slugger Awards, was the National League’s MVP three times (1980, 1981 and 1986) and, of course, led the Phillies to their first World Series win in 1980 — also being named MVP of that series. 

No. 20 was retired by the Phillies on May 26, 1990 and within the same season, he was inducted as a member of the Philadelphia Baseball Wall of Fame. These accolades earned him a permanent place in MLB history as he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995. 

Brian Dawkins

For an athlete that finished his career outside of Philadelphia, Dawkins was permanently etched on the short list of players to never be booed. It was impossible, considering the legacy he created with the Eagles. 

As a member of the organization for 13 seasons, No. 20 is known to be one of the greatest safeties of all time. He was a natural born leader on defense and among the entire squad, an athlete that other teams feared playing against. 

During his time in Philadelphia, the Eagles won five NFC East titles, went to four NFC Championship games consecutively and appeared in Super Bowl XXXIX. 

With the Eagles, Dawkins made the Pro Bowl seven times, was a four-time First-team All-Pro and made the 2000s NFL All-Decade Team. His success landed him in the Eagles Hall of Fame and the team officially retired his number on Sept. 30, 2012. 

Years passed and he remained one of the top athletes in the city to never receive a glorious Super Bowl ring — but thanks to the special 2017 run and his time in the Eagles front office, Weapon X was finally able to cross that off his list. This was a moment that both he and fans were waiting years for. 

Just a few months after earning his ring, Dawkins was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Aug. 4, 2018. 

Really? Did you think we were actually going to pin these incredible athletes against one another? That’s comparing apples to oranges and makes absolutely no sense. Philadelphia has been one lucky city when it comes to having generational players — they just so happen to have worn the same number. 

But, if you feel inclined to personally select one, you can do so below: 

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The Flyers Alumni Association keeping everyone together in special ways

The Flyers Alumni Association keeping everyone together in special ways

The coronavirus outbreak has changed our lives and challenged us in many ways. But with each passing day, there are new stories that reaffirm the positive and demonstrate the generosity of the human spirit. This also rings true with the Flyers' alumni as they continue their work to support the local community.  

The Flyers Alumni chapter, led by former Flyer Brad Marsh, began with the veterans from the back-to-back Stanley Cup teams of the 70s and has continued to thrive with leaders emerging from members of the 80s teams, like former Flyers captain Dave Poulin.

“A group that goes through the things we did has a different affinity,” Poulin said recently in a video interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Michael Barkann. “Part of it was battling Mike Keenan for four years.”  

Keenan, the former Flyers coach, had the reputation of being tough. Poulin said playing under Keenan, in addition to the tragic death of goaltender Pelle Lindbergh, made for an impenetrable bond with members of those teams from the mid-80s.

Poulin went on to give credit to the late Ed Snider, who founded the Flyers in 1967 and was the face of the franchise for the better part of five decades. 

“It all starts with Ed Snider and what he meant to the Flyers,” Poulin said. 

Although the Flyers entered the league as part of the second six expansion, Poulin said the organization has an original six feel. Poulin knows that feeling well having also played for the Boston Bruins, an original six franchise, for part of his career.

“It’s the closest thing to an original six,” Poulin said. “To have that basis of that group to do the [charitable] work through, it’s so easy to stay attached to that city.” 

Over the years, the Flyers Alumni Association has created several programs, including the Flyers Warriors, a team of military veterans with at least a 10 percent disability that provides the camaraderie of being part of a team and organization. Poulin said the success of these programs and initiatives comes down to leadership.

“A lot of it goes to the leadership of Brad Marsh," he said.

While players and alumni from all the different sports leagues have made donations and shown tremendous generosity, Marsh said the hockey community is lucky. 

“We’re so lucky in the NHL, our superstars are all down-to-earth guys and willing to help out even in retirement,” Marsh said recently in a video interview with Barkann.  

While Flyers Alumni has not been able to hold its recent events as planned, it has done what it can to continue its efforts to support the local community. In mid-March, the alumni were set to host an event called “Friday Night Fights,” an old-school hockey fan’s dream that included watching old hockey fights and discussing them. The catered event, which was to include appearances by many former Flyers, had to be postponed and that’s when Marsh and company sprung into action. 

“The food [for the event] was already cooked," he said, "so we donated it to a food bank in Camden, so it went to good use.”   

Marsh shared that the Flyers Alumni Association remains committed to its charitable work with plans to reschedule events that had to be canceled because of the current situation. 

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Dave Poulin remembers his Flyers teammate and friend Ilkka Sinisalo

Dave Poulin remembers his Flyers teammate and friend Ilkka Sinisalo

Dave Poulin served as the Flyers' captain during five seasons when Ilkka Sinisalo played in Philadelphia.

The 58-year-old Poulin had a special relationship with the Fin because he himself had played in Sweden one season before coming to the Flyers.

Sinisalo died on Wednesday in Finland from prostate cancer.

"I always had a different outlook and understanding for how challenging it was for Europeans playing in a different country," Poulin said.

"I might have had a better rapport with Europeans early on than other guys had because I had sat in a locker room when everyone laughed, and I didn't know what that meant."

Poulin was able to transcend the language barrier.

In Poulin's mind, Sinisalo should never have willingly taken a back seat to some of his more offensive-minded teammates, such as Tim Kerr, Brian Propp, Mark Howe, etc.

Sinisalo was a quiet, unassuming player, who was perfectly content to play in the shadow of others, which Poulin felt was simply wrong.

"He was a much better player than he was ever given credit for and I think he could have been an even greater player," Poulin said. "He had a certain reservation about himself.

"He could have scored 50 goals in this league. He looked at me one day when I told him that and he said, 'And then they will want 60 from me.'”

The NHL was still very Canadian back then. When Europeans came over to North America, they were simply "slotted" into positions on their respective teams. The argument can be made that many of them accepted their roles.

That same argument could have been made for Sinisalo, who suffered a number of injuries during his career and never played a full season.

Poulin disagrees with that assessment.

"He was fine with how he played," he said. "He was the ultimate secondary scorer on a team. He didn’t have to want-to or need-to be in the spotlight. I always felt with players it was more up to the individual. Was it partly their nationality?

"Well, was there any more of a flamboyant scorer in the league than Teemu Selanne? I don’t think there was ever a player in the NHL who liked to score goals more than Selanne."

Indeed, Selanne, the legendary Fin, scored 76 goals his rookie year in Winnipeg (1992-93) and would go to produce 10 seasons of 31 or more goals and seven of 40 or more during his amazing 23 seasons in the NHL.

Because he played in Europe, Poulin had a different relationship with players such as Sinisalo, Thomas Eriksson, Miroslav Dvorak,  Pelle Eklund and Pelle Lindbergh.

"Maybe I went out of my way more with a lot of Europeans, I played with," Poulin said.

It extended off the ice, as well. The Poulin family and Sinisalo family vacationed together in Captiva Island, Florida, for many years.

"When you plan a vacation with a hockey teammate you ask yourself, 'Is this gonna work?'" Poulin said. "It worked because we both had our own vacations, as well."

It also worked because Poulin and Sinisalo were close friends, not just teammates.