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Your Flames Authority George Johnson says Iggy 'became as much a symbol of the organization as that Flaming C logo, as much of a symbol of this town as the Tower.'

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

He first arrived early the morning of March 21, 1996, the team he'd go on to symbolize already down two-games-to-none in a playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Right out of Kamloops, all of 19, with a funny-looking box-square helmet and a penchant for oversleeping.

More than 22 years later, Jarome Iginla, among the finest of an era, returns here, to Calgary on Monday, to deliver his career goodbye.

Where on earth else?

Woven deep into the fabric of the franchise, this man. 

And vice-versa.

Jarome Iginla ranks, indisputably, as the greatest Flame ever.

He didn't actually sit down and write the franchise record book but he might as well have: career leader in games played (1,219), points (1,095), goals (525) and 30-or-more-goal seasons (11), second in assists (570) and hat-tricks (12).

For an astonishing 11 consecutive seasons he topped the Flames in points.

Most tellingly, for a brilliant, blinding spell - say, for argument's sake, from 2001 through 2004 - a pretty solid case can be made for Iginla being the game's single greatest player.

Any league. Any organization. Any position.

No other Flame of any other era, past or present, can honestly make the same claim.

The No. 12 jersey became a fashion trademark across this city, the Iggy Dance effect on the Saddledome JumboTron a local craze.

Quite simply, he did everything. Scored goals. Collected glitzy individual hardware (two Rocket Richard trophies, the only Art Ross Trophy in Flames' history). Wore the C, with distinction. Answered the tough questions. And sometimes fought the tough guys.  

In the doing, and in the way he conducted himself - with humility, magnanimity - he became as much a symbol of the organization as that Flaming C logo, as much of a symbol of this town as the Tower.

Our best selves, for the entire hockey world to admire.

When after years upon years of struggle, he found the improbable 2004 dream punctured at the final hurdle, Game 7, in Tampa, his hurt was our hurt.

"This is the worst feeling you can have, the worst I've ever felt, anything I've been a part of," Iginla said in the wake of the 2-1 loss, voice barely audible in a dead-silent room,

"The toughest loss by a thousand times.

"We fought … so hard.

"We came … so close."

That night, a city denied a second taste of refracted glory felt every bid as bad for him as it did for itself.

He'd return in other guises after his 2012 exit, of course. As a Bruin. An Avalanche. A King. But those nights always seemed to be little more than costume-party one-offs.

Nothing could ever fit him the way the original duds had.

And now, 22 years after arriving on our doorstep, Iginla returns to put the close on a singular career.

To share that with this city, too, the way he has so many touchstone moments.

So take a bow. 

A long, deep, richly-deserved bow.

But please try to stay patient. The applause may take a while to die down.

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