(First in a series: “Witnessing the Greatest Players of All-Time”)
For most sports fans under the age of 35, the name Bobby Orr may not have much meaning. Because he was forced to retire at age 30 in 1978, he might not even be remembered by the most avid hockey fan. He lived and played in an era when sports were at their best, and was not only one of the greatest athletes of all time; he is a much greater human being.
He was born on March 20, 1948 in Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada. He began playing hockey at the age of five. His first league play was for the Parry Sound Shamrocks. Originally he was a forward, but his coach moved him to defenceman. When he turned 14, he joined the Oshawa Generals, the Bruins’ junior hockey affiliate. He was an all-star for three of his four seasons.
In 1966, he became a member of the Boston Bruins. The Bruins had not won a Stanley Cup since 1941. They had not been in the playoffs since 1959, but with the addition of Orr, the Bruins went on to win the Cup in 1970, 1972, and lost in the finals in 1974. In both victories, he was named the MVP.
Although a defenceman, Orr was one of hockey’s most prolific scorers. His extraordinary speed and puck-handling ability were virtually unstoppable, finding the opposition frequently back-peddling when he had the puck.
Among his many awards were: Named to the NHL First All-Star Team eight times consecutively (1968-1975).
He was awarded the James Norris Trophy, awarded to the best defenceman in the league eight times (from 1968 to 1975, his last full season).
He played in the NHL All-Star Game eight times (from 1968 to 1975).
Among his records: Most points in one NHL season by a defenceman (139; 1970–71).
He recorded the most assists in one NHL season by a defenceman (102; 1970–71).
Orr will forever be remembered by Bruin hockey fans for one of hockey’s most famous shots in history, made on March 10, 1970. At the forty-second mark of the first overtime in the 4th game of the Stanley Cup finals, Orr received a pass from teammate Derek Sanderson. He flew down the left side of the rink, scoring the decisive goal. He was tripped by a St. Louis Blues player, flying parallel to the ground like Superman, he raised his arms in victory completing a sweep of the Blues. This was one of the few times Orr celebrated a personal victory, and a victory for the Bruins who had won their first Cup since 1941.
The picture of that goal became one of the most famous pictures in all of sports. A bronze statue now exists in front of the Bruins stadium forever memorializing that exhilarating moment.
Orr was quietly one of the most charitable men in sports. He frequently visited the ill and donated both time and money to those less fortunate than himself.
He played 10 seasons with the Bruins and two more with the Chicago Blackhawks. Orr experienced excessive pain in both knees, particularly the left. He retired in 1978 at the young age of 30.
Bobby Orr had scored 270 goals and 645 assists in 657 games. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979 at the age of 31. The league waived the three-year waiting period and made him the youngest player ever to be made a member of the “Hall.” The only players to have scored more points in the history of professional hockey are Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Mike Bossy, and they were all forwards.
Orr was one of the first hockey players to have an agent. A friend, Alan Eagleson, negotiated contracts for him and managed his finances. Unfortunately for Orr, Eagleson turned out not to be a friend, and had embezzled most of his money. He retired virtually penniless.
In 1996 Orr organized his own hockey players representation firm, the Orr Hockey Group agency. His agency represents 30 active players in the NHL.
He continues his many charitable efforts. He was married in 1972 and has two sons and one grandchild.
Without a doubt, this humble and talented man is one of the greatest five athletes ever to have played professional sports.
By: James Turnage