|Bobby Orr scores the game winning goal in overtime |
on a pass from Derek Sanderson
to win the 1970 Stanley Cup.
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Psalm 1:1, 3
Robert Gordon Orr played his first game for the Boston Bruins fifty years ago this week.
When it comes to sports heroes I cannot escape a completely unrealistic naiveté. I want to cheer for the athletes who are both good and great.
Not surprisingly, I am often disappointed.
I still haven’t fully recovered from the Lance Armstrong scandal. And Tyler Hamilton, for heaven’s sake.
The list of disappointments is long.
But there are some great names on the other list, the coincidence of goodness and greatness.
Al Kaline, and Roberto Clemente, and Stan Musial.
Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, K.C. Jones. Actually, I could include most of the old Celtics teams. Tenley Albright. And most of the UCONN women’s basketball teams.
But “Number Four, Bobby Orr!” has a special place on that list.
His knees gave out after just twelve seasons, but over that span he was simply amazing. He revolutionized the game. His end to end rushes were astonishing. You did not have to know anything about hockey to know that you were watching greatness. He was a defenseman who could outskate and outscore the forwards. When he was killing a penalty, he was always a threat to score because when they were short a man he had more ice to skate.
He was not only the best hockey player who ever played, he was one of the most dominant players in any sport. He won the Norris Trophy as the League’s best defenseman eight times. In 1970 he won the Norris Trophy, the Hart Trophy (Most Valuable Player), the Art Ross Trophy (scoring), the Conn Smythe Trophy (MVP of the playoffs), and the Stanley Cup.
Three years ago, on Bobby Orr’s sixty-fifth birthday, Bob Hohler wrote a story for the Boston Globe talking about the quiet way that Orr has gone about doing good.
Among the many stories that Hohler recounts, these are just snippets:
“When social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe died aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, Orr learned that members of her family were Bruins fans and he quietly traveled to Concord, NH., to visit.
"When former Bruin Ace Bailey died aboard a hijacked airliner that struck the World Trade Center in New York during the 2001 terrorist attacks, Orr turned up the next morning at the door of Bailey’s widow, Katherine.”
“‘Bobby will always have a place in my heart,’ she said.
“When Orr learned last year that James Gordon, a hockey player at Hingham High School, was fighting testicular cancer, he called Gordon’s mother, Terry, and asked to visit.
“Orr chatted for several hours with James, his family, and friends, spending much of the time holding Terry’s daughter, Jenna, who has Down syndrome.
“Orr posed for pictures with everyone in the house. He later mailed them autographed photos with personal messages, having remembered the name of each family member and friend as if he had known them for years.
“Terry Gordon, still in awe months later, said, ‘Who does that?’’’
Decades ago he rescued teammate Derek Sanderson from drugs and booze and took him to detox.
Hohler reports that Sanderson relapsed over and over and Orr picked him up every time and paid for his treatment. Eventually he was able to help Sanderson begin a new life as a financial adviser. “He helped save me,’’ said Sanderson, who has been sober since 1980. “Bobby knew it wasn’t going to be an easy process, and he never gave up. He was always there.’’
Among all of the almost too good to be true stories about Bobby Orr, one of the best is told by Robin Young, who now works for NPR.
She sat next to Orr on a flight to Martha’s Vineyard where he was participating in a charity event hosted by Celtics great John Havlicek. The plane encountered extreme turbulence and mechanical problems and they shared an intense moment together.
The next night as Young left her hotel to go out for a walk, Orr surprised her by heading out with her.
She thought, “Oh, God, what’s going on here?”
“I always thought of Bobby as a gentleman, happily married, the golden boy,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘Please don’t disappoint me.’ ”
They walked down a narrow lane to the harbor. It was a beautiful evening. The water, Young said, was shimmering in the night, and she was afraid that Orr would make a pass at her.
As they stood uncomfortably, Young suggested that they should go back to the hotel and Orr agreed.
When they got back to the hotel, Orr said, “Listen, Robin, you’re a young, lovely woman. Please tell me you’re not going to walk alone by yourself again after dark. Good night.’ ’’
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