Canadian hockey player
Bobby Orr is widely regarded as the greatest defenseman in hockey history. From the time he joined the Boston Bruins at the age of eighteen, Orr revolutionized the way hockey was played. Prior to that time, defensive players had confined themselves to playing defense. They guarded the approaches to the net and cleared the puck from the defensive zone, leaving the scoring to the front line. Orr played the game differently. He kept possession of the puck rather than simply clearing it, and he frequently crossed the blue line to participate in offensive plays. Orr shattered the scoring records for defensemen, and for two seasons he was the leading scorer in the entire National Hockey League (NHL).
The Young Champion
Orr started his professional hockey career young. The Boston Bruins first took notice of him when he was
twelve and playing in a bantam-league hockey All-Star game, to which the Bruins had sent scouts to check on some older players. Orr played all sixty minutes of the game, minus two minutes spent in the penalty box, and already displayed an ability to control the puck and the game that he would later be notable for in his professional career.
At the age of fourteen the Boston Bruins signed Orr into their organization for $2,800. They arranged for him to play in Canada's Junior A hockey league, which was populated mostly by nineteen- and twenty-year-olds with strong hopes of making it to the NHL. Orr continued to live in his hometown of Perry Sound, Ontario, a three-hour commute from the rink where his team, the Oshawa Generals, played and practiced. Orr in fact did not practice with the team, and only played in home games, but he still made the second all-star team in his first year. He made the first all-star team every year after, and, at age sixteen, he appeared on the cover of Canada's national magazine, Maclean's.
At eighteen, the youngest age at which a person was allowed to play in the NHL, Orr signed a record-breaking two-year contract with the Bruins. Orr would be making $25,000 a year, plus an undisclosed signing bonus estimated to be $25,000 to $35,000 itself. The previous record for a rookie contract was $8,000 a year, and at that time only three players in the entire NHL, all tested veterans, were making more than $25,000 a year. Boston fans quickly pinned their hopes for a Stanley Cup, a prize which had eluded them for twenty-five years, on this fresh-faced, buzz-cut young star. He would not disappoint them.
Bobby Orr's most memorable hockey moment—the most memorable moment in all of hockey history, many say—is without a doubt "The Goal," as it is still referred to reverentially more than thirty years later by hockey fans in Boston and around the country. It was May 10, Mothers' Day, 1970, twenty-nine years since the Bruins had last won a Stanley Cup, and Boston was playing the St. Louis Blues in the fourth game of the championships. It was hot and humid inside Boston Garden, and the game had just gone into overtime. Thirty seconds into the fourth period, Orr stripped the puck from Blues player Larry Keenan and passed it to his teammate, Derek Sanderson. Orr sprinted towards the net and Sanderson passed the puck back to him. Just as Orr took his shot, Blues defenseman Noel Picard used his stick to trip Orr, sending him flying. The goal went in, and Boston Record American photographer Ray Lussier snapped the famous picture of Orr flying through the air, parallel to the ice, with arms outstretched and a look of sheer joy on his face. He had just brought the Stanley Cup back to Boston.
"A Man with Class"
In an era where hockey players were often known for their carousing as much as for their playing, Orr was known for his class. Former referee Wally Harris recalled in an interview with Boston Herald reporter Joe Fitzgerald a night where Harris ejected Orr from a game in Boston. "It took twelve policemen to get me out of there," Harris said. "That night my phone rang and a voice asked, 'Wally, did you get back all right?' It was Orr. Let me tell you, there was a man with class."
This is not to say that Orr didn't have a tough streak. He was a frequent and capable participant in hockey's typical on-ice brawls, and spent plenty of time in the penalty box paying for them. But Orr still displayed modesty in his relations with opponents. Don Cherry, Bruins coach in the mid-1970s, recalled in an interview with Craig MacInnis for the book Remembering Bobby Orr that Orr went out of his way not to humiliate losing teams. "I saw him pass up goals and points because we were playing expansion teams. Once we'd get up 4-1 or 5-1 he would not want to embarrass the other teams…. After a great goal, he'd put his head down. He felt embarrassed for the other team."
A Disappointing End
Orr played in Boston (or "Orr Country," as a popular bumper sticker of the time dubbed it) for six more seasons after that first Stanley Cup. He helped bring the Stanley Cup back to the city in 1972, again scoring the winning goal, and he remained a favorite of Bruins fans.
A bizarre twist marred the end of Orr's hockey career for many Bostonians. In 1976 Orr's long-time agent, Alan Eagleson, was negotiating a new contract for him. Orr wanted to remain with the Bruins, and the Bruins desperately wanted to keep him, offering him an 18.5% ownership stake in the team, worth millions, if he would stay. However, Eagleson had unethical ties with Chicago Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz, who also wanted Orr. Eagleson concealed Boston's offer from Orr and convinced him that Boston didn't want him to stay. Orr signed the deal with Chicago.
|1948||Born March 20, the third of Doug and Alva Orr's five children|
|1962||Begins playing for the Oshawa Generals Junior A hockey team|
|1966||Joins the Boston Bruins at the age of eighteen|
|1967||Injures knee colliding with a teammate during a charity-benefit exhibition game|
|1973||Marries Peggy Wood|
|1976||Signs with the Chicago Blackhawks|
|1976||Skates for Team Canada in the first Canada Cup|
|1978||Announces his retirement from hockey November 8|
|1979||Orr's #4 jersey retired at Boston Garden|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1967||Wins the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year|
|1967||NHL Second Team All-Star|
|1968-75||NHL All-Star Team|
|1968-75||Wins Norris Trophy for best defenseman the first time|
|1970||Named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year|
|1970||Won the scoring title with 120 points, twenty-one points above the runner-up; first defenseman ever to win the scoring title|
|1970||Lou Marsh Trophy for outstanding Canadian male athlete|
|1970-72||Hart Trophy as League MVP|
|1970, 1972||Conn Smythe Trophy for outstanding player in the playoffs|
|1970, 1975||Art Ross Trophy|
|1973||Wins the scoring title|
|1975||Wins Lester B. Pearson Award|
|1976||Canada Cup All-Star Team|
|1976||Canada Cup MVP|
|1979||Lester Patrick Trophy|
|1979||Inducted into Hockey Hall of Fame|
Orr was at that time struggling to play at all. He had suffered from knee problems ever since colliding with a teammate in a charity-benefit game in 1967. By 1976, he had already had multiple operations on his left knee, but in the days before artificial knees there was little that the doctors could do. There was nearly no cartilage remaining in the joint, and the sensation of bone rubbing against bone was excruciatingly painful. After playing only twenty-six games in just over two seasons with Chicago, Orr announced his retirement in a tearful news conference on November 8, 1978. Later that season, he received an eleven-minute standing ovation from the crowd in Boston when his #4 was retired. That same year, 1979, Orr became the youngest player ever to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Orr's troubles with Eagleson did not end with his retirement. Eagleson, who had been representing Orr before he signed his first contract with the Bruins, had mismanaged Orr's finances in a way that left him in deep trouble with both the Canadian and the American tax agencies. Between back taxes and legal bills, Orr was essentially bankrupt by 1980. The full extent of Eagleson's crimes, however, would not become apparent for many more years. In 1992, Eagleson was indicted in the United States on thirty-two counts of racketeering, fraud, and embezzlement related to the time he spent heading the NHL players' league. He eventually served an eighteen month sentence. After Eagleson's conviction, Orr was one of eighteen members of the Hall of Fame who threatened to quit the hall if Eagleson, also in the Hall of Fame, was not removed. (He was.)
Although Orr has not skated professionally for over twenty years, his influence can still be seen on the game. He is still the only defenseman ever to lead the league in scoring even once, let alone twice, but the idea of defensive players participating in offensive plays is now seen across the NHL. His legendary puck-handling moves, which included a trademark 360 degree evasive spin, continue to inspire, and his thirty second and longer penalty-killing games of keep-away remain legendary. Yet, as much as Orr is imitated, no one has ever matched his combination of defensive and offensive prowess. Although players with longer careers have surpassed him in number of goals scored, his career averages of 1.39 points per regular season game and 1.24 per playoff game seem certain to stand as records for a defensive player for years to come.
|BOS: Boston Bruins; CHI: Chicago Black Hawks.|
SELECTED WRITINGS BY ORR:
(With Dick Grace) Orr on Ice, Prentice-Hall, 1970.
MacInnis, Craig, editor. Remembering Bobby Orr. Toronto: Stoddart, 1999.
"Blues Playbook: Bobby Orr's Goal." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (January 20, 2002): C8.
"Bruins Flew to '70 Cup on the Wings of Orr's Dramatic Goal." Washington Times (May 13, 2002): C11.
Cashman, Wayne, and O'Donnell, Chris. "Wayne Cash-man." Hockey Digest (March, 2001): 78.
Conway, Russ. "Eagleson's 'Slick Trick' Didn't Work: Sinden." Eagle-Tribune (Lawrence, Massachusetts) (April 14, 1998).
Deford, Frank. "Hello Again to a Grand Group." Sports Illustrated (August 5, 1985): 58-70.
Dupont, Kevin Paul. "Flash Points: Inimitable Orr Ignited Boston and NHL." Boston Globe (December 29, 1999): D01.
Fitzgerald, Joe. "Orr: Best in Ages." Boston Herald (March 20, 1998): 112.
Goold, Derrick. "Tonight's Goal: Letting Memories Take Flight." St. Louis Post-Dispatch (January 18, 2002): E1.
Gordon, Joe. "Orr's Historic Flight Lives On: 'The Goal' Still Classic 30 Years Later." Boston Herald (May 10, 2000): 119.
Kennedy, Kostya. "This Date in Playoff History: May 11, 1972, Bruins vs. Rangers." Sports Illustrated (May 11, 1998): 108.
Lefton, Terry. "Master Card Campaign Takes NHL Tack with Orr, Stojko on Ice." Brandweek (November 9, 1998): 16.
"Orr Shrugs off 'Greatest Moment': Ex-Bruin Reflects on Career." Houston Chronicle (June 11, 1996): 1.
Silver, Jim. Review of Game Misconduct: Alan Eagleson and the Corruption of Hockey, by Russ Conway. Canadian Dimension (July-August, 1996).
Swift, E. M. "Bobby Orr." Sports Illustrated (September 15, 1994): 124-126.
Van Voorhis, Scott. "Orr Could Play Shorthanded—Woolf Exit May Deplete Client Base." Boston Herald (March 6, 2002): 031.
Wharnsby, Tim. "Hockey Great Happy in His New Career." Boston Globe (December 29, 1999): D01.
Wigge, Larry. "Orr Provided a Blueprint for Offensive Defensemen." Sporting News (June 17, 1996): 35.
"Bobby Orr: A Worthwhile Investment." Boston Bruins History. http://www.bostonbruins.com/history/bobbyorr.html (October 8, 2002).
BobbyOrr4.om. http://www.bobbyorr4.om (October 14, 2002).
Martin, Mary. "Remembering #4, Bobby Orr." All-Sports.com. http://www.allsports.com/cgi-bin/showstory.cgi?story_id=30470 (October 14, 2002).
"Moments to Remember." CBS Sportsline. http://cbs.sportsline.com/u/ce/feature/0,1518,1486831_60,00.htlm (October 14, 2002).
Murdoch, Jason. "1-on-1 with #4.#x201D; CBC Sports Online. http://cbc.ca/sports/indepth/focus/orr2.html (October 8, 2002).
"Say It Ain't So: Transactions That Broke Our Hearts." CNNSI.com. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/hockey/nhl/news/2001/02/15/sayitaintso_bruins/ (October 14, 2002).
Schwartz, Larry. "Orr Brought More Offense to Defense." ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016391.html (October 14, 2002).
Schwartz, Larry. "Orr's Great Goal." ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016392.html (October 14, 2002).
Sketch by Julia Bauder
Where Is He Now?
Bobby Orr continues to live in the Boston area with his wife, Peggy. He works as a player representative and is involved in business ventures, while still occasionally appearing in commercials. Early in 2002, Orr left the sports marketing firm, Woolf Associates, which he had bought in order to start his own firm, the Orr Hockey Group, which represents several NHL players.
One of hockey's greats, Bobby Orr (born 1948) was the Boston Bruins' star player in the late 1960s to mid-1970s. He added to the position of defenseman the responsibility of offensive play as well.
Although he played for only nine full seasons (1966-1975) in the National Hockey League, and his name isn't found near the top of the list of all time high scorers, Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins is widely regarded as one of the greatest hockey players of all time. "The great ones all bear a mark of originality, but Bobby Orr's mark on hockey, too brief in the etching, may have been the most distinctive of any player's.… He changed the sport by redefining the parameters of his position. A defenseman, as interpreted by Orr, became both a defender and an aggressor, both a protector and a producer," wrote E.M. Swift in Sports Illustrated.
Robert Gordon Orr was born in 1948 in Parry Sound, Ontario, a resort town on Lake Huron's Georgian Bay. Orr's father, Douglas, was a packer of dynamite at a munitions factory. His mother, Arva, worked as a waitress at a motel restaurant. The family included four other children, Ron, Patricia, Douglas, Jr., and Penny. Like most youngsters in Parry Sound, Orr began skating soon after he had learned to walk. Since, as Orr told People, "You don't skate without a stick in your hand," he also began playing hockey at an early age. Orr's extraordinary ability was evident from the start. By the time he was nine years old, he could hold his own in games with adults on his father's amateur team.
Shorter and thinner than most of his peers, the blonde, young blue-eyed Orr dazzled the coaches of Parry Sound's bantam league team with his skill, speed, and tenacity, rather than brute strength (even in his prime years in the NHL Orr was a solid but unprepossessing 5 feet, 11 inches, and weighed 175 pounds). In 1960, at age twelve, he led his bantam team to the final round of the Ontario championship. It was during this game that Orr began attracting the attention of professional hockey scouts. Several organizations showed interest, but the Boston Bruins, then the NHL's worst team, were most aggressive in pursuing Orr. To gain the boy's favor, the Bruins donated money to the Parry Sound youth hockey program, and team representatives made regular visits to the Orr family home. This persistence paid off. In 1962, fourteen-year-old Bobby Orr signed a contract to play Junior A hockey for the Oshawa (Ontario) Generals, a Bruins farm team. In return, the Orr family received a small cash payment and a new coat of stucco for their house. At Oshawa, Orr's living expenses were paid for and he received $10 a week in pocket money. Realizing that the deal was not to his son's advantage, Douglas Orr retained the services of Alan Eagleson, a savvy young Toronto lawyer, to represent Bobby in future contract negotiations. "Sure I was homesick, and the family I lived with was tougher on me than my own folks," Orr later told People about his four years of playing junior hockey in Oshawa. "It was the way you served your apprenticeship. If you were good, you knew you'd turn pro at 18."
Rookie of the Year
Orr played so well in junior hockey that the Bruins would have promoted him to the NHL a year sooner, if not for a league rule against players under 18 years of age. When Orr joined the Bruins in 1966, he arrived as the most highly touted rookie in years. He was also the highest paid rookie in NHL history, rumored to be earning somewhere around $25,000 a year, when the average NHL salary was $17,000 a year and the league's greatest star, the legendary Gordie Howe of the Detroit Red Wings, was earning about $50,000 annually. Showing the team spirit that would earn him the sincere affection and respect of his fellow-players, Orr urged his attorney Alan Eagleson to organize the NHL Players Association, which was instrumental in raising everyone's salary. By the end of his career, Orr was earning $500,000 per year, although this did not compare to the salaries earned by later players such as Wayne Gretzky. "People ask me if I'm upset when I see current players' salaries," Orr told the Boston Globein 1995. "I'm not upset. What upsets me is knowing Player A makes big money and seeing him give you three good games out of ten."
Orr entered the NHL with such hype, it seemed impossible for him to live up to the reputation that preceded him. Often called "unbelievable," Orr did not disappoint his fans. Although the Bruins again finished at the bottom of the then six-team NHL in the 1966-67 season, Orr won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. The following season the Bruins, enhanced by the acquisition of Phil Esposito, Ken Hodge, and Fred Stanfield from the Chicago Black Hawks, finished third in the Eastern Division of the expanded NHL and earned a place in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Orr won the Norris Trophy, awarded to the NHL's outstanding defenseman (he would win the Norris Trophy for the next seven seasons). The once pitiful Bruins were now among the most competitive teams in the league.
Stanley Cup Champions
In the 1969-70 season, the Bruins won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 29 years, defeating the St. Louis Blues in four straight games in the playoff final. Orr secured the Cup for Boston by scoring a winning goal in an overtime period of the fourth game. In addition to the Norris Trophy, Orr won the Hart Trophy (for most valuable player in the NHL), the Ross Trophy (for Leading Scorer in the NHL), and the Smythe Trophy (for most valuable player in the playoffs). It was the first time a single player has one all four awards in one season. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the NHL was expanding rapidly into cities where hockey was not traditionally popular. The unprecedented exploits of Bobby Orr sold tickets in these cities and enabled hockey to become a truly national sport in the United States. "Orr remains the pivot figure in the game, the single charismatic personality around whom the entire sport will coalesce in the decade of the '70s, as golf once coalesced around Arnold Palmer, baseball around Babe Ruth, football around John Unitas," wrote Jack Olsen in the Sports Illustrated issue that named Orr the magazine's "Sportsman of the Year" for 1970.
The "Big, Bad Bruins" of the late 1960s and early 1970s, played a tough, messy game of hockey (as opposed to the elegantly classic moves of the Montreal Canadiens, the most frequent possessors of the Stanley Cup). Orr was remarkably polite and well-mannered off the ice but during a game he never shied away from a scrap. "We're not dirty. It's just that we're always determined to get the job done—no matter what it takes," Orr told Newsweek in 1969. An older and wiser Orr came to realize that brawling and belligerence set a bad example for children. In 1982, he made a short film called "First Goal" (sponsored by Nabisco Brands for whom he was doing public relations) advising young athletes, and their parents, that having fun is more important than winning.
Announced Retirement at Age 30
After being eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in the playoffs of the 1970-71 season, the Bruins came back to win the Stanley Cup again in 1971-72. Then the team's fortunes quickly began to fade. At the end of the 1971-72 season several top players, including flamboyant center Derek Sanderson, were lured away to the newly founded World Hockey Association and a number of good second-string players were lost in a further expansion draft. Orr stayed on with the Bruins, but knee injuries, which had plagued him since the start of his professional career, were becoming increasingly serious. "When you are young, you think you can lick the world, that you are indestructible … But around 1974-75, I knew it had changed. I was playing, but I wasn't playing like I could before. My knees were gone. They hurt before the game, in the game, after the game. Things that I did easily on the ice I could not do anymore," Orr explained to Will McDonough of the Boston Globe.
In 1976, a bitter contract dispute ended Orr's long-time relationship with the Bruins. He signed as a free-agent with the Chicago Black Hawks but knee problems kept him off the ice for all but a handful of games over two seasons. In 1978, he reluctantly announced his retirement. Having left Boston under strained circumstances, Orr was unprepared for the reaction he received from Bruins fans when his number 4 sweater was retired to the rafters of the Boston Garden in 1979. The outpouring of affection left him speechless and on the brink of tears. Similar emotion accompanied the closing ceremonies of the cavernous old Boston Garden in 1995, as Orr took one last skate on the Garden's ice. Perhaps only Ted Williams, the great Boston Red Sox slugger of the 1940s and 1950s, is held in as high esteem by New England sports fans.
Orr and his wife, Peggy, a former speech therapist, live in suburban Boston (with additional homes on Cape Cod and in Florida). They have two sons, Darren and Brent. Orr spends his time tending to a wide variety of business investments and charitable endeavors. He has no interest in coaching and would like to return to professional hockey as a team owner. "It was good that I retired so young," Orr told Joseph P. Kahn of the Boston Globe. "The adjustment period was difficult but at least I had things I could do. I have a great life now."
Fischler, Stan, Hockey's Greatest Teams, Henry Regnery Co., 1973.
Dowling, Tom, "The Orr Effect," in the Atlantic, April 1971, pp. 62-68.
Boston Globe, May 13, 1990, pp. 43, 57; May 10, 1995, pp. 49, 59; July 13, 1995, pp. 53, 58.
New Yorker, March 27, 1971, pp. 107-114.
Newsweek, March 21, 1969, pp. 64, 67; February 15, 1982, p. 20.
People, March 27, 1978, pp. 62-64.
Sports Illustrated, December 21, 1970, pp. 36-42; October 19, 1971, pp. 28-35; August 5, 1985, pp. 60-64; September 19, 1994, pp. 125-26. □