A jubilant Bobby Orr in flight, with staggered goalie Glenn Hall struggling to gain his feet in the St. Louis net, remains frozen in our collective mind’s eye as the premier photo in Boston sports history.
“The perfect player, the perfect still image, the perfect moment,” mused Richard Johnson, the decades-long curator of the Sports Museum. “If I were doing an exhibit of what I consider, say, the 25 iconic images in Boston sports, that would be numero uno.”
“No question about it,” agreed Phil Castinetti, owner the last 30-plus years of the Sportsworld memorabilia shop, now in Saugus. “Orr’s No. 1 — by far!”
Just over 50 years since Orr’s glorious Cup-clinching goal, scored May 10, 1970, on Causeway Street, much of today’s sports world remains at a standstill, the memory-making machine on hold, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of us these last eight months have spent time savoring the city’s sports history and perhaps pondered the myriad enduring images that chronicled many epic moments of 20th- and 21st-century Boston sports. In COVID times, our past has never been so present of mind.
Meanwhile, opportunities to see some of those pictures diminished greatly in recent months amid the temporary closing of the Sports Museum, housed in the now-shuttered Garden, and the abrupt closure of The Fours, the much-loved sports bar on Canal Street. The Fours locked its doors for good Aug. 31, its business kiboshed by the pandemic.
Located across the street from the Garden, The Fours was often recognized as one of the top sports bars in the United States. Its signature was the vast array of sports photos and memorabilia — balls, bats, framed jerseys, and the like — festooned across the walls on the first and second floors. The Globe reported over the weekend that all of it will go up for auction in the next few weeks.
Before closing its doors, Fours owner Peter Colton noted the Orr picture was “still No. 1” in terms of what caught customers' eyes as they came in.
“It’s classic Boston,” Colton said, “and that was such a pivotal time in the growth of hockey around here. That was awesome.”
From there, added Colton, various pictures of Celtics stars Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale — the “Big Three” — were extremely popular among Fours customers.
“And the picture of the Carlton Fisk homer,” said Colton, noting the winning shot Fisk hit off Fenway’s left field foul pole to end Game 6 of the 1975 World Series vs. the Reds. “You know, coming around third base with [Don] Zimmer and stuff like that — a classic photo.”
Johnson, the city’s unofficial sports historian, recalled a treasure trove of photos, pre- and post- the Orr shot, many of which could vie for No. 2 on Boston’s “best” list.
Just a smattering of the candidates included:
▪ A fiery Jock Semple jumping into the 1967 Boston Marathon in an attempt to haul Kathrine Switzer, who signed her entry form “K. Switzer” for what at the time was a men’s-only race.
▪ The Adam Vinatieri “Snow Bowl” kick in the AFC playoffs vs. the Raiders in January 2002 in Foxborough. Coach Bill Belichick: “By far the greatest kick I have ever seen.”
▪ Globe photographer Stan Grossfield’s glorious shot of Detroit outfielder Torii Hunter tumbling headfirst into the Red Sox bullpen in a valiant attempt to thwart David Ortiz’s eighth-inning grand slam in the 2013 AL Championship Series. Jubilant bullpen cop Steve Horgan, behind Hunter, punctuated the moment by raising both arms. Only Hunter’s legs are visible in the shot, his upper body already tipped over the wall.
“Absolute keeper, right there,” Johnson said. “That might be No. 2 to the Orr shot. Not all still images surpass the video — for example, the Fisk homer in ’75 — but in this case it does. On top of it, Hunter’s legs and Horgan’s raised arms form a W. It’s like there you go, when you get it, you get it.”
▪ Jason Varitek mashing his catcher’s mitt into Alex Rodriguez’s face in July 2004, touching off a benches-clearing brawl between the Sox and Yankees at Fenway.
Tha Varitek-Rodriguez picture, according to the Sports Museum’s Rusty Sullivan, for years was highly popular among bidders attending museum fund-raisers.
“It did so well for so long,” said Sullivan, the museum’s executive director. “That’s the moment that a lot of people pin as sort of the turning point of the rivalry. I don’t think I agree with that. Not sure Jason agrees with it either, but …”
▪ One classic that many current Bruins fans might never have seen is that of Boston goalie “Sugar” Jim Henry, shaking hands with Canadiens immortal Rocket Richard in the moments after the Habs rubbed out the Bruins in Game 7 of the 1952 Cup semis. Before beating Henry with the winner, Richard was knocked cold, was told by medical staff to call it a night, but later returned and snapped a 1-1 tie. The picture has a bloodied and dazed Richard shaking hands with Henry, the latter’s eyes eyes blackened after suffering a broken nose in Game 6.
“After we’ve given the last drop of sweat, after blood’s been drawn, after all is said and done,” said Johnson, reflecting on the picture, “there’s still that code — you line up and shake hands. That’s the Stanley Cup. You don’t see that anywhere else.”
▪ Another of Johnson’s favorites from long ago: Ted Williams emerging not from Fenway, but from the Armed Forces enlistment office located at 150 Causeway St., adjacent to the Garden. Following the ’42 season, the 24-year-old Teddy Ballgame was off to WWII for the Duration. “Looking sharp in pegged pants,” noted Johnson, “in the zoot suit style of the day.”
Up at his Sportsworld shop, Castinetti the other day was offering a framed 16-by-20-inch shot of the “Flying Bobby” goal, autographed by No. 4 himself, for $300.
A similarly-sized shot of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain vying for a rebound, signed by Russell, was priced at $350.
A familiar Bird-Parish-McHale picture, signed by all three Celts stars, carried a $500 price tag.
“It’s a crazy business — I’ve seen a lot of changes the last 35 years,” said Castinetti, noting the latest fad in the collector’s industry is the “box break,” online events in which bidders compete in real time for sports cards and associated bits of memorabilia. “But nothing comes close to the Orr picture. It’s the most iconic picture of … everything.”
Lindsey Kittredge is co-founder and executive director of Shooting Touch, a Boston-based basketball-centric public health organization. Over the years, Shooting Touch often has offered sports photos for auction at its annual fund-raising gala, though the 2020 event was canceled because of the pandemic.
The Orr picture has always been a mainstay in the auctions, confirmed Kittredge, as well as a Bird-Parish-McHale shot, the Big Three standing aside one another on the court.
“There’s also one of Julius Erving and Bird strangling each other,” recalled Kittredge. “That type of stuff has been a hit.”
Colton years ago acquired the Erving-Bird photo with the intention of hanging it inside The Fours.
“Customers would ask, ‘Do you have the picture of the Fisk-[Thurman] Munson fight?' " Colton recalled. “Or Bird and Erving when they’re grabbing their necks. Yeah, I have it, but I didn’t put it up because I never liked it. A memorable moment, sure, but it didn’t really define who they were.”
Another very popular picture at The Fours, noted Colton, was the SI cover shot, dated March 1, 1980, of a jubilant USA hockey team celebrating its improbable win at Lake Placid. The Miracle on Ice shot, with the American flag waving in the stands, captured the unbridled joy of the ragtag Yanks.
“Looking at it right now,” said Sullivan, chatting from his office at home. “It’s always done well in our auctions. That is a moment, 40 years down the road, that still endures. For anybody over the age of 50, you kind of remember where you were. It’s a vintage shot that has stood the test of time.”
Over the course of a rambling two-hour interview, the ever-accommodating Johnson kept adding to his list of 25 best sports shots. If ever charged to bring his imaginary exhibit to life, he might need to shift the museum to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center to display all the works.
One man’s Top 25 is Johnson’s infinite field of photographic dreams. Although, here in the Athens of America, all roads ultimately lead back to the old Garden on Causeway Street, a return pass from Derek Sanderson, and photographer Ray Lussier’s immortal freeze frame of the 22-year-old Orr soaring through the air.
“Lots and lots of great pictures,” Johnson said. “But no doubt, the Orr picture is No. 1. I think it basically wipes everything else off the map.”