‘The Garden was roaring’
In a selection from his new memoir, Bruins great Bobby Orr remembers the thrills and should’ve-beens of the early 1970s.
Reprinted from Orr: My Story by Bobby Orr by arrangement with G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, a Penguin Random House company. Copyright © 2013 by Robert Orr.
I was up at 5 a.m. The day, May 10, 2010, was just like any other day. One thing was different, though. It had been a long time since I had experienced game-day butterflies. Over the course of that morning, I was surrounded by friends and family. I shook the hands of countless well-wishers — celebrities, fans, other athletes, politicians. I wish I could have enjoyed every moment. And I hope I managed to return some of the warmth all those people showed me. But the thing is, I was so tense I could hardly make conversation even with old friends. It was the prospect of stepping up to a podium that was making me anxious. I’ve had to face some microphones over the years, of course, and speak to crowds. But to say I don’t relish stepping onto a podium to talk about myself doesn’t go nearly far enough.
I was scheduled to appear outside the TD Garden, beside where the old Boston Garden used to stand. That’s where I was 40 years earlier to the day. I scored a goal there on May 10, 1970. The photographer who had been sitting on a stool behind the glass at the corner of the ice had left his seat for a few minutes, and Ray Lussier sat down in his place moments before the puck came to me and I tapped it in, moments before I was tripped and flew into the air. Lussier snapped a photo, and he captured a moment that came to stand for so much that Boston Bruins fans, and hockey fans everywhere, hold dear.
Forty years later, I was back in the neighborhood. And so were many of the guys who had been there when the photo was taken: Johnny Bucyk, Derek Sanderson, Gary Doak, Ken Hodge, Johnny “Pie” McKenzie, Don Marcotte, our coach Harry Sinden, and former Bruins general manager Milt Schmidt. Mayor Thomas Menino and team owner Jeremy Jacobs were also there. There were a couple of good buddies from the Red Sox in attendance, David Ortiz and Tim Wakefield, and that meant the world to me. My son Darren and daughter-in-law Chelsea came with our granddaughter, Alexis. And, of course, the fans.
I had to speak to them all, because I was in that photograph. The photo had been cast as a statue. And there I was for the unveiling. It was a clear spring day. The cameras were crowded around. The Bruins were in the second round of the playoffs, and the city was buzzing. Everything seemed to be in place.
But the last thing I wanted to do was stand in front of a microphone and talk about myself or relive a moment of glory. I wasn’t looking for praise, and I certainly wasn’t there to take credit. If anything, I wanted to explain that the credit for that moment should be shared much more widely.
I suddenly remembered the first time I had ever seen the photograph of that now-famous flying goal. I was at the Colonial Hotel in Lynn-field having breakfast with my dad and his buddies. It was the morning after we had won the Stanley Cup, the morning after I scored that goal: May 11, 1970. You can imagine what the mood was like. It’s not every day you fulfill a dream, and it’s probably more rare to be able to share a moment like that with your father.
I don’t really remember what we talked about at breakfast. There would have been some animated conversation, then maybe a period of silence. It takes awhile to get used to getting what you’ve been striving toward for so long. Then someone handed me a copy of the Boston Record American, and there it was, me flying through the air with that look of surprise and joy written all over my face. I didn’t think much about it at the time. The goal was only a few hours old. I’m not the kind of guy who will sit in a crowded restaurant looking at pictures of himself. And I had a parade to get ready for. So I didn’t look at that photo for long.
But that parade is now a distant memory, while the photo has lingered. It has more than lingered, actually. It has become one of the most famous images in the game. Not because it’s me — it’s a great photo no matter who is flying through the air. And though I hardly glanced at it in 1970, fortysomething years later it conjures up that life-changing game like nothing else: the old Boston Garden packed well past capacity, the noise and humidity as we headed into overtime.
The play took only seconds to unfold. And the photo records only one instant of those few seconds. Yet, for me at least, it captures not just that one play, not just that one steamy May afternoon. Everyone on that Bruins team had done a lot of things right to get to overtime. Rick Smith had already had a two-point night. Our top scorers had been doing the work they’d been doing all season and through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Except for me. I hadn’t scored yet in the series against St. Louis. It was the rest of the guys who got us to that first minute of overtime. I don’t know what others see when they look at that photo, but I don’t see just one guy scoring a goal.
The strange thing about the photo — me, arms outstretched, flying through the air as though nothing else matters — is that I was never really big on celebrating goals. I know most guys like to celebrate after scoring, but I always found it disrespectful. And yet, there I am, in that famous photo, hands in the air. I could try to blame Blues defense-man Noel Picard’s wayward stick and argue that he tripped me. But I have to admit it was a jump for joy, trip or no trip.
Perhaps the better representation would have been to capture the moment a few seconds after my leap — when my teammates piled on me and the rest of the Bruins poured over the boards to join in and celebrate that victory. It wasn’t really just my goal, and it wasn’t just my celebration, either. There was a mob on the ice, guys in Bruins black and gold, but also the coaches and trainers. The Garden was roaring.
We won a second Stanley Cup in 1972, but we would not win it again. Of course, I’m greedy. I feel we should have won in 1971, and again in 1974. Once you have a taste of the Cup, you want it again. We started thinking about a dynasty as soon as we were back in the dressing room after our overtime win in 1970. To this day, fans who followed us during that era will come up to me and share their opinion that we should have won more than two championships. I have to agree with them.
That’s not to say the Bruins went into steep decline. We played a lot of great hockey, and Boston was a powerhouse for the rest of the decade. But the ingredients you need to win it all, the good luck and the hard work and the sense of destiny, just weren’t all there. We had a strong regular season in 1972–73 but lost to New York in the first round. The fact that we lost Phil Esposito early in that series didn’t help our chances.
On a personal note, Bep Guidolin, who had been my coach when the Oshawa Generals went to the Memorial Cup, replaced Tom Johnson behind the bench partway through that season. Guidolin had played for the Bruins himself when he was younger (in fact, when he was 16 he was the youngest player ever to suit up in the National Hockey League). He also coached the
Belleville McFarlands to victory at the World Championship, so no one could say he didn’t know the game. Sinden was back with the Bruins as well.
On the other hand, the team that won that first Cup was being chipped away, piece by piece. We lost a few guys to expansion, most notably Ed Westfall to the New York Islanders. And we lost Gerry Cheevers and McKenzie to the newly formed World Hockey Association, which had already made a splash by luring away Bobby Hull. Sanderson left for the WHA, too, but came back. Not that anyone in the dressing room judged those guys harshly. We were definitely disappointed to see them go, but we also understood they had to take care of themselves and their families. For most professional hockey players, you have only a very small window of time to play, so who could blame anyone for trying to maximize their financial return. If the NHL wasn’t prepared to pay, they now had a viable alternative. But the end result for Boston was that an era was fast coming to a close, and the Big Bad Bruins would never be the same.
Still, we dominated the regular season in 1973–74 and once again had the top four scorers in the league. We swept the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs, and took care of the New York Rangers in six games in the second. In the Stanley Cup final, we faced the Philadelphia Flyers. Philadelphia may have been an expansion team, but they were not to be taken lightly. In Bernie Parent, they had a goalie who could steal games, in Bobby Clarke they had a captain who would do anything to win. And as a team, they didn’t take a back seat to the Big Bad Bruins when it came to toughness. We were the regular-season champions, though, and most of us had a couple of rings already, so we knew we had what it took to get a third.
But we lost that series in six, and we lost on the road, so we saw the Philadelphia Spectrum fans celebrate the way the Boston fans had in 1970, just four years earlier. That series stands as a bitter disappointment to me. Like the loss in 1971, we had that Cup within our grasp and let it slip away. If losing a Stanley Cup final weren’t so crushing, winning it wouldn’t be so exhilarating.
We weren’t conceding anything the following season, either. We still had the top two scorers in the league, and we were still playing with pride. There wasn’t a guy in the room who thought he’d never raise the Cup again. But we never did. In the spring of 1975, we were knocked out of the playoffs in a five-game preliminary round by the Chicago Blackhawks. And that was that.
OF TAPE AND SOCKS
Like all athletes, I had my own ways of doing things, some based on routine, some on superstition, I suppose. Some writers have guessed that the reason I went with a single wrap of tape on my blade was because it allowed the puck to release quicker, meaning that my shot would be harder. Others have figured I was trying to make some kind of fashion statement. The truth is much simpler. For some reason, when I came into the NHL, I had it in my mind that there was a rule that all players had to have at least some tape on their stick blade. I suppose it was an easy assumption to make, given that everybody did indeed have their stick blades wrapped with the traditional black tape. In my case, I liked the feel of the puck on the blade without any tape at all. So the idea came to me that if I had to have tape on my stick, I would use as little as possible. Over the years, I used less and less until I was down to a single stripe. And eventually I ended up with no tape at all.
Then there was the fact that I didn’t wear socks in my skates when I played. When I played junior hockey, you were responsible for packing your own equipment, and on one trip I forgot to include a pair of socks in my bag. The only option I had was to go without socks — and it felt pretty good. I decided I would just not bother with socks from that point forward.
Bobby Orr played for the Bruins from 1966 to 1976 and then two more years for the Chicago Blackhawks. The defenseman was the youngest living player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, at 31. He lives on Cape Cod and in Florida. Send comments to email@example.com.