TSN Archives: Orr Is Great – And There Are No Dissenters (9 May 1970)

This Leo Monahan story first appeared in The Sporting News on May 9, 1970 as the Boston Bruins marched to their first Stanley Cup since 1941. Leading the way: Bobby Orr, 22, had a remarkable fourth season with the team, during which he won Hart (regular season MVP), Norris (top defenseman), Ross (most points) and Smythe (playoff MVP) trophies.

BOSTON, Mass. – “That’s one hell of a statement and I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flak about it, but he may be the greatest athlete who ever lived,” said Harry Sinden, Boston Bruins coach.

“The boy did everything in six games. If we had him, nobody would ever touch us. What a player!” said New York Rangers general manager Emile Francis after his team was eliminated by Boston in six games of the Stanley Cup Quarterfinals.

“We would give a whole team for him,” said Sid Abel, general manager of the Detroit Red Wings.

“It was futile,” said Chicago coach Billy Reay. “We would shoot it in. He would bring it out. That’s another part of the game that he spoiled for everyone.”

Who could win so much applause? Just one man on the hockey frontline — Bobby Orr, 22-year-old defensive tackle for the Boston Bruins.

Orr would be the first person to say pshaw, what-the-heck, forget-all-the-valentines routine. That’s his style. Unlike teammate Derek Sanderson, who competes like the Indianapolis 500, Orr is quiet and unassuming.

He’s a great hockey player, though, and Sinden might not be far off the mark when he says Orr could be the greatest athlete of all time.

“All athletes have their limits, right?” said the Boston coach. “Take Bill Russell. Big. No question. But he wasn’t a shooter, was he? Look at all the guys in all the other sports and show me who did better than Bobby.”

He’s also good with a gun

“Look,” Sinden continued, “we went hunting last fall. Bobby hadn’t used a gun in five or six years. The dog was chasing a bird and it was a really hard shot. Bobby quickly caught and killed him. I’m confident he can do anything he puts his mind to.”

Orr has ice hockey on his mind at the moment. And he makes money hand over fist.

Orr and Toronto attorney Alan Eagleson became involved early in his career. Orr now relinquishes his varied interests to Eagleson, and Bobby goes to nothing but hockey, a business in which he led the NHL with 124 points that season.

Leading the league in goals is one thing. A defender leading the league is something else. He was the first defender to score more than 100 points, the first defender to lead the league and win the Art Ross (scoring) trophy.

He also revolutionized the game. Back in the day, defenders were the unheralded creatures of the NHL. Their job was to prevent goals, block shots and lead passes to break through.

Orr changed all that. He still plays a good game in defense, but more often than not he sets sail in the middle of the rink and goes straight for the keeper. A defender stepping well past the opponent’s blue line used to be a rarity.

His outstanding skills, impeccable looks and business acumen lead to the general belief that Bobby Orr will be a millionaire before he turns 30, maybe a few times more.

For one, Orr is now in the second season of a three-year deal. He gets about $75,000 a season and bonus clauses increase his earnings.

When Orr’s contract expires, rumors have circulated that Eagleson will join Boston management on a long-term contract — possibly $2 million for a 10-year deal or $1 million for a five-year deal.

A gold mine for Bruins

Boston management has made nothing but money since Orr came on the scene. He’s the difference between a couple of Stanley Cup championships and another episode of Zilch. Whatever he asks, management has to pay.

Orr has multiple business interests at the moment and more are on the horizon.

Right now, Bobby has a piece of car wash in Toronto. During the off-season, he runs a highly successful boys’ hockey school in Orilla, Ontario. Mike Walton from Toronto is among others his partner in this company. He also owns a condo in Florida in partnership with goaltender Eddie Johnston.

“The day is not far off,” said Bobby Haggart, a former Toronto Maple Leaf coach who is now involved in a number of Orr’s businesses, “that Bobby’s off-ice earnings will be greater than what he gets from playing earned.”

Indeed, this is a possibility. Orr has appeal to the young set. In a way it vibrates. He’s young, 22, bachelor, socialite, does the TV tube on all occasions. He also drives a Cadillac, wears tailored suits, and has a bankroll. What more could a girl want or a guy admire?

Of course, Orr’s outside interests depend on what he’s doing on the rink. No player has ever played the game like him. The noble art of defense, let’s face it, has changed forever.

Take Emile (cat) Francis. His beloved Rangers had just been beaten by the Bruins in six games. He wasn’t in a very good mood. He was tired. Still, he was honest. When asked about Orr, Francis replied:

“I knew he was going to be a superstar. I knew it when he just showed up. But I never thought it would be so soon. At 27, yes. But he’s only 22 and he’s the best player in the game. ever.

“Take anyone in any sport and nobody has done what that boy has done. Do you know what he did to us in this series? Only seven goals. It’s a record. It has to be. And for a defender! Without this kid, it’s an even row.”

Bobby ruined us

“Hockey,” said Rod Gilbert, a member of Rangers, “should be a team game. Everyone contributes. But Bobby Orr is running the game. He ruined us.”

Chicago Black Hawks coach Billy Reay was next to receive the Orr playoff treatment.

In an early game of the series, Orr made an end-to-end rush. Along the way he swept past Stan Mikita and pounced on the Hawk defenses of Bill White and Paul Smyre, a rookie. Orr then made a side pass to Fred Stanfield.

The defense moved to Stanfield. Orr stepped through the open defense, took Stanfield’s back pass and found goaltender Tony Esposito.

Game #3 was even more of an example of Orr’s skill.

Once again he made an end-to-end rush. This time he didn’t have a chance to intervene on a shot on goal, so he swept around behind the Chicago net. The Black Hawks were undermanned at the time with Keith Magnuson in the box

Three Chicago defensemen chased Orr behind the net. That left a Chicago defender with four Boston attackers to deal with. So what happened?

Orr flicked a pass to Phil Esposito, who threw a pass to John Bucyk, who netd the puck. School was over. Thank you, Bobby Orr.

What makes a great player like Bobby Orr? First, the things that God gave him: A strong body, good reflexes, peripheral vision, a great anticipation for hockey or a sporting challenge.

Perhaps the most important thing to Orr was his background. He has two brothers, and when a reporter calls his home in Parry Sound, Ontario and his mother answers, the reporter usually asks, “Is your son home?”

“Which one?” replies Mrs. Orr, “I have three.”

Despite all the worship and talk, Orr hasn’t changed. He’s a little older and stronger and richer and better dressed than when he was a teenager, but he’s still the same guy he was when he started his career.

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