"He gives us the screaming meemies," says Frosty Forristall. "He'll take a defenseman right across the goal mouth with him, full speed, a few inches from the post. And all I can think is one bad move and he's in the post! Except for some knee injuries, he's only been hurt bad once—Frank Mahovlich hit him, separated his shoulder and broke his collarbone. It's a wonder it hasn't happened 10 times since then. Touch wood!"
All the talk, all the praise, seems to make Orr more demanding of himself. "Let 'em say all those nice things," he says, "but I know my mistakes, and I make plenty of them. They say practice makes perfect, and they're wrong. Practice'll make you better, but nothing'll make you perfect. At least I'll never be. I do dumb things. Once I was rushing against the Rangers, and I crossed their blue line and I heard a voice say, 'Drop it! Drop it!' So I made this drop pass and skated in to screen the goalie, and by the time I turned around Vic Hadfleld was on a breakaway for New York and he scored. He was the one that was saying, 'Drop it!' Every time I start to get a swelled head I think about that play or all the other mistakes I made and I still make. If the fans don't notice, well, so much the better." When he was a rookie Orr used to go to the bench quivering with rage about his ineptness and turn his head into the partition so that no one would see the tears of frustration. "The Orrs cry a lot," he says in his usual head-down mumble. "We're a blubbery, sentimental family of black Irish." But he no longer cries at hockey games.
In Orillia, Ontario, a pickup team of professional ice-hockey players is playing a benefit floor-hockey game against a team of retarded teen-agers. Up and down the hardwood floor they rush, trying to propel a doughnut-shaped piece of felt with broomsticks, and the checking is vicious. At a break in the action one of the retarded boys says to Bobby Orr, "Can I use your gloves?" The equipment trade is made, and the boy mumbles, "You know something? I don't like you." Orr says gently, "I'm sorry you don't." The game continues, and the boy checks Orr savagely. Then at the final whistle he walks over to Orr and flings the gloves right in his face. "I don't like you," he says again. Later Orr tells his friends, "Aw, it's nothing. He's just a poor retarded child who got something into his head." But when he retells the story he finds it difficult to finish and excuses himself to go into the kitchen for something he doesn't need.
"He's a bleeding heart and do-gooder, that's all," says his lawyer and friend, Alan Eagleson, a former athlete himself and Member of the Canadian Parliament. "And most of it's private. He doesn't even tell me about it. He doesn't get receipts, and we lose all kinds of tax deductions because he doesn't make a record of it. Every once in a while he cleans out his whole wardrobe and gives it to the priest over at the Sacred Heart in Watertown. No, Bobby's no Catholic; he's barely even a Baptist. But he's the most Christian man I've ever known. He'll get $500 for an appearance somewhere, and he'll give it to the first charity worker he sees. I asked him what happened to his bonus check last year. He says, "Oh, I remember, I endorsed it over to Father Chase." You wouldn't have space to list the things he's honorary chairman of: Muscular Dystrophy Association of Canada, United Fund of Boston, March of Dimes, all kinds of things. But that isn't where his time goes. His time goes in visiting hospitals, orphan homes, poor kids, things like that. It's more than a duty with him, it's an obsession."
Orr's charitable activities have become a quiet legend in hockey, even while he does his best to keep them personal and private. He turns the subject off whenever it comes up. It takes a week of persistent questioning to elicit the following: "O.K., I'm lucky, right? I've been gifted, right? But the world is full of people who've not been gifted. Not only haven't been gifted, but have had things taken away from them. All I have lo do is see one of them—some little girl that can't walk and yet she keeps on smiling at me, some lady like Deanna Deleidi who goes home to an iron lung every night and still gives me a kiss and a hug after every hockey game. All I have to do is see someone like that and then I don't think I'm such a big hero anymore. I think that compared to those people I'm a very small article! A very small, lucky article! It knocks me down pretty bloody fast. It cuts deep into me, and I'd rather not talk about it. It's very personal with me. Ask me about broads or booze, anything else."
"He's been too damn good, and he better cut it out," says a teammate. "He's even given money to some hockey players. He thinks it's a loan, but it's a gift—he'll never see it again. All this running around to mental hospitals and V.A. hospitals and poor people's parishes—it's gonna start showing up on the ice, in his play. This is his big problem, the way other people have problems with liquor or dope or women."
"It's reached the point where something's got to give," says Frosty Forristall. "It's either gotta be his play or his charities. Every time I turn around in the apartment there's five kids from Cerebral Palsy and a photographer, and it's time to go to the game and Bobby's saying, 'No, no, no hurry, this is more important," and he'll sit there forever with those kids."
Early afternoon in Boston. The Bruins have finished a short workout, and now several of them have repaired to the 99 Club, a Joycean bar-and-lunchroom not far from the Boston Garden. One of them is Bobby Orr. He is sitting at the rearmost table eating cheeseburgers and drinking beer and pausing every few minutes to sign an autograph or accept an outstretched hand.
The bartender comes over to the table for about the fifth time. He bears slips of paper for autographs, and he issues instructions, which Orr meticulously follows. "Write: To Evans from your pal Bobby Orr, the bartender says. "Here, on this one make it: 'To Julie with love." She's 5. On this one here make it: 'Dear Barrie—that's B-A-R-R-I-E—hope you get well soon!' "
From time to time various women appear at this far end of the bar, and Orr is not unappreciative of their charms. A few women detach themselves from the others and saunter over for introductions. Orr is polite and restrained. A teammate whispers, "Bobby's got this thing about women, see. They all want to mother him and follow him home and do his cooking and everything else, and Bobby's as normal as the next guy, right? But then he can't get rid of them. It's not in him to treat a woman badly. So when he's seen enough of some broad it'll take him four months to let her down gently."