"Yes, he is," Leo said. That scared me, to tell you the truth. Not to be obvious or sacrilegious, but I felt a little like the wise men must have.
We found our way to Parry Sound the next morning and went into the coffee shop. After breakfast, we asked our waitress if she knew where the Orrs' house was. Yes, she said. In fact, she lived at that particular address. The waitress was Bobby's mother.
Bobby turned out to be fresh-faced, with a crew cut. I show him the old magazine photograph now, and he laughs: "Well, those haircuts are coming back." He doesn't say "eh" anymore, although if you listen closely, he does still say "aboot."
Anyway, the crew-cut lad I met in Parry Sound was modest, but by the end of the 1966-67 season, Orr was carrying the Bruins and was Rookie of the Year. When Harry Howell of the Rangers won the Norris Trophy as best defenseman that season, he said it was a particular honor inasmuch as nobody else would win it again for as long as Bobby Orr was in the league. And Howell was right—as long as Orr had knees. Bobby won it the next eight years running. Within four seasons, he had taken the Bruins from the cellar to their first Stanley Cup in 29 years. At the age of 22 he was this magazine's Sportsman of the Year. I could sure pick my hockey players.
It's not necessary to get into who may be better, Orr, the defenseman, or Wayne Gretzky, the center, except to note that Orr did something that Gretzky had no opportunity to do, and that was to change the very nature of the game. Before Orr, ice hockey was played on offense by three men, the line. As Orr says matter-of-factly, "My style was to carry the puck"—yes, Mr. Astaire, and was it your style to shuffle your feet?—and in so doing, he converted hockey into all-out offense.
Sometimes, as the seasons passed and I read about Orr doing this or that, I would think back to those late nights when the Boston writers talked of his coming and how it would be for the Bruins, and it was eerie. At least for me, there has never been anyone in sport dressed in such inevitability as Bobby Orr.
It would have been downright perfect, too, except for one thing: his left knee. How ironic that is. In such a rough game, nothing else of consequence ever befell him. "You know, I never even lost a tooth," he says. But his knee has been operated on so many times he's lost count. He thinks it has been "six openings and three or four 'scopes." That refers to traditional surgery and arthroscopic procedures.
The knee drove Orr out of the NHL after 12 seasons, the last three of which he spent mostly on the injured list. "It was clear to me I couldn't play anymore, so I left," he says evenly. There are no regrets, and nobody to blame. There was never one time when a goon destroyed it, never one dark moment when he was ruined. Even now it'll lock up without warning when he's just walking. That is the price he'll always pay for being a prodigy.
Looking back to the beginning, he says there wasn't any pressure. In fact, Bobby Orr on pressure is fascinating: "I don't think most people can understand what little pressure I felt out there. It was like I was skating in a little balloon. Only you can't take that balloon anywhere else with you. They put me on the board of directors of Cullinet Software two years ago, and I was petrified at the first meeting I went to. Last month, Peggy and I and two other couples were fishing for marlin off Africa, and I got a couple of strikes and missed them both, and right away I started praying I wouldn't get another one because I couldn't take the pressure of possibly failing again. But in hockey, in the Stanley Cup, on TV, whatever, I was in that balloon.
"I only began to feel pressure when the injuries started to restrict me, and all of a sudden I couldn't do what I'd been able to do. Then I felt the pressure."