- The Washington Times - Monday, May 13, 2002

Long before Wayne Gretzky became known as the "Greatest," Bobby Orr wore that badge of distinction in the minds of many hockey experts and fans. He was a tough defenseman who played and scored like a forward possibly the most impressive display of multiple skills in one sport since Babe Ruth simultaneously pitched and hit home runs for the Boston Red Sox in 1919.
And on May 10, 1970, at the tender age of 22, Orr enjoyed his greatest moment. While smashing in the overtime goal that gave his Boston Bruins a 4-3 victory, a sweep of the St. Louis Blues and their first Stanley Cup championship in 29 years, Orr was tripped by Blues defenseman Noel Picard and flew through the air parallel to the ice with arms spread and a look of unrestrained joy on his face.
A painting of the "Goal" hangs in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Still pictures and film blossom from the archives every spring when the Stanley Cup Playoffs start, and the sight never grows old. This is hockey's version of Yogi Berra hurtling into Don Larsen's arms, Dwight Clark leaping to make his catch in the end zone and Muhammad Ali standing and snarling over the fallen Sonny Liston a moment instantly recognizable to all fans and voted some years ago as the greatest in NHL history.
If life were a movie, Orr's goal would have come in the final seconds of Game 7. In fact, the Bruins were much better than the expansion Blues, who had gained the finals in only their third season, and Boston's sweep was no surprise. But that didn't detract from Orr's achievement.
"I can remember it like it was yesterday," recalled Orr, now a Boston businessman and sports agent. "The most amazing thing about it is that it was more than 30 years ago. My God, time has gone by so quickly."
Thirty seconds into the overtime period, Orr took the puck away from the Blues' Larry Keenan, passed to Derek Sanderson in the right corner and then broke toward the net. Sanderson returned the favor by centering the puck, and Orr one-timed it past goalie Glenn Hall as the crowd erupted at steamy Boston Garden.
"I got a little bit lucky," Orr said with characteristic modesty. "Derek gave me a great pass, and when I got it I was moving across. It's very difficult for a goaltender to move across and keep his legs closed, and as I moved across, Glenn's legs opened. I looked back and saw it go in as I was tripped."
And started flying.
Said Boston coach Harry Sinden: "That was certainly a defining moment. Obviously, when you have something like that happen in your lifetime, it never really goes away. I can close my eyes and taste the best wines I've ever had, and I can still see Bobby flying through the air."
St. Louis coach Scotty Bowman just shook his head when asked about Orr's goal. "They say the Bruins started rebuilding when Orr signed. I don't believe it. I think they started rebuilding in 1948 the year he was born."
Orr and Hall meet every now and then, and the former goalie victimized forever in hockey history as well as in the game itself always inquires, "Is that the only goal you ever scored?"
Well, no. In 13 seasons before ruined knees ended his career in 1978 at the age of 30, Orr set scoring records for defensemen with 270 goals and a whopping 645 assists for 915 points. In doing so, he revolutionized the game and gave lie to the conventional thinking that defensemen had to be goons with molars and morals missing.
Before Orr, defensemen remained mostly in front of their nets and rarely roamed. Orr, though, was a scoring threat as soon as he touched the puck because of his speed and deft moves. Suddenly, the game had opened up, at least when Boston's No.4 was streaking up the ice.
"It wasn't fair that he played against us," said Philadelphia's Bobby Clarke, Orr's great rival in the days when a Bruins-Flyers game meant great hockey. "There should have been a higher league for him to go to."
Orr was the NHL's Most Valuable Player for the 1969-70 season, the first of three consecutive times he won the Hart Trophy. In his second season, he collected the Norris Trophy as the game's best defenseman for the first of eight consecutive times. He scored 100 or more points for six consecutive seasons; the single-season record before he arrived was 59.
Ever since he first strapped on a skate at the age of 5 in Parry Sound, Ontario, Orr qualified as a prodigy. He was signed by the Bruins at 14 and assigned to a junior team. Four years later, he reported to Boston after signing the most lucrative rookie contract ever ($85,000). Said one veteran after watching Orr's first practice: "Kid, I don't know how much they're paying you, but it isn't enough."
Sinden put it this way: "He was a star from the moment they played the national anthem before the first game in his rookie season. He was the best player on the ice, and it wasn't even close."
Orr led the Bruins to another Stanley Cup championship in 1971-72 their last, by the way but his knees began giving way in the mid-'70s after years of punishment and five operations. In 1976, he signed as a free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks. Much rancor attended Orr's departure because his agent, the shifty Alan Eagleson, never told Orr that the Bruins had offered him an ownership deal to stay. After a sixth knee operation, he retired two years later.
"If he had no injuries if medicine had been the same as it is today Bobby would be remembered as the best player ever," Sinden insisted.
As it was, he didn't miss by much.


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