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One of the greatest sports figures of all time at last breaks his silence in a memoir as unique as the man himself
Number 4. It is just about the most common number in hockey, but invoke that number and you can only be talking about one player—the man often referred to as the greatest ever to play the game: Bobby Orr.
From 1966 through the mid-70s, he could change a game just by stepping on the ice. Orr could do things that others simply couldn’t, and while teammates and opponents alike scrambled to keep up, at times they could do little more than stop and watch. Many of his records still stand today, and he remains the gold standard by which all other players are judged. But skill on the ice is only a part of his story. All the trophies, records, and press clippings leave unsaid as much about the man as they reveal. They tell us what Orr did, but don’t tell us what inspired him, who taught him, or what he learned along the way. They don’t tell what it was like for a shy small-town kid to become one of the most celebrated athletes in the history of the game, all the while in the full glare of the media. They don’t tell us what it was like when the agent he regarded as his brother betrayed him and resulted in financial ruin, at the same time his battered knee left him unable to play the game he had redefined only a few seasons earlier. They don’t tell what he thinks of the game of hockey today.
After decades of refusing to speak of his past in articles or in authorized biographies, Orr finally tells his story.
It would have been around 7:30a.m., maybe 7:45 if Mom had let me sleep in. I’d hear her say, “Bobby, it’s time to get up,” and then the morning would begin. Most days started off the same at the Orr house back then. Dad would be up and at it early, and off to work at the CIL plant. Mom would usually have some breakfast waiting for us, but other times we’d make our own. Then it would be out the door and off to school.
We walked to Victory Elementary, because there was no one to give you a ride, and there wasn’t a school bus to pick you up. It was a decent hike whether we went straight up Bowes Street or took a shortcut through the woods. But in wintertime, the snow got pretty deep, so we usually stayed on the sidewalk. I walked that route so many times, I could probably make my way to my old school blindfolded even today. I might as well have been blindfolded then, for all I stopped to look around. I suppose I was like any other kid, never content to be just in one place. I was always on my way to somewhere else.
“There are stars, superstars, and then there’s Bobby Orr.”
—Serge Savard, NHL Hall of Famer