In my opinion, Bobby Orr is the best who ever played. At least the best I’ve ever seen. The way he controlled things by speeding up or slowing down, the way he’d take the puck end to end and swoop and circle and set up others, or simply score himself. All from a defenceman who would then rush back and help out in his own end until it was time to dazzle again.
It was new and fresh. It was genius.
Bobby Orr turned 65 today, and in thinking about him, I recalled an old magazine story from Oct. 1982, written by the late, great Earl McRae, and one that people still talk about. It wasn’t a normal sports story, it was in many ways a mean-spirited piece, and McRae seemed to go out of his way to show us that Orr wasn’t the saint that many thought.
I have this magazine, and I dug it out from a trunk and re-read it. Yes, it shows Orr in a poor light, as being moody and bad-tempered at times. And because I was such a big fan of Earl McRae’s Ottawa newspaper columns, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I don’t know whether he set out to do such a job but it wasn’t an overly-kind portrayal, and I’d like to believe McRae simply strove to write a story that wasn’t the same old jock thing we’d see time and time again.
It just came off as very unflattering to Orr and it’s too bad. McRae had the talent to do a much different type of story.
McRae passed away in October of 2011.
Below, photos from the magazine, and under those, some samplings from the article.
“I met him at the airport a while ago, so we sat together on the plane. He seemed a very troubled and confused young man. The Bruins, the Hawks, Eagleson, the NHL. He had very little good to say. He was very down. I felt for him. To think what he gave hockey and what he gave us only to have fate deal him the queen of spades. It’s a goddam shame. We can only pray.” – Munson Campbell, former NHL governor.
“They echo his every laugh, every chuckle, mirror his every grin, every smile, every frown. That much hasn’t changed in the world of Bobby Orr: the fawning, the flattering, the toadying, the aphrodisiacs of stardom.” – Earl McRae
“I did a humorous takeoff on Orr’s endorsements. He was into everything then. It was a total fun thing, but a few nights later I’m called out of a banquet to take a phone call. It’s Orr. He called me every rotten name in the world. He didn’t see the humor in it. I couldn’t believe it. I learned one thing: you didn’t mess with Bobby Orr’s image. He hasn’t talked to me since.” – Eddie Anderson, Boston sports broadcaster.
He grits his teeth, looks around and draws me aside. “Now, listen,” he seethes. “You’re not going to my home, you’re not travelling with me. Is that clear? I’m starting to get a little pissed off. What’re you after, anyway? If you want to talk, you can see me me at my hotel. Between noon and 1 p.m. tomorrow. And that’s it. I’m very busy” He jots his room number on a piece of paper and thrusts it at me. And no photographer.” – Exchange between Orr and McRae.
“Poor Bobby. I can appreciate the trauma he’s suffered, but a lot of the problems he’s gone through are because of the way he’s been. He wasn’t always the easiest person to get along with, he could be demanding and moody. He used to call me up if he read where I had talked to certain reporters about him. “What the hell are you doing talking to that jerk for?” he’d scream.
“Bobby had trouble communicating with the players (in Chicago). He’d give them hell if they didn’t measure up to his standards. It got to where he wasn’t talking to them. Bobby seemed to forget that his talent was God given, that others had to work. It got to where the players were so uptight, they had trouble performing. One of the players went to Pully and said get that guy off the ice or there’ll be a full-scale riot. Pully took him off.” – Eagleson
“I used to be great friends with Bobby. I used to help at his hockey school, I golfed with him. But in Chicago he changed. I couldn’t do anything right as far as he was concerned. He began isolating himself from the players and a resentment built up toward him. He stopped talking to me. He hasn’t talked to me since.” – Dale Tallon, former Hawks defenceman.
Following a game in Chicago against the Vancouver Canucks, a number of players went to a bar called the Rusty Scupper. Orr joined them. One of the Canuck players was Hilliard Graves, a tough little winger with a reputation as a reckless body checker. “Bobby was giving the Vancouver players hell for not putting out,” says Graves. “He was very belligerent, very mean. Then he started on me. He said if he ever came back, he was going to get me. He was really mad. I said if he did, I’d take his knees right off. He punched me in the chest, knocked me off my stool. I threw him to the floor, but he jumped up and punched me under the eye. I nailed him twice, one on the nose and one on the eye and he went down. A few moment later I see him standing at the door to the washroom and he’s calling me over. Bobby was almost in tears. “I’m really glad you hit me,” he said. “I deserved it. I’ve been acting crazy lately. I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with me. I’m so frustrated. I’ve been looking for something, I don’t know what.”
“He was in trouble all the time in Chicago, couldn’t get along. Too much of a damn perfectionist. For a while after he quit, he was horrible to get along with, you could hardly talk to him. I imagine his wife had to put up with a lot.” – Doug Orr, Bobby’s father.
“I hope he grows up some day.” Harry Sinden
“He had no diplomacy. There was only one way: his. I guess when you’re used to getting your own way all your life, it’s hard to change. The Black Hawks are in my blood and as far as I’m concerned, Bobby Orr was an outsider.” – Don Murphy, Hawks publicity director.
“Bobby phoned me and tried to get me to support Bill against Al. I said no, they’re both friends, I know nothing about it and, besides, Al’s been very good to me. Bobby called me all sorts of names, hung up and hasn’t talked to me since. We used to be best friends.” – Mike Walton