Once upon a time, everyone wanted to be Bobby Orr.
Judging from the reaction he got Thursday night, they still do.
And 41 years after he won his last championship in Boston, Orr continues a mythical hold on the heart of this city like no other living athlete. Orr was the "greatest" among the "Big, Bad Bruins" of the early 1970s. His appearance at the Bruins' game to drop the puck Thursday was intertwined with season-long Bruins "90 Years Celebration" [the teams of the 1970s were honored this time] and a book-signing for his new tome called "Orr: My Story."
Much of Orr's story is our story.
His legend is part of Boston's folklore much like that of Sam Adams, , John Hancock, Paul Revere and John F. Kennedy.
And Orr's time as a player in Boston was like "Camelot" on ice for Bruins fans. The Bruins won two Stanley Cups and came close to a third over a span of five seasons during his 10 years [1966-76] here. The end of his days in Boston are forever shrouded in controversy and pain for both Orr, and the fans here who sports-worshiped him so.
He played 26 games for the Blackhawks over two seasons after leaving Boston. But that was conveniently forgotten Thursday as Orr and his statue came full circle, since the Bruins were playing the St. Louis Blues. That was the team Orr scored against in overtime of Game 4 back on Mother's Day in 1970 to give the Bruins their first Stanley Cup in 29 years.
[Hockey porn alert. You won't be able to get any work done for the rest of the day once you start watching this:
The Blues won 3-2 in a shootout Thursday night. It comes only 43 years [or three weeks] late for St. Louis.
"Bobby Orr makes everyone feel better about themselves," NESN's Jack Edwards said. Especially those of us who are reminded of our youth whenever we see him.
When the Bruins and Blackhawks met for the Stanley Cup this past spring, Orr, who is a player agent and had clients playing for both clubs, made it clear to anyone who asked him that "I am a Bruin." Orr moved back to Boston after living outside Chicago for four years and has never left.
One benefit of being the same age as the Super Bowl every year is that you can remember watching Orr play during your childhood. And it would be childish to compare those Bruins teams of the early 1970s to their counterparts of the early 2010s. For one, this current version of the Bruins doesn't have a Bobby Orr.
And that's enough to mute any further comparison.
We all have that athlete who dominates our youth. The one guy whose jersey you wanted more than anyone else. The one guy whose cards were always your favorites [back when people under 30 bought cards]. The one guy who you always wanted on your team no matter the match-up, real or imagined. The one guy who still left you in awe when you got to meet and interview him one-on-one as a young journalist just a year out of college.
Bobby Orr was that guy for me.
One great benefit of the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011 is that a couple of new generations got a taste of what the city was like during the days of Orr's reign in Boston. The wide-eyed, blue-collar delirium he and his teammates inspired during the early 1970s was [sort of] duplicated when the Bruins ended their 39-year drought.
Back then, Boston was still a "hockey town with a baseball team" even though the Celtics had just completed their dynastic dominance of the NBA. Orr was the hero of every wanna-be hockey player from South Boston to Worcester to Rockport to Brockton to Arlington and anywhere else in between.
Getting to wear the No. 4 jersey during after-school street hockey games was a hard-fought and well-earned honor.
Orr combines all the best attributes of his one-guy-from-each-team Boston Sports Mount Rushmore contemporaries. He's got the killer, close-em-out instincts and game-changing dominance of Bill Russell, the technical mastery and pure athletic abilities of Ted Williams and the eternal good-looks of Tom Brady.
But Orr is unique among so many other Boston greats in that he was never booed. He never had to wrestle with the negativity of being a black superstar in a city shrouded by bitter racial divisions during his heyday. He was never scorned by the fans and spit back at them. He was never called a bum. And no one ever, ever, ever, ever, ever said he should be benched in favor of Ryan Mallett.
Watching Orr drop the puck at TD Garden Thursday night to another rapturous Boston welcome, is ample evidence that Orr remains a king - the greatest hockey player ever - who is a permanent Prince of This City.
Orr, given his well-documented personal grace and humility, would be the first to note someone like Russell, who leads Orr in championships 11-2, or Williams, who gave up parts of five seasons of his career for military service and went 39-0 as a Marine pilot during the Korean War, are in a class way above his.
He's probably right. But neither Williams nor Russell were my idols as a kid. They were more like gods.
Orr was just human enough, and just youthful enough 40-or-so years ago, to be the man for so many boys [and girls] in my youth and for my generation.
For my Dad, that athlete was Williams, for my son, it's Brady and/or David Ortiz.
The Patriots and Brady are gearing up for another matchup against Peyton Manning, this time with the Broncos, on Sunday in Foxborough.
The Red Sox and Ortiz, who would squeeze his way onto that Mount Rushmore along with Larry Bird if we had a couple of more openings, are basking in the afterglow of the Improbable Dream championship season.
The Celtics are tanking in a way that would make America's greatest tank commander, Gen. George S. Patton, proud.
But Orr just shows up, signs a few books, and drops a puck, and everyone is reminded against that he's still Bobby Freaking Orr.
Boston's Golden Boy.
Not bad for someone who's 65.
But forever 4 in our hearts.
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