NUMBER 4 | Bobby Orr
He’s the greatest hockey player ever. Wayne Gretzky may have scored more points, Maurice Richard may have won more Stanley Cups, and Gordie Howe may have done more to popularize the game, but hands down, Number 4 was the best.
On Nov. 8, 1978, bad knees forced him to retire at the age of 31.
Here’s a tribute from the NHL.com website’s Shawn Roarke…
“I hope that I am remembered as a player that brought it every night,” Orr told NHL.com. “As hockey players, we are performers and we putting on a show. I want to be remembered as a player that came every night.”
That legacy will never be threatened. Orr is still celebrated throughout the hockey world as the best defenseman to ever lace on a pair of skates, even 30 years after he played his final NHL game.
Orr, then in his third injury-ravaged season with Chicago, walked away from the game he loved on Nov. 8, 1978 at the age of 31. In a perfect world, Orr would have had at least another 5 years to weave his magic, but his body would not cooperate.
After a dozen knee surgeries, Orr could no longer play in a manner that befitted his greatness. To continue, he felt, would be a crime against the game he loved. So, he walked away, clutching a haul of impressive hardware and mind-boggling offensive numbers, headlined by 915 points in 657 games.
“It’s been so long now,” Orr said. “I’m not frustrated (about leaving the game). When you love to do something, and I loved to play hockey, it wasn’t a job for me. I was one of the lucky ones that got to play this great game and I’m thankful for that.
“Did I want to play more, of course I did. But those things happen.”
Those who saw the Hockey Hall of Famer play during his peak with Boston — from winning the Calder Trophy in the 1966-67 season to scoring 135 points in 1974-75 — are thankful for Orr’s too-brief presence.
Upon his NHL arrival, no defenseman had come close to scoring 100 points in a season. Orr did it 6-straight seasons, beginning with a 120-point season in 1969-70, the season Orr won his first of 2 Stanley Cups with the Bruins.
That season, Orr was the game’s most dominant player. In fact, he won 4 of the League’s major awards — his third Norris Trophy for best defenseman, the Art Ross Trophy for highest scorer, the Hart Trophy as the League’s regular-season MVP and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Stanley Cup Playoff MVP — that magical season. He remains the only player in League history to win 4 major trophies in a season, a feat that neither Mario Lemieux nor Wayne Gretzky ever accomplished.
Orr followed that breakout season with 5 more Norris Trophy wins, giving him an 8-year stranglehold on the best defenseman award. He also won took the Hart Trophy in each of the next 2 seasons and led the League in scoring again in 1974-75 with 135 points. He remains the only defenseman in the history of the game to finish as the League’s top scorer.
Orr also won another Stanley Cup in 1972, once again winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and becoming the first player to become a 2-time playoff MVP in League history. Boston has not won another Stanley Cup since.
Those accomplishments, however, are just a sampling of the numbers that leave historians agog when they look back upon Orr’s brilliant, but too-short, career, a body of work that saw him inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1979, becoming the Hall’s youngest inductee at 31.
“The awards are nice,” Orr said, “but I played the game I loved. I’m one of the privileged one.
“With what this game has given me, I felt I had to give something back. I had to go out every night and give my best, nothing less. That was my job.”
He clearly succeeded in that mission as the true measure of this man can most accurately be measured in the reverence with which he is held in Boston, a notoriously tough sports town. Orr remains atop the pantheon of sports legends in that sport-rich city. At the time of his retirement, he was voted the best Boston athlete by the Boston Globe, edging out luminaries like baseball’s Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski and basketball’s Bill Russell and Bob Cousy.
“It’s nice when people talk about you,” Orr said. “When you are a part of conversations like that, it is wonderful. But I just played the game I loved to play. I wish I could have played more, of course. But, the time I had in the game provided me with some of the best times of my life.”
Now a player agent with the Orr Hockey Group, Orr still loves the sport and follows the NHL game closely.
On a nightly basis he sees so many things he likes.
“We have so many good young players in this game,” he says. “It’s an exciting time for the sport.”
But he also sees things at odds with his beliefs about how the game should be treated. He doesn’t begrudge today’s players the money currently on offer, unheard of sums to his generation, but he does bemoan the lack of passion that sometimes tries to infiltrate its way into the game.
“The money doesn’t bother me; that’s the way it is,” Orr said. “What bothers me is when you see a player play great one night and then you have to wait a week or more to see the player play at that level again. That’s the thing with great players, they never disappoint you.”
“I don’t expect everyone to play at Sidney Crosby’s level,” Orr said, “but to play at their level all time. This is the professional level here and you expect that from the players every night. You are going to have little dips; you just don’t want those big dips.”
When those big dips in effort happen and stretch for an extended period of time, Orr says it is disrespectful
“Those players that have the chance to play in the NHL have got to respect this game and keep that love and passion for the game,” he says.
That simple love and passion for the game has fueled Orr for each day in the 30 years since he last played in the NHL and it remains the bedrock of the greatness Orr continues to display to this day.