Tag Archives: Kelly

My Childhood Hero – #4, Bobby Orr

When I was just a boy, Hockey Fever swept Boston and Boston fell in love with Bobby Orr. My life, and the lives of hundreds of thousands of other hockey fans, would never be the same.

This “Fever” of which I speak happened in the late 1960s and coincided with the arrival in Boston of a young man named Bobby Orr who would begin a seven-year, injury-shortened love affair between fans and one extremely talented athlete.

If you lived in the Boston area in the late 1960s, Bobby Orr was akin to the second coming. The blond skating and scoring sensation grew up in Parry Sound, Ontario (about 2 hours north of Toronto and, what seems on the map like a million miles away from Boston.) It is said that Boston Bruins scouts were on a trip to Canada to check out a couple of other players when they happened to spot Orr and decided that day that he would someday wear a Boston Bruins jersey. After courting the Orr family for about a year, the Bruins organization did just that. They convinced 14-year-old Bobby and his parents (especially a reluctant, protective mother) to sign on the dotted line in the kitchen of an ugly old home next to the railroad tracks, not far from the frozen rivers and ponds on which Orr had been skating and playing “shinny” hockey for the previous 10 years.

If the Bruins front office could have had their way, they probably would have had Orr playing for the franchise team in Boston the next night, but in the NHL you had to be 18 to play in the big leagues, so Orr played for several years on the minor league Oshawa Generals, a mere child competing against players much older than he was.

Finally, at the ripe old age of 18, with the eyes of an entire city on him (the hype was incredible), Bobby Orr arrived in Boston. And not long after that, with the acquisition of several other great players including a scoring machine named Phil Esposito, the Boston Bruins were suddenly a contender for the Stanley Cup and Bobby Orr became my full-time obsession.

My bedroom walls were covered with Bobby Orr posters and articles I had read over and over about the young superstar. Orr seemed to have it all. He had winning good looks, a gentlemanly, shy manner, and, most impressively, he could skate circles around every other player in the league. My uncle was a Boston Police lieutenant and he would often be assigned to details at Boston Garden which meant that he would allow my father, also a huge hockey fan, and I to walk past the press gates. We didn’t have seats and often had to stand behind the last row of the first balcony inside the old Boston Garden, and occasionally old eagle eye, yours truly, would spot a pair of open seats and drag my dad to go sit in them. And sometimes we didn’t get kicked out.

But whether I was watching the Bruins play in person or on television, my eyes were transfixed on Orr. He was so fast and had so many different moves, faking and deking the opposition out of position to line up a slapshot from the point. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was watching a man who literally changed the way the game was played. Orr turned hockey from a defensive game into an offensive one and it was great to watch. Orr was so good his first year in the league that he won the NHL Rookie of the Year award. But he also hurt his knee that first year, suffering an injury that would limit both his playing time and shorten his career.

But nobody was thinking about Orr’s knee injury on May 10, 1970. It was a warm, spring day in Boston and about 50 of my relatives gathered at my Aunt Babe’s house (yes, Babe was really her nickname) where we witnessed what everyone agrees is the most incredible and famous goal in hockey history. The Bruins were up 3 games to none against the St. Louis Blues in the finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Boston hadn’t won a Stanley Cup championship since 1941, some 29 years earlier.

When the game went into overtime, the tension grew. Thinking back to that day, it seemed like we all knew what was about to happen. Just 40 seconds into overtime, Boston Bruin player Derek Sanderson, who was standing just behind the opposing net, passed the puck to a streaking Bobby Orr. Orr shot the puck between Blues goalie Glenn Hall’s pads to win the game and the championship. A millisecond after the shot, as Orr skated away with his arms and hockey stick raised to mark the win, he was upended by an opposing player. Bobby Orr went into flight and for a second seemed truly superhuman. The picture of Orr flying through the air is planted in my mind as firmly as anything else from my childhood. Needless to say, the entire living room at my Aunt Babe’s erupted in celebration, as did the city of Boston for the next three or four days. It was truly something else. A young boy’s dream had come true.

A few years later my father told me that he was taking me to Toronto during summer vacation. There we would see the Hockey Hall of Fame, do some other sightseeing and possibly make the trip in our rental car to Parry Sound, Ontario, to see the town where Bobby Orr came from.

On our way to Parry Sound we stopped at Orr’s hockey camp. Orr was there and I was thrilled when he autographed a magazine and posed for a photo. Meanwhile, my always gregarious father introduced himself to Bobby Orr’s father, Doug, and the two men began talking. My dad mentioned that we were going to be visiting Parry Sound, and Doug Orr invited us to stop by the house. Let me repeat that. Bobby Orr’s father invited us to stop by the house. When I found out, I couldn’t believe it. Things became even more surreal after we got to the Orr household, were warmly greeted (Bobby wasn’t there) and given a tour of the basement where the family kept a trophy case, which must have been at least 25 feet long, filled with trophies and pucks and other mementos. Before we left, Doug Orr gave us a couple of Bobby Orr coffee mugs, “gifts from the Orrs.” Over the years, one was broken (knocked off the wall during puck shooting practice in my cellar), but I still have the other one. My most prized possession!

Years went by, and I remained a huge fan of Bobby Orr. I even started to play the game. When Orr was forced to retire because of his injured knee, my heart was broken, and when they paid tribute to him and retired his number at the old Garden, I wept along with thousands of other Bostonians.

Bobby Orr was, in my opinion, the greatest hockey player who ever played the game. The images of him skating the length of the ice and scoring goals are forever etched in my memory.

He was my hero.


Filed under My Stories, Sports

Goin’ Back

“I think I’m goin’ back to the things I learned so well in my youth,
I think I’m returnin’ to the days when I was young enough to know the truth…” – Carole King

I first heard this song, “Goin’ Back, written by Carole King and performed by the great Nils Lofgren (and others including Bruce Springsteen back in the day), early one Sunday morning on the radio station WBCN. I had recently finished at Syracuse University and I was interning at my favorite rock radio station for a Sunday showcase program called “The Boston Sunday Review”.

I remember that I was driving in my car on my way to ‘BCN (I had to get their by 4:30 a.m.to assume my duties in the news room) and a DJ named Tracy Roach (who also co-hosted the BSR) played the song. It was a magical moment when it almost seems like a disc jockey is communicating directly with you by playing a particular song, moments that rarely if ever happen anymore with radio. But there was something very nostalgic about the words and there was something about strength that I supposed I needed to hear.

“A little bit of courage is all we ever lacked,
So catch me if you can cause I’m goin’ back.”

That was the line that stuck with me and it was as true then as it is now. Oh man, what we could have accomplished with just a little bit more courage. If I ever have the chance to deliver a message to people both young it would be this: Have faith in yourself and the courage to dare. Because we have everything inside us we need for life to be, as the song says “a magic carpet ride.” We just need a little bit of courage.

I thought of this song last week after reconnecting with a couple of old pals, Eric and Mike, on Facebook and Linked In. (Thanks to my old friend Sue for the tip.) These two guys were about the greatest friends a person could ever have and I met them during my Freshman year of college. We all lived on the same floor of Flint Hall on a hill called Mount Olympus. I think it was the highest point on an already high hill atop which Syracuse University sat. We used to say “the snow always falls first on Mount Olympus” and it was probably true. I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with Eric and Mike and a few others like Ellen and Sue and Laura from those “salad days” when I was green with youth. There was a bond that existed; a friendship, a love, something that I can’t describe but can only feel. Amazing, isn’t it. More than 30 years later I can still feel it. If you had friends like this when you were between 18 and 21, I’ll bet you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I guess its no great mystery why we wax nostalgic for the days of our youth. We were young and full of energy. We had few responsibilities, obligations and expectations other than to do our best. Every day was a new adventure and anything was possible. But even more importantly, I think we do this because this was the time in our lives when we were most full of joy and hope. The world had not begun to beat us down. We thought we could be heroes. We thought we were indestructible.

A little bit of courage was all we lacked…

Oh, the memories seem to sweet. I remember drinking way to much and not studying nearly enough. I remember the energy that seemed to reverberate all around me. I remember how exciting it was to be in a dorm with so many beautiful women so nearby. I remember nights out on Marshall Street (the big commercial street on campus) and bars like Sutter’s Mill, Hungry Charlies, The Orange which later became Bugsie’s and Faegan’s, where I would later work as a DJ. I remember playing beer pong and other drinking games and then staggering back to our rooms. I remember study hall, where we did actually learn a thing or two. I remember a tunnel that connected Flint Hall to Day Hall on Mt. Olympus (with that much snow you sometimes needed a tunnel). Down in that tunnel we congregated at the bookstore, a little fast food joint where you could get a burger and fries late at night. That’s also where we did our laundry. I remember a little club called the “Mount Inn,” (yeah, it was a corny name) where during my second year I worked pouring beer and booking bands. I remember scurrying down the long, seemingly never ending steps to get to the main campus for class and then slowly trudging back up. I remember those rare days in Fall and Spring; warm days when it felt like heaven on earth. We didn’t get many days like this, so we made sure to take full advantage; congregating outside and shedding some of our layers of clothes, playing ‘bee (Frisbee) till it was too dark to see the plastic disc anymore. And just talking. Talking about nothing and everything. Talking about our pasts and what we hoped for in the future. But most of all I remember laughing so hard that it hurt sometimes and it makes me want to cry right now as I type these words and remember how happy I was.

Syracuse changed my life in so many positive ways and helped me believe in myself and I thank my friends, especially my best friend Kevin, for always being there when I needed him and helping me to find the courage I lacked. It was a long time ago, and so many things have happened since. I’ve lost my father and my sister, Elizabeth, to deaths far too early in their lives. I’ve had one career in radio, another in sales and another still to come. I’ve became much more cynical. And I definitely don’t laugh nearly as much.

But when I get down and blue it’s easy to reach into the past and think of the friends I had then and still have now and slowly the blues slip away. As the song says it was “long ago and far away,” but it often also feels like yesterday.

A little bit of courage was all we lacked, so catch me if you can ’cause I’m goin’ back.


Filed under My Stories