Boston sports fans, especially those of the younger generations, have been extremely spoiled in the last decade or so. There’s a group of young sports fans across New England who are growing up thinking championship parades through the city are rites of passage.
For that, the younger group of Boston sports fans has appropriately been leveled with the label “spoiled,” and that’s well-deserved. Be that as it may, there are still regrets for those who didn’t grow up in the 60s, 70s and 80s where New England’s sports teams were no slouches. Even better, the athletes of those generations were giants compared to those of today.
Most notably, is Bobby Orr, who celebrated his 65th birthday Wednesday. In full disclosure, I’m only 25 years old, which means No. 4’s knees gave out on him, ending a legend’s career way too soon, long before I was even a thought. But as I comb through stories and anecdotes looking back at Orr’s career, I can’t help but thinking I’ve been robbed. Much like Orr was robbed by chronic knee problems, I was robbed as a sports fan by never seeing Orr play hockey. What we would give to just see Orr play once on Boston Garden ice…
For me and those of my generation, our best memories of Orr are seeing the replays of him flying through the air to score that famous goal in 1970. It’s that or perhaps seeing Orr triumphantly returning to Boston in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final as an honorary captain, providing a memorable moment by waving the injured Nathan Horton’s player flag prior to Game 4.
Sure, there are plenty of damn-good hockey players in today’s NHL, and a few of them play right here in Boston. But I think it goes without saying that we’ll never see another player like Orr. The times are so incredibly different, and that obviously plays a factor. Athletes of today are businessmen. Athletes of yesterday, well, they were folk heroes.
There’s arguably no bigger folk hero in New England sports history than Orr. Sure, Ted Williams was the greatest hitter to ever live, but he tended to be surly. Larry Bird was a legend, but he tended to be quiet and reserved.
Orr, however, transcended the game on and off the ice. His 1969-70 season truly changed the way we looked at defensemen in the NHL. While he may not have been extremely outgoing, especially compared to some of his wilder teammates, Orr’s largely regarded as just one fantastic human being. Eric Duhatschek of The Globe and Mail penned a wonderful piece about Orr turning 65 with some insightful commentary from Orr himself. Yet it’s striking as to what you find in the comments. At one point Thursday, the first page of comments featured 10 uses of the word “class” when recalling Orr.
It’s unlikely someone like Orr will ever come around again, and that’s not just from a playing standpoint. The culture of present-day sports simply does not allow for players to be as kind, humble and generous as Orr is. Even Orr himself admits this to an extent.
“It’s really a changing world,” Orr told The Globe and Mail. “We work with young [super prospect] Connor McDavid. Think about the pressure. He’s 15 years old, for gawd’s sakes. He’s a hell of a talent, but are you kidding me? We’ve got the New York Times coming in to talk to him. We’ve got USA Today coming in. Nobody came to Parry Sound to talk to me. It’s really different today.
“If people would just think what all these young kids go through, with all the people in their ears. Or they go on the Internet and there are haters on the Internet. Not everyone is going to like you. That’s what their moms and dads have to understand. There’s negative stuff and now they go with dad, and there’s negative stuff from their dads and what the hell does that do for the kid? Let’s be positive with these kids.”
Could it really be said any better?
The real spoiled sports fans are the ones who are old enough to remember Orr and the glory days of those Bruins and have lived long enough to see the recent reign of all things Boston sports. Good for them. (We have iPads and stuff. These are some of the trade-offs you make). But for someone who grew up after the days of Orr (and even Bird), the recent tributes and recollections of No. 4’s playing days can’t help but make you a little bit jealous. Much like fans who were lucky enough to see Orr skate up and down the Garden ice were left asking “What if Orr never got injured?”, I can’t help but wonder to myself “What if I grew up in the days of Orr?”