Bobby Orr says he’s not a hero. He’s just a guy who played a game.
Doctors and nurses treating patients with COVID-19, while exposing themselves to the disease, are real heroes, he says.
The Hall of Fame defenseman protested the label in an interview with several sports reporters ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup win over the St. Louis Blues in 1970.
The anniversary alone was big enough deal, but for Orr it comes with an extra layer of attention. It was the iconic image of his celebratory leap after his game-winning goal that changed the way New Englanders think of hockey. The sprawled-out flight of the league’s best player -- one of the best of all time — fed the pride of Bruins fans and the imaginations of generations to come.
Orr is a nice and humble guy. But if he’s not a hero, who is?
It’s not just his speed and offense, though his 120 goals and assists in 1969-70 led the league. Nor is it because of the records he set -- and, in some cases, still holds -- in subsequent seasons.
Forty seconds into overtime of Game 4 against the Blues, on May 10, 1970, Orr delivered in the clutch. Only 22, he had yet to score a goal in the finals. Then he scored the most important one.
Orr’s moment of hockey player turned superhero, now immortalized by Henry Weber’s statue in front of the Garden, does not earn a hero’s badge. Neither does a 12-year career shortened by knee injuries. His status is gilded as much by the person he is when he’s not wearing skates.
His close friend, the late Eagle-Tribune sports editor Russ Conway, once recalled following Orr after a game on a road trip. Orr had packed his car trunk with souvenirs. Thomas J. Whalen includes the anecdote in his forthcoming book, “Kooks and Degenerates on Ice: Bobby Orr, the Big, Bad Bruins and the Stanley Cup Championship That Transformed Hockey.”
Having extracted Conway’s promise not to report on what he was about to see, Orr led him to the children’s ward of a local hospital where he began handing out presents, bed by bed, floor by floor — hockey’s answer to Santa Claus. It was clear Orr came around more than once a year.
Fifty years after a timely goal that earned the Bruins one of six Stanley Cups, Bobby Orr remains very much a hero.
The fact he won’t concede the point confirms it.