I spent an hour or so on Saturday morning reading the first pages of what will undoubtedly become a best seller in the weeks to come. “ORR -- My Story” is an autobiography written by the greatest hockey player who has ever lived – Bobby Orr – but since I know next to nothing about the sport, I am reading the book because I believe the kind and gentle Orr is my all-time favorite professional athlete out of many hundreds I have met in my life.
I was with “Number Four Bobby Orr” – as he was once called by every kid in New England -- for three days once long ago when he and I were paired together during the old Red Food Stores’ big cancer–awareness promotion and we hit it off instantly. The Nabisco Company had arranged for him to come to Chattanooga and everywhere we would go all these hockey lovers would show up and just stare. That’s how big a legend the former Boston Bruin will forever be.
Bobby Clarke, another hockey great, once said that Orr was so good that there should be a league higher than the NHL for him and Serge Savard added, “There are stars and superstars and then there is Bobby Orr.”
But the part that intrigued me about Bobby is that he is the nicest, most genuine and unassuming “famous person” I have ever met. The story is told that once in Boston a prominent doctor got Orr to pay a visit to a sick patient and, as the hockey great was leaving, a mob of reporters and photographers suddenly showed up. Orr was incensed – his always a very private life – and the doctor felt terrible until he learned the patient’s wife had alerted the press.
So if everybody knows that Bobby has carefully guarded his story for the last 65 years, how does he suddenly write what he has vowed to never tell all these years? “I only committed to write this book when I realized I had something worth sharing. Not because I scored a famous goal, or because I won this or that trophy, or because I hold this or that record,” he wrote in the book’s first pages. “Parents have things worth sharing, as do coaches and other mentors. I am a parent, and a grandparent, and it is in that spirit that I think I have a story worth recording and lessons worth passing along.”
Bobby grew up in a small town in Canada called Parry Sound, where his dad worked at a munitions factory. Located several hours drive north of Toronto, Parry Sound had about 5,000 residents until the summers would bring 10 times that in vacationers and tourists to the shores of Georgian Bay. And in the book, he credits much of his life with what he learned playing sports with his friends.
“Parents today might be surprised to discover what kids can do if they are left to their own devices. We certainly learned to figure things out for ourselves. We had to take the initiative, because the odds were that no parent would be available to shovel (the snow) off the bay or rink or stretch of road … we had to do the work to make it happen.
“It doesn’t take too long to figure if you play by the rules, not much trouble will happen … There were no coaches to tell us what to do, no parents to tell us how to behave, no referees to tell us what was fair. We figured it out. That’s freedom. But it is also was responsibility – we had to figure things out or there wouldn’t have been those day-long games we all loved so much.
“Today, far too often I see baseball gloves and hockey sticks being replaced in no small measure by satellite TV and video games … I am not trying to tell anyone not to watch TV … but kids who don’t have the chance to organize themselves and solve their own problems and feel the exhilaration of sport for its own sake, are missing out on something irreplaceable.
“We never waited on an adult to organize our social time or sports experiences. We took that upon ourselves,” wrote Orr of his childhood. “We were the ones who decided what game to play, where to play it, when to assemble and who would be on which teams.
“Without some form of sports, kids lose something. Being part of a team, official or otherwise, shouldn’t just be for elite players. These types of experiences should be enjoyed by every child.”
Bobby also revealed that during all the years he played, he rarely read about himself. “I never saw the point,” he said in his book. “Whether a writer was praising me or burying me never really mattered, since I was generally first in line to criticize myself. There wasn’t a whole lot a writer could say about my game that came as news to me.”
Of course, I have barely put a dent in the book, the best of it is 290 pages still unread, but I can assure you it is a gem. And that comes from someone who doesn’t know anything about hockey but who really likes Bobby Orr. He is one of the best people I have ever met.