Little Nahant — next best thing to Parry Sound - is Orr’s hideaway from fame

STAN FISCHLER February 1 1969


Little Nahant — next best thing to Parry Sound - is Orr’s hideaway from fame

STAN FISCHLER February 1 1969


Little Nahant — next best thing to Parry Sound - is Orr’s hideaway from fame

THERE WAS MUSIC in the turnstiles at the Boston Garden station of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. It was late on a Sunday night in November and the ribbon of fans curling out of the ugliest arena in the National Hockey League moved quickly, springily, onto the platform. They always play up-tempo tunes at the Garden when the Bruins win. And the fans seem to move with a special rhythm on a night when Bobby Orr is playing his game; and they talk in “didjas.” “Didja see that kid’s shot?” a youth in a Boston University jacket was explaining to his girl friend. “Didja see him set up that goal?” They were legitimate “didjas” because on this night 20-year-old Bobby Orr. the pride of Parry Sound, Ont.,

once again delighted 14,653 aficionados. His opponents were the Chicago Black Hawks and in the first period Bobby Hull scored for the visitors. But the fans could tell this would be Orr’s night because he was skittering around the ice like a water bug on a pond. It meant his knees felt good and, given time, he’d work toward the Chicago goal.

“I’m always nervous in the first few minutes,” he explained, “but after I get hit — or I hit somebody — I start moving.”

On this night it took him 21 minutes of playing time to start moving. It happened after Pat Stapleton of the Black Hawks was whistled down for a penalty. Bruins’ coach Harry Sinden, who appears young enough to be Orr’s brother, looked down the bench. Orr looked back. There was no need for words. Orr braced himself atop the boards, leaped over and skated hard to his position at the blue line.


The puck was dropped. It skimmed to Orr. His stick curved back in an arc, then cracked against the rubber and it flew on a straight trajectory over the arm of Chicago goalie Denis DeJordy. It was in the net and the score was tied, 1-1. Less than five minutes later Dallas Smith of the Bruins passed the puck to Orr. With one arm Orr brushed aside Pit Martin of Chicago as if he were flicking a fly off his wrist. He saw teammate Ed Westfall camped alone near the net. There was a quick pass, a shot, a goal. The Bruins were ahead to stay in a game they eventually would win 5-3.

Like so many nights at Boston Garden, this one belonged to Orr. He wore a huge, contented grin as he dressed and explained the goal-making plays to reporters. He looked like an ad out of Gentlemen’s Quarterly. The glistening blond hair curved slightly down his brow. He wore a red-andblue-striped tie that dipped into the recesses of his new grey suit with blue pin stripes. This was Bobby Orr, the Wunderkind of hockey, the best defenseman in the NHL, savior of the Boston Bruins and highest-paid player in the world. At a glance, you’d never know that this man has problems.

His problems stem from a fact remarked by his hometown chum, Bob (Homer) Holmes, who was visiting Boston on this night: “You can take Bobby out of Parry Sound,” said Holmes, “but you can’t take the Parry Sound out of Bobby.”

It’s true. Orr, hockey’s newest Golden Boy, is a victim of his success. He worries that stories of his $400,000 contract will disturb the Bruins’ morale. He fears adoring fans will turn against him when he plays poorly. He cherishes the small-town life of Parry Sound and desperately tries to match it in Boston. He wonders whether his fragile knees, so often under surgery, will carry him through another season.

“I was scared when I came into this league,” he said, “and I’m scared now.”

He is not really frightened but rather concerned, just as he would be concerned at home in Parry Sound if somebody denounced him as a “big shot.” The consequences were apparent at the start of the season when his defense partner, Ted Green, walked out on the Bruins and threatened to retire unless management renegotiated

his contract. Orr obviously was the cause of Green’s displeasure.

Green, who in his robust way is a valuable member of the Bruins, had a point. If Orr is worth $400,000, why shouldn’t Green, who is at least half the player Orr is, be worth $200,000? Other Boston players could have used the same argument and Orr knew it. As he walked through the dim recesses of Boston Garden after the game with Chicago, Orr talked of his concern about dissension on the team.

“I’d rather give those players my money,” he said while signing autographs and trying to make his way

to the parking lot near the Charles River. “Yeah, I’d rather give away the money than have any unhappiness on the team; that is, if there is any unhappiness. I don’t know if there is, or was, any. If there is, I’d just as soon not know about it.”

Fans followed Orr and his friend Homer and the reporter all the way to the parking lot and the 1968 Meteor hardtop. Orr gunned the accelerator. “Let’s get outa here,” he said, “I hate the city. The fact is, except for Toronto, I’d never been in a big city until I came to Boston. And if I stayed here in Boston, I’d never get any privacy; the people recognize the players. I couldn’t stand living in an apartment; that’s why we took a place on the ocean.”

He turned the car north, through Sumner Tunnel, then past Logan Airport, along Route 107 to Lynn, then a sharp right turn at Lewis Street. Now he was on the causeway called Nahant Road that leads to the hamlet of Little Nahant, which juts out into the Atlantic just north of Boston Bay. He stopped the car in front of the three-bedroom house he shares with John Forrestal, the Bruins’ assistant trainer, and teammate Gary Doak. The house sits on the lip of Massachusetts Bay, facing the historic towns of Salem and Gloucester.

Orr worries that his record $400,000 contract may stir dissension among his teammates. “Pd rather give away the money than have urn happiness on the team”

BOBBY ORR continued

“This,” he said filtering sand through his fingers as if it were gold dust, “is the super life. I walk out the door, I’m on the sand, toss out the fishing pole and haul ’em in. Cripes, that’s super. This is about as much privacy as I can get.”

But the house in Little Nahant is only a temporary sanctuary. Twice a week he reports for the games at Boston Garden, and then there are practices — and always the fans who are as ready to puncture him as pat him on the back. The butcher, the accountant and the welder who are lucky to make $10,000 in any year expect perfection from the kid with the $400,000 contract.

“I’ve gotten a few shots,” he said, stretching out on the living-room sofa. “The fuss I had with Brian Conacher last year got me a lot of trouble.”

That was the time Conacher, then a member of the Maple Leafs, clouted Orr in the nose with his stick. Orr pursued Conacher, brought him down with a flurry of blows and kept flailing away. It rankled with the fans because it went on so long — they don’t see Orr as a bully. A misinterpreted quote or a misplaced pass by Orr and the letters come pouring at him.

“One of their favorite lines,” Orr went on, “is, ‘Who the heck are you, getting that kind of money when other players deserve just as much?’ A girl once wrote me that, but she had the guts to put her name and address on the envelope. At least I could write her back. I tried to tell her that all the love in the world won’t pay my bills.”

He got up and walked to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and poured himself a glass of beer. “Another fella wrote me and said I’m a heck of a guy and the Bruins are a great hockey team, so would I please send him five

dollars. That was early in December. Next day I write him back that I make a policy not to send money in the mail. A week later he writes me again and says, ‘The Bruins still are a great hockey team but you don’t have any Christmas spirit.’ ”

The barbs are not confined to Boston. A woman in New York for years stationed herself behind the penalty box, armed with a strong voice and searing vocabulary. “She would really give it to me,” said Orr, “especially after I had it out with Reg Fleming. I finally decided what to do with opposition fans who bother me. The best thing is to get the heck out of the rink as fast as I can. A wise guy might come along and give me the business. I can’t hit him — not that I would — but if I start trouble I’ll only get in more trouble and they’ll all think I’m a wise guy.”

He was tired and begged off to go to sleep. The team had a day off the next day, and he and Homer would fish, relax and trade stories about Parry Sound. Orr was up at 11 a.m., and on the phone at 11.30. It was his lawyer, Alan Eagleson, calling from Toronto. Eagleson, founder of the NHL Players Association, helped negotiate Orr’s contract and handles all his business. Orr owns a car wash, some land near Toronto, and co-owns a sports camp, near Orillia, Ont., with Mike Walton of the Toronto Maple Leafs and ex-Leaf trainer Bob Haggert. After finishing the phone conversation, Orr made it clear who handles the business problems.

“Every once in a while AÍ will call and tell me he’s bought something for me, and I’ll say, ‘AÍ, that’s great.’ Why not? We’re quite close, and he’s put a lot of money in my pocket.”

Now, Eagleson was considering several bids by publishers to have a book ghost - written by a sportswriter but with Orr’s by-line on the cover. It would be helpful to Orr, but Eagleson suggested there was no point starting on the book until it was certain Orr’s legs would stand up through this season. They agreed to wait. Orr clearly isn’t as concerned about the book as he is about his knees and his hockey.

“Cripes,” he said after tossing his fishing line into the ocean, “there’s no easier way to make a living than playing hockey. Mind you, it’s rough, but it’s what I want most. It’s just a question of the knees holding up. Some people say I’m brittle. I don’t know if I’m brittle or not. But I’d like to find out if there are any tests

around that’ll tell me whether I am brittle.”

If he does turn out to be a fragile hockey player, he will return home and become an active partner with his brother Ron in the family sportinggoods store. To some players exposed to the big-city life, returning home would be unthinkable — Montrealbred Rod Gilbert, for one, makes New York his year-round base — but Orr finds central Ontario appealing.

“Only 6,000 people in Parry Sound,” he said, “but that’s where the good life is. Plenty of bass, pike and pickerel, right on Georgian Bay. We’ve got this cabin on an island in the bay. Paid 150 bucks for it and we’ve had a billion dollars’ worth of laughs. Homer’s got a dog that climbs trees. I’ve got a dog that keeps running away from home. The people are great. But mainly I love it because it’s small, there’s no traffic, no noise.”

The best he can do to approximate that life is rent the home in Little Nahant and hold reunions when his parents, brothers Ron and Doug and sisters Pat and Penny visit Maple Leaf Gardens. As he walked back to the house he remembered that the Bruins would be visiting Toronto in a week and there would be a big Orr gettogether, but that his next business would be with the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night. This turned out to be Orr’s game again. He helped spark the Bruins to a 7-1 win over the visitors.

And when it was over the MTA subway turnstiles seemed to be singing again and the jubilant mob was waiting for Orr outside the dressing room. “The way Bobby’s playin’,” a fan in a corduroy jacket said, “he could be mayor of this town.”

Patiently, smilingly, Orr signed the programs and the eight-by-10 glossy photos of himself. When somebody suggested he wanted him to run for mayor, Orr laughed. “Tell ’em I’ll always go back to Parry Sound.”

A half-hour later he pushed his way back to his car. A companion asked him if all the chasing and signing bothered him. He said it didn’t; the fans are paying his salary and he respects them. “Look at it this way,” he said, heading north for Little Nahant, “I can’t write a story and I can’t fix a tire. I eat the same food as everybody else and I chase girls just the way other guys do. I’m really no different than anybody else; except that sometimes I get my name in the paper.” □