EULOGIES FOR EACH OTHER
THE old man has just retired, the kid is just beginning to put it all together, but they understand each other. Not as close friends — they’re too busy making commercials and personal appearances and otherwise tending their
money for that. And during the season, of course, there’s no time for anything except hockey and the old man wore a red shirt and the kid wears a yellow. It’s an understanding that comes from being small-town boys making it in
I find it tough to talk about Gordie. What can you say? He was just a fantastic hockey player. He did everything exceptionally well. You hear a lot about him, you could watch him on TV, but you had to watch this man play the game to really appreciate him. The things he did, a lot of people wouldn’t even notice them.
Like wandering around the net. Whenever he was around the net he’d start taking guys out all by himself. He knew one of his men might have the puck so he’d just take you out of the play. Suddenly you’d look up and see one of his guys coming in on the net and you couldn’t do anything about it because Gordie’d moved you out of the way. A lot of guys do that but when you’re talking about Gordie, well Gordie did it well.
Gordie was fast. You watch a rookie, a young player: he does a lot of skating he doesn’t have to do. Gordie only skated when he had to. Other than that he just paced himself. When he had to he skated fast. A rookie skates fast all the time. Gordie knew when to go and when not to go. That’s just being smart. You get tired out too fast. I’m sure he’d slowed down a little from his prime — I wish I could have played with him, just to have seen him 13 years ago — but I remember an afternoon game in Boston, I was piddling around our end and as I crossed the blue line Gordie came from nowhere, he must have come from behind me, and poke-checked the puck off me and one of his teammates picked it up and went for a goal. He’s an amazing guy.
Some hockey players mature late. The play-making, the big fakes, the things that make the game exciting to watch — they do it later. But Gordie, Gordie played that way for 25 years and still had it coming. An old fox doesn’t forget, and Gordie never forgot. You’d watch him in a game when the other team had just scored a go-ahead goal in their favor. They were hot. The pace was picking up. And Gordie would say to himself, “The pace has got to slow down,” and he’d take the puck and mess around, and the other team would cool off. And he’d done what he wanted to do. He’d put out the fire. He did that pretty well, too.
In my first year in the National Hockey League we were playing Detroit and I had a habit — I still have it but then it was really bad — of making a pass and then watching it. “Look at the pretty pass.” Anyway, I was going in behind the Detroit net, this game, and I threw the puck out on one side and
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the big city. The old man left Floral, Sask., the kid Parry Sound, Ont., and while it’s nice, really nice, listening to the applause and making all that money, nothing beats going fishing. But, most of all, it’s the feeling one artist has for
another. It’s how Alec Guinness must feel about Tom Courtenay, and Paul McCartney about Frank Sinatra. So who’s the greatest hockey player of them all? Bobby says Gordie is and Gordie says Bobby is and who are we to argue?
I remember a game in which I caught Bobby from behind and they gave me a penalty. Hooking the referee called it. I said to him, “You shouldn’t give me a penalty, you should congratulate me. Anybody who catches Bobby Orr should get a medal.”
He was just a snotty-nosed kid when I first met him. Maybe 13 years old. We were visiting a summer camp near Parry Sound and somebody said, “Watch this kid, he’s going to be a great one.” It couldn’t have been closer to the truth. The first game I saw Bobby play was against the Russians at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1965. He was part of an Ontario Junior-A all-star team they had put together. And there he was, only 16, and by far the best man on the ice. He must have felt the pressure — you know, you’re playing for your country, you’re not playing for yourself or your team, you’re playing for millions of people — but even then he looked like an outstanding pro.
The thing that amazes me is his quickness. In that first all-star game we played together in Montreal, the Canadiens had that tremendous speed, the whole team, and how he could lead a rush, be checked and still be the first man back on defense I didn’t know. Because of that quickness any move he makes has got to be exceptional. I talk to Bill Quackenbush who is in Boston and who sees Bobby day after day and I guess he does things that just pop your eyes out. Detroit plays Boston only six times a year so we’re limited. But any time you play against him you’re aware of his talent. It’s not only his puck control, he’s also one of the most accurate passers in the league and he can get the shot away as quick, if not quicker, than anyone I’ve ever seen. With that quickness, plus the ability to walk around anybody, and that heavy shot — I think he’s got one of the better shots in hockey — he’s got everything going for him. And he doesn’t make mistakes — and how can you improve on that?
You have to chase him because if,you don’t he’ll kill you. He’s on the ice for 60% of the game or better, probably 80%, and they tell you to crowd him, play heavy to Orr’s side. Let’s face it, he’s the thinking power. I know Phil and the rest of the boys had a great year, but partly that’s because the other teams are playing heavy to Orr’s side. He’s such a threat out there, he’s a real asset to the other players on the team.
When you sit in the opposition dressing room and listen to the way they talk about him — “Get a good shot at him and maybe slow him down.”
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ORR from page 32
I was watching it as I came around the other side and Gordie came across and gave me — this was my first lesson — a good shot. Someone told me later, I don’t know whether it was true, that he had read that Gordie had said he just wanted to let me know he was still around.
He was a tough son of a moose, but he had to be. Guys are always trying to make reputations for themselves, they’ve got to run the big guys, so Gordie was the man they tried. I’m sure he threw the odd elbow but he wasn’t a dirty player the way people say. There’s a story about how Gordie and Carl Brewer were lying on the ice, holding each other during a fight. It was Brewer’s first year in the league, and Howe is supposed to have said to him, “Look, in this league when two players are holding each other like this they both let go.” So Brewer let go and Howe is supposed to have punched him. That’s the story but I don't believe it. There are bound to be stories about a player like Gordie. Besides, he didn’t have to do that kind of thing. He could let you go and still give it to you.
A player will be remembered for being a great stickhandler or maybe he added something to the game, like when a defenseman falls to block shots. There’s no way Gordie will be remembered for just one thing. Gordie will be remembered as the greatest hockey player. He did everything. You just didn’t know what the man was going to do. It’s just incredible. One time he’d be coming in on you and he’d make a certain move, so you’d watch for it the next time. But the next time he’d do something else, and the time after that he’d do something else. He had a whole bag of tricks. The thing with Gordie is that he w^s a perfect athlete.
A lot of people don’t understand hockey players. They think we’re different. People write me about how much money I make. They’ll say, “Who do you think you are, asking for x number of dollars a year? I thought you played for the love of the g^me.” If I didn’t like the game I wouldn’t play it. But hockey is my trade. It’s how I make my living. During the season that’s all we do, that’s all we pat, that’s all we drink is hockey. A great hockey player like Gordie, a real professional, he’s just like a car mechanic. You take a car in, 1,400 mechanics can’t figure out what’s wrong with it, except this one guy, who’s a good mechanic, who’s good at his job, who really studies his job.
But Gordie was a professional off the ice, too. I don’t know, he was so great maybe this didn’t happen to him,
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but there are days when you’re so tired and everything that you just want to walk away from people. They expect so much of you — "He shouldn’t smoke, he shouldn’t drink, he shouldn't stay out after ten o’clock at night . . .” It’s unfair, and there’s the odd day when they just don’t know when to leave you alone, so maybe you ignore them and they don’t like it. But Gordie was so good to people, especially kids. And his family — I think I met Mrs. Howe in my second year in the league and I met the kids in my third year and they’re just the greatest family. His kids are so polite. I had only met Mrs. Howe once and a few years ago Í was walking with my bags through the airport in Montreal for an all-star game or something and a lady yelled at me, "Hey Bob, how are you?” At first I didn’t recognize her but it was Mrs. Howe. It’s just a fantastic family.
The finest athlete of them all — that’s what Gordie is. And when I say athlete I’m talking about any sport. Take everything into consideration: his age, his record, his condition. There are some pretty good athletes around, great boxers, great football players, everything, but Gordie is in a league by himself. I’d be proud to be half the man on or off the ice that Gordie is. Here’s a guy, he played professional hockey for 25 years, he was 43 years old, and he still ran the game. I mean you can’t say anything. The guy has got to be the greatest. He’s still the greatest. The only thing is his wrist, it’s bothering him. That’s why he retired. Otherwise, he could have played till he was 50. He could! He’s in that great shape! The son of a moose, he could have played till he was 50. And that would have been fine with me —as long as he sat out every game against Boston. ■
HOWE trom page 33
That’s been said in every dressing room in the league. But Bobby is a puck control artist and whenever you get a control artist you’re going to draw a lot of hits. What I like about him is that he's man enough that he can take it, almost to the point where he sets himself up and just as he’s about to get hit he'll get the pass away and maybe set up a three-on-one break. He’s also smart enough — he's got that strength and control — that he rolls with it. They might knock him off his feet but there’s a big smile on his face as he watches the completed play.
I've been around long enough that if a guy gave me a little extra he knew dang well he was getting it back. Bobby is on the ice a lot longer than I was so he stands a better chance of getting even. In hockey we never hold a grudge — but we never forget either. The first time I ever played in the National Hockey League I lost two front teeth. I went into the corner and the guy gave me an elbow and I said to myself, “Well, from now on when I go in there my elbows are going to be high.” But if you count the number of times I was put in the hospital and the number of times I put people in the hospital, I was quite a few behind, a lot behind.
Bobby plays the game with a little body contact but nothing extracurricular, nothing chippy. And here again that quickness enables him to more than hold his own in any fisticuffs or pushing and shoving. Maybe if he weren’t such a nice guy there’d be a few headhunters after him but no one is out there gunning for him. If there are stitches to be handed out he'll
probably get his share — through accidents, nothing deliberate.
Bobby is such a great kid. The whole Howe family admires him. I was up in Parry Sound with my two boys, Mark and Marty, and there was a little luncheon and we met Bobby’s mother and his dad. But what impressed me, he was just dressed to kill, a knit suit or something. And later we went over to the mail order store to sign some autographs and I guess Bobby is no different from a lot of athletes — every now and then they like to take the shirt and tie off and get back in the wilderness and catch a few fish — because after a few minutes he came into the store and he had changed into a pair of jeans and a Gordie Howe sweatshirt. That’s the kind of guy he is. I hope he never changes.
When you’re really great you can stretch things a little. But I’ve seen so
many of these athletes who like to live it up, much to the dislike of the public. When they go bad they go bad fast. A good guy can hang on. Whether that’s worth being good for, I don't know. One thing I do know: the general public has to be treated with as much respect as they give you. They’re the paying customers — although some of them outstep their bounds. There’s no doubt in my mind that some nights Bobby turns to a buddy and says, “Boy, would I like to pop that fan over there.” But the fans can be good, too. I was going up to Moose Lake, north of Edmonton, and driving across a small bridge I rolled down the window to talk to a fisherman. “How are they biting?” I asked. He turned and said, “Pretty good Gord.” Like I was there all the time! Another time Bill Gadsby and I were fishing in Panama, after the big bill fish, and early one morning our air conditioning wasn’t working and it was very humid so we went out for a breath of air and somebody said, “Well, I’ll be, Bill and Gord." I looked at Bill and said, “You gotta be kidding.” In Panama!
You have to be on the defensive a lot. You have to be careful what you say. Like when some people swear it sounds sweet. A newspaperman called me many years ago and said, “I just quoted you in the paper.” I said, ‘‘What did I say?” So he told me and I said, “I wouldn’t say
that.” And he said, “I’m sorry, it’s on the newsstands.” A writer once lived in our house for two days and he hit me hard with that article. He said I spoke incoherently. When I read it I said, “Gee, I didn’t think I mumbled that badly.” I had a big gash in my mouth at the time. But he did, he actually sat down at our table and ate our food and then went away and wrote about me that way. Bobby's probably been through that, too.
But I’ve never seen Bobby say no. There are times when you’re not feeling good, when you lose a game or something, and people want you to sign autographs outside the rink. They don't realize that there’s someone sitting on that bus with a stopwatch and if you don’t get there on time it’s going to cost you $300. And Bobby, being the kind of team player he is, he knows he has to set an example and you can’t stand there and sign autographs forever. So you say, “Excuse me, I have to go,” and then somebody calls you a snob. That drives me up the wall, because Bobby isn’t a snob. Bobby is the type that doesn’t like to say no, and that leads to nothing but heartache. My wife kept a calendar in front of her and she’d block out my schedule on it, and she’d say, “Here you've got two days to yourself.” And I’d say, “This never having a day to myself has got to stop.” And she’d say, “What are you going to do? Let somebody down?” Well, you can’t do that.
One regret I have is that I got involved in hockey so young — I was away from home when I was 16 — that I really didn’t know my dad for a long time. And I made up my mind that I wasn't going to let that happen to Marty, Mark, Murray and Cathy. I make a special effort to do things with them so we’ll have memories. I took Marty and Mark to Ecuador fishing, and I’m planning a trip with Murray up to White River, and last year for Cathy’s birthday I took her to New York City. Bobby’s dad thinks this way — they do a lot of things together — and when you get good people thinking behind you it means a lot.
The best thing I can say about Bobby Orr is that he’s one of the best things that has happened to the game of hockey in a long time. Not only has he got the talent, but he's such a level-headed guy. He really impresses me. Some nights I’d be sitting on the bench when we were playing Boston. I’d be watching Orr. When he’s on the ice, in Boston or anywhere else, he can control the game. He sets the pace and if he’s flying, my God. Anyway, I’d be watching from the bench and I’d turn to Alex Delvecchio and I’d say, “Did you see that? Did you see that?” ■
When Bobby’s on the ice he can control the game, set the pace, and if he’s flying ... my God