ORR’S KNEE: HAS WEAK FLESH FINALLY CRUSHED A WILLING SPIRIT?
ORR’S KNEE: HAS WEAK FLESH FINALLY CRUSHED A WILLING SPIRIT?
At 6.15 p.m. on Friday, November 28, Bobby Orr breezed into Boston’s Logan Airport, boarded United Airlines’ Chicago-bound flight 419 and took a seat next to teammate Johnny Bucyk for their regular game of cards. Suddenly, just prior to takeoff. Orr walked into the first-class cabin to talk to Bruin coach Don Cherry— then got off the plane. Thirteen hours later, at 6.30 a.m. Chicago time. Orr telephoned Cherry. “Sorry to call so early,” said the Bruin defenseman, “but I’m just about to go into surgery and I wanted to let you know.” Said Cherry later: “He didn’t w'ake nie; I’d been up all night worrying about him.”
Cherry’s vigil was not without justification. The operation on Orr’s left knee—his fifth in seven years and second in three months—left the world of hockey w'ondering whether the 27-year-old native of Parry Sound, Ontario, acclaimed by many as the finest player of all time, will ever play again. His surgeon, orthopedic specialist Dr. Carter Rowe of Massachussetts General Hospital, insists the removal of Orr’s lateral meniscus cartilage poses no threat to his career. “He’ll be back in seven or eight weeks,” says Rowe confidently. “He has a lot of hockey left in him.” Privately, however, hockey authorities predict that Orr will now give the most celebrated knee since Joe Namath’s a chance to heal properly, and not return at least until late in the season, and possibly not at all. Former Bruin Derek Sanderson, now' with the St. Louis Blues, even suggests that Orr’s latest injury was the result of returning too soon from his September operation for bone chip removal. “He should have stayed off until after Christmas,” Sanderson says. “They rushed him back. If the Bruin management has any brains, they’ll keep him out for the remainder of the season.”
It isn’t likely. Orr is now in the last year of a five-year contract with the Bruins, worth an estimated $ 175,000 a season (well below many salaries paid to lesser players). If he fails to return this season, or if he plays with less than his usual brilliance, he will enter new contract negotiations with Boston’s owners, Buffalo-based Sportsystems Corp., with a definite handicap—an untested, arthritic knee, described by some doctors as similar to the scarred joints of a 65-year-old man. If he does return and performs well, Orr might become the highest paid player in the game, albeit on a year-by-year basis. There are other financial ramifications as well. The Bruins themselves can ill-afford the loss of gate revenue Orr’s absence implies. Similarly, weak teams such as the Minnesota North Stars and Pittsburgh Penguins depend on Orr’s drawing power to fill their rinks a few times each year. Without him, their perennial brush with bankruptcy becomes more hazardous.
A great deal depends, then, on Orr’s fluid-swollen left knee, first injured seriously in February, 1968. Operated on by the late Dr. Ronald Adams, the Bruins’ team physician, Orr was rushed back into the lineup in time for Boston’s first Stanley Cup play-off appearance in nine years. But when Toronto General Hospital surgeon Dr. John Palmer operated the following June, he found a hole “the size of a quarter or 50-cent piece” worn into Orr’s femur. Palmer removed pieces of cartilage and smoothed the ragged bone, but most of Orr’s problems since derive from that hole, which causes bone to press upon bone inside the knee—a very painful condition. His most recent surgery “appears the least serious of his last two or three operations,” says Dr. Gerry Wilson, a Winnipeg orthopedist and team doctor for the WHA’S Jets. “If he can tolerate the knee’s degeneration, he will probably continue to play hockey. But I would think it’s a foregone conclusion that he is not going to have a normally long career.”
Alan Eagleson, Orr’s attorney, agent, friend and all-purpose spokesman, implicitly confirms that judgment. “If he has to go through this twice a year. I’m going to recommend that Bobby call it a career,” he says. “He’s financially secure . . . But the hell with that. What matters is his health. Nobody should have to go through what he’s been through. I personally feel he should take at least until Stanley Cup time off, and if these things keep happening wind it up. He’s had nine of the greatest years any hockey player ever had.” Indeed he has. From the first time, he pulled a Bruin sweater over his 18-year-old, brushcut head. Orr revolutionized hockey with his offensive style of play, picking up 16 NHL awards, including eight Norris Trophies as the league’s best defenseman, three Hart Trophies as the most valuable player, and two scoring championships.
But now, as they contemplate the future of Number Four, both Orr and Eagleson must wonder whether last summer’s dalliance with the WHA’S Minnesota Fighting Saints—ostensibly a manoeuvre to exact better contract terms from the Bruins— was self-defeating. Fiad Eagleson and Orr reached agreement with Boston, they would have ended up with a not-unimpressive multi-million-dollar, long-term contract. Now, whatever the status of the left knee, they face the possibility that the Bruin owners will tell the Eagle to take his client elsewhere. D. LEO MONAHAN
In Edmonton did Kubla Khan . . .
For Canadians accustomed to long, cold winters, it’s always seemed at least mildly ironic that the only two domed sports stadiums in captivity were located, respectively, in balmy Houston, Texas, and steamy New Orleans. But if the Edmonton Eskimos have their way, that city might become the first in Canada to boast football—and other events—under a dome, possibly in time for the 1979 CFL season.
Spearheaded by Eskimos general manager Norm Kimball, the team’s campaign has roused some fierce opposition, notably from Ron Ferguson, facilities coordinator for the 1978 Commonwealth Games, which the city is hosting. Edmonton has already committed almost $21 million to build a new 46,000-seat stadium for the games, and Ferguson, some civic politicians and Action Edmonton (a citizens’ committee) argue that any further expenditure in a time of fiscal restraint would be irresponsible. The Eskimos, armed with architects’ drawings of a $36-million Astroturfed stadium seating 57,000, say their roofed version would cost only $ 13 million more than council has pledged. Kimball’s plan calls for the city to up its investment by five million dollars, the province to kick in $8.1 million, while the Eskimos, who would use the stadium 10 days a year, will contribute $3.2 million (by selling 800 luxury loge seats for a onetime fee of $4,000, not including regular season ticket costs).
Opponents of the plan wonder what events, other than football, will possibly fill a 57,000-seat covered stadium and allow it to operate at a profit. (The Eskimos and games officials are more than $300,000 apart on what the operating costs for the stadium would be.) The $ 15-million, yearold Edmonton Coliseum already handles trade shows and rock concerts with ease. The Eskimos “would have to book Elton John or John Denver every night of the week to get that many people,” says Bill Owens, Coliseum public relations chief. “Personally, I think this city just can’t afford a covered stadium. There’s just not enough uses for that kind of building.”
If Edmonton city council decides to support Kimball’s plan (a decision is expected later this month) Peter Lougheed’s Conservative government will be asked to approve the scheme. And when it comes to the province, the Eskimos have an extra wrinkle in their playbook: both Lougheed and Energy Minister Don Getty once played for the team. DAR TOST
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