It was, I believe, during the 1968-'69 (maybe ’69-’70, I’m just not sure) season that I recall the Bruins making one of their fairly “regular” Saturday night visits to play the Leafs at the old Gardens in Toronto. Those were the early years of expansion, so they didn’t come to town seven times a year as they had in the past, but probably five, so it was still pretty often.
(The Bruins had been a struggling franchise for many years, and didn’t make the playoffs after the late ‘50s until 1967-’68—which basically coincided with the arrival of Bobby Orr, pictured at right, who made the jump to the pros in 1966-‘67.)
I watched this particular game and remember that the Leafs won, though I don’t remember the final score offhand.
What I remember is that the Leafs (who played the Bruins tough in Toronto in the late '60s, even as the Bruins got really good) scored a couple of fluky goals that night. They took shots from around or behind the net, and they happened to bounce into the
net off Orr, who (if I remember the season correctly) would have already been a superstar in his third year in the league— and still only 20 years of age. Boston
Often, at my high school on Mondays, I would, during lunch break, meander into the school library and check out the Globe & Mail sports section, to see what the beat reporter had to say about the Leafs game on Saturday night. (Where I attended school, in
, we only had access the early edition, so there were no game results or stories from the Sunday night away game the Leafs had usually played the night before. It was just fun to read comments and quotes about the Saturday game, especially if the Leafs had won.) Windsor, Ontario
This particular Monday, I sat down to read about the Leaf win, and there was the headline that said, in effect “Leafs win; Orr scores twice in own net”.
Now c’mon. If ever there was a misleading headline, that was it. But it was the intent behind the headline that, even as a young man of probably 16, I found rather peculiar and slanted, not to mention inaccurate. (Someone with better research skills than me can probably track down the actual headline.)
Clearly the headline writers (and the Leaf beat reporter, as I recall, in his story) made a point of focusing on the fact that Orr “scored on his own net”- twice, no less.
The fact that he was the best player on the ice, as he was in virtually any game he played, seemed to be beside the point. There seemed to be a particular joy in essentially saying, “See, even the great Bobby Orr screws up”. Fans say that sort of thing, just not usually the "objective" media.
It has always been and will always be, I guess, the media’s job to play up certain angles, and usually with a hometown angles, at least in the sports world. (The Globe, of course, was—and is—a national newspaper.) But the fact is, Orr didn’t screw up. It’s not as if he skated the length of the ice toward his own goal and wristed it past his own goaltender. In fact, he was, like any good defenseman, guarding the front of the net, and the puck happened to hit him and bounce in. Twice.
Not long ago I actually saw a fair bit of that very game on Leafs TV, one of those “classic” Maple Leaf games that are still shown from time to time. It confirmed what I had long thought. Orr was simply unlucky on those plays—hardly a goat. He had indeed played an outstanding game, scored a goal, set up tons of plays and defended very well.
I was never an Orr fan, and hated him as part of the rival (and often dirty) Bruins. He was a guy who always, it seemed, killed the Leafs. I worried every time he was on the ice, which was often about 40 minutes a night. At least that’s how it felt.
But he was the finest player I ever saw and when healthy, generally the best guy on the ice every night he played—regardless of what the Globe said on that Monday, forty years ago.