1. Name me a better football player than Jim Brown?
2. Name me a better baseball player than Babe Ruth?
3. Name me a better basketball player than Michael Jordan?
4. Name me a better hockey player than Wayne Gretzky?
On September 18, 1975, publishing heiress turned urban guerilla Patty Hearst, victim of a bizarre kidnap by the Symbionese Liberation Party, was found by federal US agents following one of the most extensive manhunts in history.
That same afternoon, a cub reporter from the Fitchburg Sentinel parked his car in a field on the New England farm of noted philanthropist George R. Wallace, Jr. Phil Esposito, all-star center of the Boston Bruins, pulled up next to the journalist.
Both were heading for a clambake at the Wallace farm, an event to fete the Bruins, who in those years held their pre-season training camp in Fitchburg, Mass.
As they walked up to the barn to join Bruins players, coaches and local politicians and luminaries from Fitchburg, Esposito turned to the reporter and said, “Did you hear? They found Patty Hearst.”
Moments later another Bruins player, all-star defenseman Bobby Orr, emerged from an apple orchard on Wallace’s farm. Orr was limping noticeably. Espo, concerned about this teammate, asked him if he was all right. Orr smiled, but admitted the knee was bothering him.
Little did Orr — or Espo, the reporter and the clambakers — suspect it at the time, but Orr’s his brilliant career was just about over at age 27. A few days later, Orr was sidelined and had knee surgery.
He would play just 10 games for the Bruins in 1975. Orr would never skate for the Bruins again, playing 26 games for the Chicago Black Hawks between 1976-77 and 1978-79 before retiring, his brilliant career over at age 30.
Orr played all 80 games during his final full season in 1974-75, scoring a career-high 46 goals, and won his second Art Ross scoring trophy as he led the NHL in both assists with 89 and points with 135.
He was never the same player after 1975, when he won a record eighth straight Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.
But during his Koufaxian-like career which began with a Calder Trophy as an 18-year-old NHL Rookie of the Year in 1966-67, the Parry Sound, Ontario, native was the best hockey player ever. Orr redefined the position of defenseman and led the Bruins to Stanley Cups in 1970 and 1972.
In 1970 he became the only player ever to sweep the league’s top awards — Norris, Ross, Hart Memorial as regular season MVP and Conn Smythe as playoff MP — and scored the Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime, flying through the air to complete a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues.
The following year Orr recorded a plus/minus of 124, best in NHL history and quite likely the most unbreakable record in hockey. Only one other player, Larry Robinson of Montreal, ever had a plus/minus over 100 in a season.
Orr broke the mold of the defensive-minded defenseman, winning two scoring titles and leading the NHL in assists on five separate occasions. He won three consecutive MVPs (1970-71-72) and was also the playoff MVP in 1972, when the Bruins defeated the New York Rangers in six games to win their last Stanley Cup.
Wayne Gretzky may have been The Great One, but Bobby Orr was The Greatest.