Bobby Orr’s been showing his knees as he’s been making his way around the interview circuit this week to talk about Orr: My Story, the autobiography he wrote with the help of Vern Stenlund.
It was no surprise when CBC’s cameras hovered over Orr’s scars on the national news on Monday: his many surgeries define his hockey career as much as any of his trophies or statistics. He told Peter Mansbridge that doctors have gone in 19 times over the years (both knees) — though in an interview in The National Post published Wednesday, Joe O’Connor suggested that they’ve all been on the left side, and that Orr himself can’t be sure of the exact number, only that it’s somewhere between 17 and 21.
The Post played a big photo of the knee that George Plimpton once said looked like a bag of handkerchieves. Montreal’s Gazette crowned it “the most famous knee in hockey medical history” — O’Connor notches it up to “the most famous knee on the planet.” Either way, Orr is feeling “spry.”
“Everything else hurts on my body,” he was saying, “but my knees feel great. I will do hockey clinics, but I skate real slowly, and I would never play again. I am afraid of hurting myself. I am 66, not 26.”
A look back through the annals at the optimism, guarded and otherwise, that has attended Orr’s tortured joints over the years:
• People, March, 1978:
After the most recent surgery in April 1977, doctors benched him for a year. The surgeon performing that operation said the chances were one in 10 that Bobby would play again.
Despite those odds, Orr insists that “the knee feels good” as he settles back with wife Peggy in the family room of their ranch house. Darren is in the kitchen devouring Sesame Street and spaghetti, and 1-year-old Brent gurgles in a walker. “The knee is strong,” Orr says. “It doesn’t anymore. It doesn’t buckle. But inside there’s just bone on bone, no cartilage left, nothing to absorb shock. Little pieces of bone break off and float through the joint.” His wife pales at the description and turns her face. “Sometimes you can hear them when I walk.”
• Peter Gammons, Sports Illustrated, October, 1976:
“My knee feels good,” Orr said the following day on the Black Hawks’ flight to New York. “I know I have a way to go, but I know now that it’s going to keep getting stronger. Sure, I’m not the same player I once was, but I’ve learned a lot, too.”
• Schenectady Gazette, August, 1976:
“The knee gets a bit sore but it’s always going to be like that,” the star Chicago Black Hawks’ player said Friday. “But I don’t think I’m taking any unnecessary risks playing in the tournament, and the knee feels great.”
• Daily News, June, 1976:
“It’s great to receive a welcome like this,” said Orr, who was traded to the Black Hawks by the Boston Bruins.
“I’ve got a great report that my knee is better and I feel like I can play another six or seven years,” said Orr, who was plagued with knee trouble for most of his 10-year-career.
• The Victoria Advocate, June, 1976:
Last week, doctors in Toronto found that Orr would not need another operation on his knee, having already undergone five in his career.
“You just couldn’t imagine how good it felt when he told me I wouldn’t need surgery,” Orr said. “I don’t know whether it’s just in my mind or what, but my knee feels better already.”
• The New York Times, November, 1972:
The period also supplied Orr with a jarring test of his knee. He spilled high over Jim Mair, flipped to the ice and broke his stick besides. But he played in all three periods and said later,
“I wouldn’t be surprised if my knee stiffened a little tomorrow from all the work. But outside of being tired, it feels fine. The only way I can test it is in a game.”
• The Windsor Star, August, 1972:
Orr said he had skated Monday and that the knee had felt all right, but he could tell by the feel of the thigh muscles that they required quite a bit of work.
• Stephen Brunt, Searching For Bobby Orr (2006):
Interviewed at the Orr-Walton camp in Orillia, Bobby delivered the unexpectedly good news. “Two months ago, there was no way that I thought I would play. But in the last month, the knee has felt just super.”
• Mark Mulvoy, Sports Illustrated, May, 1972:
Twice during the game Orr had to go to the dressing room for treatment of his injured left knee. “We kept ice on it, wrapped tape around it and also put a pressure bandage on it,” trainer Dan Canney said. Now Orr sat on a bench, sipping ginger ale and wiping perspiration from his face.
“How’s your knee?” someone asked.
“I feel fine, just fine,” he answered. “There’s nothing wrong with me.” As Orr spoke Canney was wrapping another bandage around the knee.
• Associated Press, May, 1972:
Super star Bobby Orr, who led the Bruins despite a damaged left knee, looked ahead to a Florida vacation, and probably surgery early in June.
“The knee feels fine,” the 24-year-old defenceman said. “Right now, I don’t feel anything. I’m just so happy. This is very sweet.”
• The Calgary Herald, May, 1972:
There had been reports that Orr would have x-rays on the knee when he got back to Boston but Johnson said Monday the super-star defencemen showed up for practice “feeling great” and no-x-rays were required.
• The Phoenix, August, 1967:
Dr. John Palmer, a Toronto orthopedic surgeon, said Monday the knee “was investigated under anaesthetic this afternoon, but we did not find enough damage to require surgery.
“The knee was placed in a cast where it will stay for two to three weeks. He should be ready to play two to three weeks later — just about the time the schedule opens.
“There’s no reason to expect the recovery will be other than complete.”
• The Windsor Star, December, 1966:
“The knee felt good,” Orr said. “I put some pressure on it, and it didn’t bother me. I think I’ll be ready to play this weekend.”