bobby orr’s knees feel just super

Paying The Price: Bobby Orr checks himself out of hospital in 1966, after treatment for strained knee ligaments. ("Here Comes Bobby Orr" 1971)

Paying The Price: Bobby Orr checks himself out of hospital in 1966, after treatment for strained knee ligaments.
(“Here Comes Bobby Orr” 1971)

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 hurt 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.” Continue reading

the ghost of bobby orr (i)

The Goal: Photographer Chad Coombs' "Hockey Night In Canada: A Bobby Orr Tribute.' For more of his work, visit www.chadcoombs.com.

The Goal, ish: Photographer Chad Coombs’ “Hockey Night In Canada: A Bobby Orr Tribute.’ For more of his work, visit
http://www.chadcoombs.com.

The news that Bobby Orr was writing a book emerged into the wider world back in March, just as Number Four was celebrating his 65th birthday. There wasn’t much more to be told at the time, beyond bare details. Orr: My Story would be the title. It would be out in October.

It’s been a while since Orr wrote books, of course, a good, oh, what, 40 years? He was pretty prolific, bookwise, back when he plying the blueline for the Bruins, publishing exactly as many of them, in the early 1970s, as he won Stanley Cups, i.e. two. (Three, if you want to count Hockey As I See It, a booklet he published in 1970 with Pepsi.)

Those weren’t really autobiographies. Orr On Ice (1972), for which he had the help of writer Dick Grace, never even pretended to be. At age 24, Orr was the game’s dominant player, had been for a few years, and he was ready to tell kids — sorry, “youngsters” — what he knew.

His foreword states the case head-on: “Believing that pictures tell a better story than words, I am presenting this book to you with as few words as possible. … Hockey is all action, and action photos speak louder than words.” Turn the page and we’re off: here’s the man himself, standing tall in jockstrap and skivvies, knees yet unscarred, showing you how to get dressed. Ten pages later, he pulls his sweater over his head, and we’re ready to move on to what’s next up: groin exercises.

Bobby Orr: My Game (1974) was textier, but as Orr new co-pilot, Mark Mulvoy from Sports Illustrated explained upfront, the aim, again, was largely instructional. The time had come (prefaced Mulvoy) for Number 4 to explain just how he played the game — in detail. After 25 pages of third-person biography, the narrative shifts over to the first to start at the start: your skates don’t need to fit at first, and if your hockey gloves don’t have palms, no worries. Get out there, skate, have fun, that’s what it’s all about.

Talking to The Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek in March, Orr came equipped with a helpful list of what the new book would not be: a tell-all, or an exposé of his dealings with his former disgraced agent, Alan Eagleson. “If anybody’s going to buy my book because they think there’s a lot of dirt in it,” he said, “don’t buy it.”

What Orr didn’t dish: who was the writer he worked with, this time out? Continue reading