The Next Bobby Orr

There is a photo of me, taken to commemorate what was probably my first Halloween outing and I am dressed up as a hockey player.  My costume consisted of little more than a Bobby Orr hockey jersey that was several sizes too big and draped down to my ankles.  At the time Orr was easily the best player in the game and was actively making his case for being the greatest player who ever lived.   While he led the league in points a few times what made Orr special was that he played defense, it wasn’t his job to score goals, his job was to prevent them.  When he was 22 he set the record for goal differential with a +124, a record that still stands to this day.   The previous record holder was Dallas Smith, Orr’s defensive partner who had a  +33, which he did during Orr’s injury riddled sophomore season when he played only half the games and yet still managed a goal differential of +30.  In Canada, where hockey is worshiped like a religion, he was the person you wanted to be when you grew up.

However in my case it was more of a question of whether I would ever grow.  At age four I had my first exposure to team sports when my father signed me up for baseball.  I was half the size of the other kids and worse yet I was shorter than the tee on which the ball was placed.  I tried to compensate by swinging the bat above my head but it was too heavy and I would clumsily hit the tee somewhere in the middle and if I got lucky it would knock the ball off.  More often than not I managed to strike out – in Tee ball.  Catching the ball involved an entirely different set of problems.  My father was the coach of the team and despite endless games of catch I was never, ever, able to catch a ball in my glove.  In fact the ball would usually bounce off my face instead.  I played new positions that my father invented to hide my defensive liabilities and ran as fast as I could the second I knocked the ball off the tee but it was mostly in vain.  Astonishingly enough we persisted in this exercise in futility for THREE YEARS until my father finally gave up.  However it wasn’t a complete waste.  My baseball ineptitude helped my parents diagnose that I had terrible vision, and that I was desperately in need of prescription eyewear.

From that point onward sports was just something I occasionally watched on TV.   However despite my Canadian heritage I rarely saw a hockey game as my father become embroiled in an unfortunate love affair with the NFL.  The story goes that my mother made him choose between the two sports.  Since we lived in the Detroit media market this meant he gave up on the five-time Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings and their 27 playoff seasons to instead follow the hapless Detroit Lions.  However when I reached high school I found out that physical education was a required course in grade nine and once again my athletic prowess would be put to the test.

This time around my eyesight wasn’t an issue although at a strapping 77lbs (as a 14 yr old) I was still half the size of my peers.  This made me a highly sought after recruit for the school wrestling team (the entire city only had four other kids in that weight class) but it didn’t help elsewhere.  I scored a measly 3% in basketball despite the fact that I had a regulation 10ft net in my driveway.*  In fact the only sport I didn’t fail was weightlifting which was based on what percentage you could bench press of your actual weight (over 100%)  Even then I still would have failed the course if my grade had been entire based on my physical performance, fortunately sex ed was included in the curriculum and in that I was an A+ student.

*I knew it was exact regulation height because my father painstakingly measured it again and again as our neighbours patiently performed a re-enactment of the flag raising on Mt Suribachi.  In fairness to my father the family across the street were really tall and they had out grown the casually erected net in their own driveway.

During my first year of university my father enrolled me in the Dale Carnegie Course a popular corporate training program that had a focus on public speaking and each week you were expected to give a presentation about a specific topic.  One of our assignments was to bring in a trophy that we had won and tell the rest of the class about the experience, except I had never won a trophy.  In the end I gave a speech about the pen I had won for being the best speaker the very first week when I gave an impromptu retelling of my ordeals as a tee ball player.  Not long after that though I did get a real trophy as my residence floor in university won the intramural basketball tournament.  I never played a minute of the tournament but I did attend all the games and cheered the guys on.  At the end of the year they made up award just for me, a paper plate medal on which was inscribed “Better luck at the Special Olympics”

For reasons that should be obvious by now I was never really a big sports fan.  However one thing I’ve always appreciated about sports is that the games themselves are not scripted and every so often something completely unpredictable happens.  One year my buddies and I formed a slow pitch baseball team called Athletics Anonymous and joined a campus co-ed recreational league.  The sole purpose of the endeavor had been to meet girls and since we didn’t have any on our team we had to post an ad.  Fortunately we landed a trio of stellar female athletes and they turned out be a huge asset as the assorted girlfriends that filled the roster of the opposing teams were generally terrible at baseball.  Eventually we found ourselves in the playoff semi-finals against the dreaded Mathletics.  We were losing badly and down to our last out when yours truly strode to the plate.  My skills as a baseball player hadn’t really improved since I was six.  I still couldn’t catch despite being the catcher (it was slow pitch and all plays at the plate were covered by our first baseman).  I couldn’t really hit but my buddies had taught me to slap at the ball, a form of bunting where I would try to pull it along the third baseline and run like mad.  The usual result was a fielder’s choice but in this instance no one was on base and I made it safely.  The team then rallied and we won!  I wisely sat out the final game, which we also won.  It is still to this day the only time I have ever been a member of a championship team.

Now my hockey career didn’t go quite as well as it did for Bobby Orr, in fact at the risk of losing my Canadian citizenship I have to admit that I have never played hockey, not even once.  However like Orr I did need to change jobs quite often after I turned thirty and likewise I’ve had my share of financial struggles.   However Bobby Orr was able to overcome all of this and go on to enjoy a great second act.   In his forties he began a new career as a player agent primarily because his own financial problems had been the direct result of an unscrupulous agent and he wanted to be part of the solution.  His personal reputation is impeccable, his charitable works are legendary and when people talk about him being the greatest hockey player who ever lived its not all about what he did on the ice.  I can’t say what I will be when I grow up but I certainly know who I would like to emulate.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Billy Crowe on January 24, 2011 at 9:15 am

    Another great article David!



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