As a child I was lucky enough to be caught up in the craze known around here as the Big Bad Bruins! The Boston Bruins of the 1970’s were a blue collar working man’s hockey team. They won two Stanley Cups and had quite a list of characters that played for them. At the top of that list was the Legend… #4…Bobby Orr! Orr brought flash, lightning speed and end to end rushes to the game. He was the first defenseman to lead the league in scoring. He did so three years straight.
Bobby Orr was not only a great hockey player but a gentleman, active in the community and always, always beyond polite.
He was the type of guy your parents wanted your sister to marry.
Having been diagnosed with “juvenile diabetes” in 1969 I was always active searching for someone on one of the hometown teams to also have diabetes. Someone I could relate to in a special way. Then there he was…#16…for the Philadelphia Flyers?!! What? Seriously, the enemy?! Suddenly I had a strong interest in following the Broad Street Bullies. They were as fierce as the Bruins and had this Bobby Clarke dude with “juvenile diabetes”. How could I not be a fan?
My stepdad was able to secure tickets to almost every game that the Flyers played in the old Boston Garden. To boot we sat behind the Flyers bench! I wore my Flyer #16 sweater and loved every second! I even bought Kate Smith albums!! Kate Smith sang “God Bless America” at Flyers home games and their winning percentage was like 95% or something ridiculous like that. If she wasn’t live then there was a recording ( most of the time) but to see her live at Center Ice belting out those great lyrics was a guarantee of a WIN!
I cannot imagine the lifestyle of a 20 something professional athlete in the 1970’s. All I can say is Clarke had quite a reputation as a bad guy, a dirty player and not to accessible to the public. However, I began a letter writing campaign to him in 1973. After a couple of months I began to get back Bobby Clarke post cards with messages on them addressed to me, very exciting. I was not to sure they were legit so I kept writing… a weekly dedication of sorts praising his courage and skill as an athlete with diabetes and confirming my allegiance to two great teams.the Bruins and the Flyers. Let’s face it you cannot ever turn on the home town heroes.
The cards continued and every once in awhile I would get a letter. Scribbled stuff asking how I was and did I see a certain game, was I taking care of myself etc… Hey, at least he was writing back. I made my connection. As I grew older and continued to attend Bruin/Flyer games he finally connected who I was! After the games I would wait around and Bobby Clarke (larger than life) would come out with Dave Schultz and another player (sorry) and gave me five minutes of his time. I was elated!! This guy gave a S%$T who I was and he knew I had diabetes without me reminding him! I was fan #1 for this dude.
As I grew older we drifted apart…my love of the Flyers remains, though. For me H.S., sports and eventually girls were more important! I never thought I would see #16 take to the ice again.then the Winter Classic was announced last summer. Flyers versus Bruins at Fenway Park. I told Knox that on that day I would sit and wait for the greatest sports moment in my life. If it happened I would tell him, if not I would sit back and watch a little of the game. So, come New Years day we watched the Rose Bowl Parade (as we do every year). Then:
At noon Knox put on the Winter Classic pre-game. Still nothing said about my two boyhood idols. Finally, at 1.00 there was mention of interviewing the two honorary captains after returning from commercial. I sat on the edge of the hassock and waited with pins and needles. After all there could be a number of great players from the past representing each team…would it be? Then …TA-DA! Interview with one Bobby Clarke, a little grayer, a little older, a full set of teeth and still that gleem.that special smarky look of cockiness! He hadn’t lost it at all. And finally, the moment …the interview with #4 Robert Gordon Orr from Parry Sound Ontario Canada. I was in a freeze frame for a minute then JOY!!
A few minutes later I watched with my children as I described in detail (very quickly) the legendary status of these two men to Daddio. Then each came out of the dugouts and went to the ice. What a moment for me and all hockey fans. The Bruins fans of the 1970’s hated Clarke with a passion but today the two heroes were partners in creating a most memorable return to my Youth!
I watched them at center ice for the face-oof and sat back with a smile as big as they get and a small tear of joy!
I wondered out loud if anybody else had the same intense feelings as me. I sat up again on the edge of the hassock and just watched and imagined…Later that night I spent hours on-line viewing pics and articles of the event. A well documented few minutes. The game was a classic return to old style hockey. A return to my youth for a brief time.
My son watched me in delight. I could see his smile as he watched me take it all in.
So, my heroes are still that…heroes to many. I facebooked Bobby Clarke and Bobby Orr. Orr has many FB groups with many fans. #16, however, has a couple with very few fans. I was sad to see that Philadelphia was not carrying the same love for a man who brought some magic to the old Spectrum on Broad Street. So, if you’re a Flyers fan circa 1970’s get on FB and pony up. The Flyers also have a great alumni website and events. And B’s fans keep on rockin’…
Russell vs Chamberlain … great!
Bird vs Magic…fantastic, legendary!
Montana vs Marino …Wow!