Orr, as in Outstanding: Book reminds of the amazing talent of Bobby Orr

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With the start of the always-compelling Stanley Cup playoffs, it seems like the perfect time to catch up with Bobby Orr’s autobiography, “Orr: My Story,” published by J.P. Putnam and Sons.  Written in 2013, it chronicles the great career of the Boston Bruins star.
Younger hockey fans probably have heard Orr’s name, but for those of us fortunate to see him he was a dominating player. When Orr controlled the puck approaching center ice everyone’s eyes were on him: he was fast, creative and fearless.

At age 18 Orr made his NHL debut with the Bruins in 1966. As a rookie he scored 13 goals, a huge total for a defenseman in those days, in 61 games. Two seasons later Orr collected 21 goals in 67 games. Starting in 1969-70, when the Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since 1940-41, Orr’s goal totals the next six seasons were 33, 37, 37, 29, 32 and 46. His points total topped 100 four times during that span.

His awesome career totals were 270 goals, 645 assists and 915 points in 657 games.

The cover photo on the book appropriately his overtime Stanley Cup-winning goal in 1970 against St. Louis. With an understandably elated expression Orr is sailing head first through air. It was his only goal in the finals; however, in 14 playoff games that year Orr scored nine goals.

Major knee problems forced Orr to prematurely retired at age 30. As the Flyers beat writer for the Philly Daily News, I recall covering a Flyers-Chicago Blackhawks game at the old Chicago Stadium when Orr was finishing his career playing for the Blackhawks. The press box was at one end of the arena. As Chicago gained possession of the puck and launched an offensive, I looked over at the left side boards and saw Orr attempting to stand. He had to lean on the boards to help him stand. I pointed to Orr and said to the sports writer next to me, “Look at that.” It was one of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen in sports.

When the Bruins retired Orr’s No. 4 in January 1979, I was in Boston Garden covering a Bruins game vs. a Russian team. The Garden press box was along the front of the second tier: it was so low we always felt we could reach out and whisper to the players. During the ceremony, when a Bruins official presented Orr with his black-and-gold No. 4 sweater at center ice, I remember adult male fans in seats behind us pleading, with tears streaming down their faces “Put it on! Put it on (one more time)!” Orr obliged as thunderous cheers swept the old building.

I was curious to read Orr’s thoughts on Alan Eagleson, the one-time hockey power broker who eventually spent 18 months in prison for embezzlement and fraud. Seems like a light sentence for someone who did so much damage to many people. Eagleson has been shamed though as he resigned his Hockey Hall of Fame membership, his Order of Canada was revoked and he was disbarred from the legal profession in Canada.

Eagleson rose to a person of tremendous influence as a player agent in the late 1960s. He was Orr’s agent while the puck-rushing defenseman played for the Bruins. Eagleson also was responsible for staging the Canada Cup, an international event that matched Team Canada against the formidable Russian hockey team.

Orr doesn’t pull punches regarding his feelings toward Eagleson, whom he believes betrayed him and other top NHL players. Orr writes that Eagleson became power crazed and mistreated people. According to Orr, he signed with the Blackhawks, for $500,000 annually, because Eagleson never told him the Bruins had offered Orr a piece of the team to keep him in Boston.

For those of us who covered the Flyers in the 1970s and later, we’ll never forget the Flyers clinching their first Stanley Cup in 1974 against Orr and the Bruins. Orr only devotes one page to the ’74 series, probably because he refers to the setback as “a bitter disappointment.”

A Pat Quinn anecdote in the book also stands out. Later on, Quinn was a successful coach with the Flyers. But Quinn is remembered in Boston primarily for his crunching hit on Orr during a playoff game in 1969. As Orr relates it, the Bruins were leading Quinn, a linebacker-sized defenseman, and his Toronto Maple Leafs, 6-0, when Quinn leveled his check that resulted in a concussion for Orr.

After Orr was released from an overnight hospital stay, he walked into the hotel where the Bruins were staying. A “gentleman” approached Orr and said in a low voice, “Do you want me to take care of Pat Quinn?” The shaken Orr replied he would take care of Quinn himself. Orr says he never saw the menacing guy again.

There are plenty of photos in the book that should warm the hearts of Boston fans. One stood out to me: Orr, Ted Williams and Larry Bird together, holding their uniform jerseys. The memorable photo reminded me of a photo I arranged for a Philadelphia Daily News “Philly’s sports greats” special section: Julius “Doctor J” Erving, Joe Frazier, Chuck Bednarik, Tom Gola, John Chaney and Harry Kalas gathered outside Erving’s statue at the Spectrum (Alex Alvarez was the photographer). The six distinguished gentlemen all seemed pleased to be in each other’s company. I know I was delighted to be with them.

Orr’s book also includes his thoughts on the state of hockey and parental involvement in youth sports. Regrettably, Orr doesn’t mention veteran Bruins beat writers such as Fran Rosa and Tom Fitzgerald nor Nate Greenberg, the Bruins’ superb public relations director. We’ll forgive that oversight: I give the book a WWR: well worth reading.

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From an amazing Notre Dame women’s star, to an LPGA playoff for the ages, and Villanova’s triumph: A sports trifecta worth savoring.

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As a long time sharp observer of the sports scene 🙂 it occurred to me, after Villanova won its second national basketball championship in three years, that in the past few days we’ve witnessed some remarkable achievements in basketball and golf. All happened within 24 hours, from a Sunday night through Monday night.

The first was Notre Dame’s last-second victory over Mississippi State for the NCAA women’s hoops title. A three-pointer by Arike Ogunbowale just before the buzzer won it for Notre Dame. When the ball swished through the net I yelled at the television set “She made the shot!” For about the 999th time in our marriage, my wife Barbara, in another room, thought I was crazy.

What’s amazing about Ogunbowale’s shot is, she did the exact thing in Notre Dame’s 91-89 semifinal win over Connecticut’s powerhouse two days earlier.

The game-winner against previously unbeaten UConn was in overtime. For Ogunbowale to make two such shots in consecutive games is simply stunning. She has etched a place for herself in college basketball forever with a personal highlight reel.

For those who don’t follow women’s hoops, the 5-foot-8 Ogunbowale was a high school star at Divine Savior Holy Angels in Milwaukee. She is a first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection. Her older brother, Oluwadare, was a running back at the University of Wisconsin.

The second memorable event was the playoff in the LPGA tournament in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Pernilla Lindberg and Inbee Park played eight playoff holes over two days before Lindberg sank a 30-foot putt to gain her first pro victory in 250 starts. Eight playoff holes: holy Annika Sorenstam!

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Lindberg, 31, and Park, a seven-time major champion, played four playoff holes Sunday night, finishing in darkness with artificial lights illuminating the greens.

Then they teed off at 8 a.m. Pacific time on Monday. Talk about perseverance, endurance and clutch playing in the ANA Inspiration event, the LPGA’s first major of the year.

“I just know I’m a grinder,” a proud and relieved Lindberg said. “I just felt `This is mine; I’m going to do this.’ I just knew I could, and I just kept fighting.”

I hate to note, in 2018, that if Ogunbowale’s shots and Lindberg’s victory were accomplished by men, they would receive a lot more media attention.

The third event was Villanova gaining another national basketball title. Villanova’s convincing 79-62 victory over Michigan in the NCAA final completed its impressive run of double-digit wins in the tournament. The Wildcats’ scoring margin was a wow-za 17.7, leading writers to proclaim the ‘Cats one of college basketball’s all-time great teams.

With its balanced offense, Villanova can score from anywhere on the court, its passing is a treat to watch and it plays strong defense. The total package, as courtside observers say.

For me, an added bonus with Villanova’s success is the culture coach Jay Wright has created on the Main Line just outside Philadelphia. Players don’t suit up for the Wildcats for one season and then flee to the NBA for lucrative paydays. They stay for three or four years, get an education, improve as people and…guess what?…they win national championships. What an old-fashioned concept!

Also, Villanova is not Enormous State U. like Michigan or Ohio State or Texas. It’s a respected Catholic university with about 6,500 undergraduates.

Wright’s name always is mentioned for NBA coaching jobs. Maybe someday he’ll accept an NBA coaching challenge and bigger bucks (he reportedly earns $2.6 million at Villanova). Wright is a youthful 56 years old; he’s been at Villanova for 17 seasons, so perhaps he’s ready for a change.

But I think he enjoys the college atmosphere and working with quality individuals such as Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo and the other Villanova players.

Why go anywhere else?

 

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Eagles’ parade brings back memories of another Philly celebration

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Watching the Eagles’ memorable Super Bowl parade took me back to the first Philadelphia parade I covered.

On a warm, sunny May 1974 afternoon at the Spectrum, the underdog Flyers, in just their seventh National Hockey League season, defeated Boston, 1-0. The imposing Bruins were led by Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. Nevertheless, the Flyers won on a goal by Rick MacLeish, Bernie Parent’s sensational goaltending and stellar defense.

Later, I learned that throughout the city’s neighborhoods of row homes, the streets were empty because so many were in their homes watching television or listening on the radio to the sixth and final game of the Stanley Cup Finals on the radio.

The next day Philly held a parade for the Flyers, all Canadians, who had given the city such a feel-good emotional lift. (The ’74 and ’75 Flyers were the last all-Canadian teams to win Stanley Cups. Here we pause for a chorus of “Oh, Canada”).

I was the Flyers beat writer for the Daily News (my long-running joke is, I covered the Flyers only two Stanley Cup championships, in ’74 and ’75. They haven’t won a Cup since, so I’m taking a little credit for the 1974 and ’75 titles). I rode in the media bus, enjoying the sight of joyous, smiling fans cheering for the Flyers. Philly needed such a lift at the time and an estimated two million people turned out for the parade.

If I recall correctly, the father of Flyers’ defensemen Joe and Jimmy Watson, a burly, bearded man, had consumed a few beers, so at one point he hopped off the bus, ran up some steps, knocked on a stranger’s door and asked if he could use their bathroom. As Mr. Watson was leaving the house, the resident handed him another beer for the road.

When I returned to the Daily News newsroom, on North Broad Street in mid-afternoon, Stan Hochman, then the sports editor, walked over to my desk. I expected him to ask “How was the parade?” and then ask what I was writing for the next day’s paper. Instead, he looked rather sheepish and finally said, “The paper wants a three-part series on how the Flyers built a Stanley Cup winner in such a short time.” I replied, “Fine; when does the series start?” Stan replied, “Tomorrow.” OMG! Talk about deadline pressure. If I didn’t say it I certainly thought “Are these editors bleepin’ crazy?”

This was long before the Internet, cell phones, texting, etc. As I gathered my thoughts I called my wife Barbara and said, “I won’t be home for dinner.” Somehow, after a few phone calls, I managed to write the first part of the series for the next day’s paper. I completed the next two parts. Some day I’ll wade through my Flyers files and see if the series was decent.

One of the best Flyers parade stories was told by Gene Hart, the team’s longtime television and radio voice.

According to Gene, as the parade passed the Bellevue Stratford Hotel on South Broad Street, an out-of-town guest heard the commotion, looked out the window from his room on the fifth floor and saw the crowds lining the city’s main north-south street. The puzzled guest called the hotel’s front desk and asked what was going on. The clerk replied, “Haven’t you ever been in Philly on a Monday morning?” Ba da bing!

A few words about Gene Hart. He was a terrific hockey announcer: very knowledgeable and passionate about the game. For several years Gene also taught at Lenape High School, in Medford, N.J., when my wife also was a teacher there for a few years.

Several times during the NHL season he would bring a student with him to Flyers games at Madison Square Garden and Nassau Coliseum. What memorable experiences these trips must have been for the students.

Why Eagles Super Bowl victory is special

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An estimated two million green-attired Eagles fans are expected Thursday for a Super Bowl-clinching parade in Philadelphia. People around the United States will see the parade on news and sports television highlights and perhaps wonder “What’s the big deal? There are Super Bowl parades every year.”

Ah, but not in Philadelphia. Until the Eagles outlasted the New England Patriots, 41-33, they had never won a Super Bowl. The Eagles’ last championship was in 1960 when they beat the Green Bay Packers, handing Vince Lombardi his only defeat in a title game. The Eagles had only been in an NFL championship game twice since 1960, losing to Oakland in 1980 and the Patriots in 2004.

Despite these rare appearances, Eagles fans have remained loyal, cheering and groaning through the franchise’s highs and lows. That’s one reason the Super Bowl victory and parade are special.

The other is, no one in Philly saw this season happening.

In Doug Pederson’s first season as head coach the Eagles compiled a 7-9 record with a rookie quarterback showing signs of great promise. Carson Wentz’s remarkable development this season, combined with talented receivers, an efficient running game and a stout defense sent the Eagles surging to the top of the NFC East.

Then, when Wentz sustained a season-ending knee injury, the hearts of Eagles fans sank like a full beer keg toppling into the Schuylkill River. Stepping in for Wentz was Nick Foles, a former Eagles starting QB. After the Eagles traded Foles he evolved
into a back-up NFL quarterback and almost retired.

Not exactly a confidence-builder for Eagles fans.
Faithful followers were concerned about how Foles would play. Well, all Foles did was lead the Eagles to three consecutive playoff victories, all as underdogs (including two games in Philly). Foles has established himself as a Philly sports legend: he’ll never have to pay for cheesesteaks or soft pretzels again.

Against the Patriots, Foles became the first QB to throw and catch touchdown passes in a Super Bowl. Where Foles will play next season is a big question in Philly: his playoff run has enhanced his appeal to other teams. Perhaps another NFL team will want him as a starter. However, since Wentz isn’t expected to return until early in the 2018 regular season, the Eagles still need Foles.

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When Pederson was named the Eagles head coach, I told friends “Let’s hope he’s a better NFL head coach than he was an NFL quarterback.”

With the coaching job he and his staff did this season, Pederson proved he’s an excellent NFL head coach. His play calling is imaginative, and some times borderline crazy, but he makes watching the Eagles compelling.

The Eagles’ Super Bowl victory has lifted the spirits of a region where the other major pro teams have been, to be kind, below par. After winning the World Series in 2008, the Phillies sank to the bottom of the National League and are in rebuilding mode.

The Sixers also were basement occupants for several agonizing years, as they went through The Process of rebuilding. Now, led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers are NBA playoff contenders. The Sixers’ last NBA championship was in 1983.

The Flyers, in their 43rd season since winning their last Stanley Cup, are inconsistent middle-of- the-pack playoff hopefuls.
On the plus side, Villanova’s men’s basketball team is ranked No. 1 in the nation.
With balance and depth, the Wildcats are a serious NCAA tournament threat.
Here’s hoping parade day in Philly is an enjoyable occasion. And let’s hope the dopes who trashed stores and cars the night of the Eagles Super Bowl victory aren’t prominent.

As Philly Mayor Jim Kenney said, the knuckleheads should stay home.

Welcome to my blog!

This is the post excerpt.

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Welcome me to the 21st century.
Among other subjects this blog will focus on are my memories of covering the Philadelphia Flyers at the beat reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News (talk about living in the past…) I covered the Flyers when they won their only Stanley Cups, in 1974 and ’75. They haven’t won since, so I’m saying I had something to do with those championships (…smile…)
I’ll also offer thoughts on auto racing, which I started covering for the Daily News in the early 1970s, plus other subjects.
I was a sports writer/desk editor/assistant sports editor with the Daily News from 1969 until 2005. From ’06 until the end of 2016 I was a correspondent for the newspaper. My prior newspaper stops were the Burlington County (N.J.) Times and the News Journal in Delaware.
After graduating from Germantown High in Philadelphia, I attended Gettysburg College where I wrote for the student newspaper and hosted, on the college radio station a radio show, called “Bullet Bill’s Bandstand” (the nickname for Gettysburg’s athletic teams is Bullets). I majored in English, minored in history. I met my wife Barbara in Modern Poetry class at Gettysburg (this is not fake news!)
While working at the Daily News I also taught, as an adjunct, in the University of Delaware journalism program for 28 years. At UD I worked with many outstanding students, faculty and staff members. One of the UD graduates I’m in touch with is Michael Lewis, the force behind setting up this blog. Ask him some time how he did with page design in my class (…another smile…) You can read his excellent blog at Michael Lewis’s Wide World of Stuff.
My sports writing led to co-authoring two books: with Sonny Schwartz, “Bernie, Bernie”, the auto biography of Flyers goaltender Bernie Parent, and, with Al Pearce, several editions of “The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide.”
I have served as president of two organizations: the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association. I have a plaque from the PSWA proclaiming I am a Good Guy (it’s an award the Philly Writers frequently give to members but I still tell people I can produce a plaque certifying I am a Good Guy).
For the past few years I have been involved with the Delaware Sports Museum and Hall of Fame (we live near Wilmington). As the historian, I handle the public nomination meetings for the Hall of Fame and write the bios of nominees.

I would like this blog to be a conversation as well; if you have any stories, anecdotes or memories about being a Flyers fan through the years, or a NASCAR fan as well, please let me know either in the comments section below, or email me directly at fleiscb@phillynews.com

Thanks so much for reading, and I look forward to hearing from you!