On this fourth day of 2020, our athlete is THE Number 4: Bobby Orr. This is an early first for our list, our first "greatest". Because Bobby Orr is the greatest Boston Bruin in history. Scratch that - Bobby Orr is the greatest hockey player in history. You can keep Gretzky and his Ice Capades, Howe and his Methuselah act. Orr is the greatest.
When I was born in 1975, the Mount Rushmore of Boston Sports was Ted Williams, Bill Russell, Cy Young, and Bobby Orr. Orr was about to begin his final season with the Bruins though he was only 27 years old. His knees were already shot - he'd play only 26 more NHL games in his career following his move to Chicago. In only ten seasons with the Bruins, Orr established himself as the best defenseman of all time (and the greatest hockey player, period).
When he retired, Orr was first all time in goals, assists, and points among defensemen, and still holds the single-season points and assists record for defensemen. Even now he remains fourth all time when it comes to points per game. No other defenseman has won an Art Ross scoring trophy - he won two, along with three consecutive Hart Trophies as league MVP and eight consecutive Norris Trophies as the best defenseman in the NHL. (Aside - how cool is it that NHL player awards have names? More sports should do that. The Super Bowl MVP trophy should be the Tom Brady Award, for instance. You know, if he ever stops winning them himself.) There are also the two Stanley Cups the Bruins won on his watch.
Orr was a dominant player, and a winner. But his import goes way beyond that. Consider that the Celtics of Cousy and Russell were wrapping up their decade of dominance (though Cowens, Havlicek, and White would deliver titles in '74 and '76), and Larry, Robert, and Kevin wouldn't walk through that door for several more years. Teddy Ballgame had retired in '60, and the Red Sox were wandering in the wilderness despite the momentary excitement of the Impossible Dream. The Patriots? Who? In the late 60s and early 70s, Boston was a hockey town. That was because of Bobby Orr (and to a lesser extent Espo and O'Reilly and Sanderson), because of his overwhelming presence on the ice and his irresistible charisma off it. He was also a pivotal player in league history - one of the first to have his contract negotiated by an agent, the first million-dollar player in the NHL. He's charitable, though private. He's patriotic, though Canadian. He is exactly what professional athletes should be. And the best hockey player of all time.
When I was a kid in the late 80s, the Bruins meant Ray Bourque and Cam Neely and losing in the Cup to the Oilers. Bobby Orr might as well have been Babe Ruth, a looming historical Goliath from a bygone era of greatness. It says something that even now, even after (during) the unprecedented run of Boston sports dominance since 2001, Bobby Orr remains on our Rushmore. The Splinter is still there, too, though Tom Brady has carved out a spot and Celtics fans can argue about Russell vs Bird. There's no argument about Bobby Orr. He's not only the best ever to wear the black and gold, he's arguably the best ever to lace them up. If the Bruins win their second Cup in the last decade in the coming weeks, the indelible moment in franchise history will still be #4 flying through the air against St. Louis in the clinching game. Superman on skates.