Note: Travis Shaw is a new Puck Junk contributor. Please give him a welcome in the comments below.
My biggest fear when meeting someone I idolize is that the experience is going to be disappointing. I have this fear because when you idolize someone you have this idea in your mind of this person being bigger than life and flawless. So, when I was given the chance to meet the greatest defensemen — or maybe even the greatest player to ever step on the ice — I was a pretty nervous.
This past May, my wife and I took a road trip to Toronto for the Spring Sport Card and Memorabilia Expo. To put it into perspective, it’s the Canada’s National. My wife purchased me The Ultimate Bobby Orr VIP Experience meet and greet package as a birthday present. Included in the package was the chance for Bobby to sign one small item of your own and get a limited edition signed canvas, which was only available in this package and hand-numbered out of 104. But the item that drew me in and was you would get a framed photo with Bobby surrounded by all of the individual awards he had won during his legendary career. I don’t know about you, but this was an experience I was not going to pass up.
When we arrived that afternoon for the meet and greet, we were escorted into a large area on the other side of the convention show floor. Once checked in and given our VIP lanyards, we turned the corner and there he was Bobby Orr! Bobby was standing posing with other guests for their photo with a big smile on this face. Watching him interacting with other guests, making jokes, shaking hands and hugging people like they were his friends and family members put my mind at ease. I thought, wow, he seems just as friendly and personable as he appears to be on TV — this is going to be great. We get in line and the closer we get, the more nervous my wife becomes.
“I’m afraid to meet him,” she said to me. “I mean, he is Bobby Orr.” My wife is from North Carolina and had not a clue about hockey until she married me and now is about to shake hands with one of the greats. I understood.
When we finally got to the front of the line, Bobby waved us over for the picture. “Mr. Orr, it is a pleasure to meet you,” I said, “But my wife is terrified to meet you.”
Bobby shook my hand and thanked me. Then he turned to my wife and said “Afraid to meet me? I’m excited to meet you!” and gives her a big hug.
“Come on guys, get in here for this picture,” he said, and positions us like he is the photographer, making sure the picture will come out perfect. We heard the camera click, and Bobby asked the camera man “Was that a good one? I want to be in these folks’ Christmas card. Was it Christmas card-worthy? I don’t think it was. Let’s do another one.”
We burst out laughing, and the camera man, through his own laughter, snaps the second photo.
“Thanks, guys. I will see you again in a little bit,” Bobby said. We step away, and within 30 seconds the Frameworth staff is handing us our framed photo to put on our wall at home.
As Bobby finishes up taking photos, we grab some food from the buffet. Once Bobby is finished with the photos, he walks over to a small table to sign for the all the guests. The item I had brought for him to sign was something I had purchased on the show floor earlier. It was a program of Bobby playing in a “Muskoka All-Stars vs. NHL Old-Timers” game, but Bobby is on the young man’s team and he is not listed wearing his iconic number 4; he is wearing 12. When I saw this, I knew I had to have it just to show it to Bobby to see if he could put a date to it.
While we are standing in line, I start a conversation with a man in front of me who has a thick French-Canadian accent. He told me how he drove from Montreal to meet Bobby and how even though he is a die-hard fan of the Blue Blanc and Rouge, he had seen Bobby play live as a kid and he was amazed.
It was finally this gentleman’s turn to get his item signed. “Hello, Mr. Orr,” he said.
“You’re from Montreal!” Bobby replied.
“Yes sir,” said the man.
“You guys made it impossible to play in that building,” said Bobby. “It was like you were sitting right on top of us, and it was so loud it’s something you can’t replicate and you most certainly do not forget.”
When I’m listening to this conversation, all I can think is how heated the rivalry of Montreal and Boston was and still is, and here is the greatest Boston Bruin ever, telling a Montreal fan how amazing their people were, how they affected his game and how much joy he got from the atmosphere the fans in Montreal brought to the game — even though he was their biggest opposition.
Now it is our turn and I lay the program on the table.
“Mr. Orr do you remember that game?”
“Oh yes, I absolutely do!” His eyes grow wide and he just stares at the paper for 20 or 30 seconds.
He called over the guests who had travelled with him. “Hey guys, look at this,” Bobby said. “I have never seen this before.”
Bobby asks for them to hold the line for a few minutes so he can really take a look at this program I had just handed him.
“Where did you get this?” Bobby asked.
“From a guy on the floor at the convention. Was this program from when you played with the Oshawa Generals?”
“Nope,” Bobby chuckled. “I was 12 years old when I played in this game.”
He points at a name in the program. “This guy, Jerry Ordowski, invited me and I went up to play. I think I had two goals and an assist. I’m amazed you found this!”
Bobby couldn’t take his eyes off the program. Finally, he grabbed a Sharpie and signed the top.
“Mr. Orr,” I said, “this is a piece of history. I want you to know it will be passed down through my family. I am not a seller and this will always stay on my wall.”
He looked at me with a big smile. “Thank you,” he said. “I really appreciate that.”
As I was walking away, I could still hear him telling people about how cool it was to see that program.
When we got outside to put all our stuff in our car, it finally sunk in on how amazing the whole experience was. I was smiling ear to ear.
My wife then turns to me and said “Only you can walk in and make Bobby Orr nostalgic about something you handed him.” I burst out laughing.
As I said before, I am always nervous that I will be disappointed when meeting a legend. But just like on the ice, I should have known that Robert Gordon Orr never disappoints.
As a side note, we will be making the picture with Bobby our Christmas cards and plan to send him one. ■
Travis Shaw is a blue collar steel plant worker from Pittsburgh who is borderline obsessed with everything hockey and is married to a woman who is waaayyyy out of his league.