‘Magic’ photograph still inspires after 50 years

Ray Lussier // Special to Western News

On Mothers’ Day, May 10, 1970, Game 4 went to overtime in the Boston Garden with the score tied 3-3. Forty seconds into the extra period, Bobby Orr, a 22-year-old dawning superstar, beat Blues goaltender Glenn Hall moments before tripping and flying through the air in celebration. In that split second, Ray Lussier, a Boston Record American photographer, captured history on his Nikon F with a 35mm lens.

It is an iconic image, outshining by far an unremarkable game that capped a forgettable series.

Known by many names – The Leap, The Flying Goal, The Flying Orr or, simply, The Goal – Ray Lussier’s photograph of Bobby Orr flying through the air after his Stanley Cup-winning goal remains today the most famous photograph in hockey history.

Fifty years later, the image continues to inspire.

“No one will ever talk about that game. It is less important than almost any clinching Stanley Cup game in history. But there is magic in that photo,” said Stephen Brunt, BA’81, MA’82, author of Searching for Bobby Orr.

“There is Bobby Orr frozen in his prime. Suspended in midair. No gravity. Arms up. Time standing still. There’s a bunch of stuff captured in that image.”

In 1967-68, the National Hockey League expanded from its Original Six and divided itself into two unequal divisions – expansion clubs in one, established clubs in the other. When the two champions met in the Stanley Cup Finals, it was destined to be lopsided.

And the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals were just that – a 4-0 sweep by Boston over St. Louis for the Bruins’ first title since 1941. Only one game was even close: the one that featured The Goal.

On Mothers’ Day, May 10, 1970, Game 4 went to overtime in the Boston Garden with the score tied 3-3. Forty seconds into the extra period, Orr, a 22-year-old dawning superstar, took a pass from Derek Sanderson and beat Blues goaltender Glenn Hall moments before tripping over defenseman Noel Picard.

Orr flew through the air in celebration.

In that split second, Lussier, a Boston Record American photographer, captured history on his Nikon F with a 35mm lens.

“It wasn’t the greatest series in history. It wasn’t the greatest game in history. Its value is tied to that one image,” Brunt said. “Because it was Orr. Because it was a Cup winner. Because of the magic behind it. That game stands out in sports history because of the picture and not the goal.”

Versions of the photograph hang everywhere, from the walls of TD Garden in Boston to sports bars and man caves across Canada. It has been crafted into a larger-than-life bronze statue in front of TD Garden and moulded into little plastic action figures; emblazoned onto pucks and posters, mugs and keychains, T-shirts and trading cards; appeared in history and geometry textbooks; even battled Evel Knievel for space in 70s-era school lunchrooms with its own lunch box.

It remains one of the most popular sports memorabilia items at collectors shows, with autographed versions still selling for a couple hundred dollars (a little more if you can persuade Hall to sign, as well).

Yet, ask any owner of these items to describe the moment it captures and it would be difficult.

“Credit the moment’s longevity to Ray Lussier,” explained Kinesiology professor and sport historian Mac Ross. “It wouldn’t be The Goal if he didn’t immortalize it with his camera.

“Orr’s overtime winner was a viral sensation before the Internet even existed – not because a give-and-go is particularly extraordinary, but because Lussier’s photo of Orr’s mid-air celebration is so unique. It captured the essence of winning a Stanley Cup and never has been, and never will be, surpassed in the photographic record of hockey history”

In a modern era of pervasive media, it is hard to imagine an image ever again rising to the level of the Orr photo, Brunt said. Twitter and SportsCentre have ensured every modern-day moment is replayed into meaninglessness.

Brunt sees only two possible challengers to the Orr goal: Maybe the image of Paul Henderson after Summit Series-winning goal in 1972. Or Sidney Crosby after his golden goal in Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

But the Orr photo is different because its context is almost gone.

You can watch the entire Summit Series, including the Henderson goal game, on YouTube.

Crosby’s Golden Goal is a bit more difficult. Oh, clips exist, Brunt said, but the game is so tied up in International Olympic Committee copyrights that it is rarely seen beyond highlights. Try and find that entire gold medal game, he said. You cannot. But, at least, you can find something.

But the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals are gone. Hidden. Lost. Maybe erased. Meaning most fans have only experienced that series in the handful of clips.

“There’s so little archival film of hockey available,” Brunt said. “When I was doing my Orr book, there are whole seasons he played where all you ever see are highlights. There are no actual games. And he is a modern player. Forget trying to find game footage of guys like Gordie Howe or Rocket Richard. There’s no real good film record of those guys.

“It is shocking how little is out there. A whole chunk of the NHL history is missing.”

With that history wiped away, the Orr photo takes on larger meaning, Brunt said, and is forced not only to represent a moment, but an entire era of a Hall of Fame career.