Big O: Setting the Pace for Offensive Tackles

By Kyle Rowland on May 9, 2013 at 9:30a
Orlando Pace posing with his 1996 Lombardi Award

Ever since Rutgers and Princeton got together on a muddy field in New Jersey in the fall of 1869, college football games have been won in the trenches. The cliché was born on that November day in Brunswick. And for the past 143 years, arguably no offensive lineman has performed better than Orlando Pace.

For that, he was chosen for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2013. Pace is the 24th former Buckeye to be selected for the Hall and the first lineman in more than a decade.

Before Pace even enrolled at Ohio State, the Sandusky native was inundated with lofty expectations. But he had little problem living up to them, even though he only stayed in school three years.

Pace remains the only two-time Lombardi Award winner. He was also a two-time consensus All-American, the winner of the Outland Trophy and fourth-place finisher in the Heisman Trophy balloting. That doesn’t include Big Ten freshman of the year honors and the Silver Football in 1996.

“Orlando Pace is not only the best offensive lineman I have ever coached, but he is the best I have ever seen,” said former Ohio State head coach John Cooper. “I don’t know how you could play the position any better than he did. He was just a fantastic football player. He was the best.”

This isn’t a case of nepotism, where only Pace’s coach recognized his exploits. Saturdays in the fall became a time for NFL scouts to leave Ohio Stadium or another Big Ten outpost with jaws dropped and opposing coaches wide-eyed, Iowa head coach Hayden Fry among them.

“Without question, he is the best offensive lineman I have ever seen.” — Hayden Fry on Orlando Pace

“Without question, he is the best offensive lineman I have ever seen,” Fry said in 1996.

When Ohio State took the field for the opening game of the 1994 season, there was Pace lined up at left tackle. He became the first Buckeye true freshman offensive lineman to start in the opener. In all, Pace started 38 games – every game of his Ohio State career.

He made life on opposing linemen miserable and popularized the term “pancake block.” The move, which results in a defensive player being leveled to the ground, was executed some 80 times during the 1996 season. The Buckeyes ended the year as Rose Bowl champions.

The high-powered Ohio State offense was a big factor in the team’s success. But the defense was every bit as good, if not better. Pace and his line mates contributed to the building of a dominant defensive line.

“Our biggest task in college was going up against Orlando and Korey Stringer in practice,” former Buckeye defensive end Matt Finkes said. “Those guys were a big reason why we were so good. When you go up against an Orlando Pace and a Korey Stringer every single day it makes you better.

Making pancakes

“(Practice was) competitive, and Mike (Vrabel) and I were competitive guys. We didn’t want to end up with the short end of the stick, so we were working our butts off to beat those guys every day, and those are guys didn’t like to get beat. It made things a lot easier in the game knowing that whoever you were going up against on Saturday afternoon wasn’t as good as the guy you faced all week in practice.”

The same can be said for Pace, who had to navigate a defensive line that featured Finkes, Vrabel and Luke Fickell. Practices were “feisty,” but each side of the ball improved because of it.

Pace was the lead blocker for Eddie George’s historic 1995 season that culminated in yet another Heisman Trophy for Ohio State. Perhaps Pace’s finest moments – George’s too – came against Illinois on a cold, rainy, muddy November day in Ohio Stadium. George would finish with a school-record 314 rushing yards thanks in large part to Pace’s blocking prowess. The output came against the vaunted Kevin Hardy-Simeon Rice-led defense, a duo that would be the second and third picks in the following spring’s NFL Draft.

The mid to late 90s Ohio State offenses were some of the best in school history, and Pace was the, well, pacesetter.

“The thing that really stands out to me about Orlando, where he was so different and able to set himself apart form the other big name tackles, was his athleticism,” Finkes said. “There are a lot of guys who are big and a lot of guys who are strong and physical. But there aren’t a lot of guys who are 300-plus pounds running down field throwing a block on a cornerback. Orlando is that guy. That’s what made him special. His athleticism more than anything is something that always caught me off guard.”

“There aren’t a lot of guys who are 300-plus pounds running down field throwing a block on a cornerback. Orlando is that guy.”

Indeed, find an image of George or Pepe Pearson and chances are Pace will be seen in the foreground treating an undersized defensive back as a rag doll. He redefined the position with that dose of litheness and strength.

“Every game was a highlight reel for him,” Cooper said of Pace. “We ran a lot of counter sweeps and a lot of screens, and on many of those plays Orlando had to be out in front of the ball carrier. And we had some pretty good ball carriers.”

The offensive success followed Pace into the NFL, where he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 Draft by the St. Louis Rams. Pace was part of a Super Bowl winner with the “Greatest Show on Turf.” In 13 NFL seasons, he was a five-time All-Pro.

Said Finkes: “When you look at college players, I don’t think anyone ever had the skillset Orlando had in college. Some guys developed it in the NFL and had great careers. But I don’t think anyone was as complete an offensive tackle as Orlando was in college.”

And the same could hold true for another 143 years.


Comments Show All Comments

d1145fresh's picture

I said this the other day in the Buckshots video but how does he not have an all day pancake shop set up next to Eddie George's Grille? That thing would make killing. 
Also is without question on my all time Buckeye Mt. Rushmore. Possibly the most successful college and pro player OSU has ever had. 

Poison nuts's picture

Tithe pancake shop idea is brilliant! I love a pancake - if it ever happens, I might have to move back just for that...

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

Gametime's picture

WHERE is Mr. Pace at??? As much love as he's been getting from 11W you'd figure something other than his HoF career at all levels - would be in the works. I love what Ed Warinner has done with the O-line but a small part of me wonders what kinda influence Big O would have on them from a technique and nastiness standpoint. A Buck can dream right?
Good write up KR!

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

chrisgerard's picture

I think he was at Friday Night Lights working with the O linemen, but I wasn't there.  Anyone see him there?

Dougger's picture

Yes i saw him and said "Hey Orlando, you're awesome"
If you wouldn't have guessed it, he's a large human being.

I like football

chitown buckeye's picture

Talk about athletic. If you got watch him play basketball in high school, your jaw would drop at how quick and athletic this 300lb man was. The best to ever play the O-line position. Its about time he was inducted!

"I'm having a heart attack!"

luckynutz's picture

Orlando pace played grown ass man football. Watching him manhandle all comers was an absolute joy. And he was definitely one of a kind. Like the comment from finkes about going into games knowing they wouldn't face any linemen better than what they faced all week in practice. How awesome would that be? surprised the staff hasn't called in pace as a big time recruiting chip. Imagine being 16-17 years old and having a chance to meet one of the best to ever play your position and walk the same path he did? That would be ridiculous in my opinion.

Hovenaut's picture

My father and uncles would talk about Jim Parker and John Hicks being the best linemen they had seen.

All due respect to the both of them, but Orlando Pace just dominated people. We've been fortunate to have had some real talented folks in the trenches, but Pace was the best I've ever seen.

Ahh Saturday's picture

I said this at the very end of another thread, but I'll throw it out again here. Orlando Pace is one of the very few intimidating offensive linemen I have ever seen play. When you lined up across from him, you knew he was gonna eat your lunch for you Jules Winnfield-style.

WC Buckeye's picture

An absolute beast on the football field and a total gentleman off the field. One of the best buckeyes to ever grace the 'shoe. Nice writeup! I, too, would like to know what he's up to these days. I have no doubt he's still repping our beloved university and himself very well.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

bukyze's picture

Best offensive lineman ever.  End of story.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Man, I loved watching Orlando block for Eddie.  That combination was like money in the bank.  Big Orlando was such a dominating player.  He was one of the best college linemen to ever play the game.  He went on to have an outstanding 13 year NFL career and was a 7 time Pro Bowl selection, which quite honestly it should have been more.  He was dominating when he played for the Rams as well as part of "the greatest show on turf." 
Sure glad you were a Buckeye Orlando!  One of the best to ever play the game!!
Go Bucks!! 

Idaho Helga's picture

One thing I would love to repeat here from my IMHO: Pete Johnson blocked for Archie  innumerable times, Archie owes at least 1 of the 2 heismans to Pete for creating that opening on a regular basis.

buckskin's picture

Greatest lineman to ever play the game.  Watched that Nike OSU highlight video and his blocks were the best shots of the whole video by far.  There's a lot of guys who can run 80 yards for a TD, but very few who can lock up with a guy, drive him a good 10 yards still locked up (no holding) and finally flip him and drive him into the ground.  That's football.
The term "thrown like a rag doll" is way overused; but anytime Mr. Pace started roaming around in the defensive backfield, you would always see a Rageddy Andy.  Kudos to you Orlando.  Good write up Kyle.