When Orlando Pace hung up his cleats, he left the game of football changed since the time he started. Pace dominated the field at the high school, collegiate and professional level. He is humbled by the accolades that have come his way, but also sees the defined value of the relationships formed along the way and the importance of keeping those alive.
Pace attended Sandusky High School in Ohio where he was a two-sport athlete for the Blue Streaks. A stand-out player in both football and basketball, Pace pursued football and received many high honors as an offensive and defensive lineman before going on to Ohio State. He was inducted in to the Sandusky Sports Hall of Fame and had his No. 75 jersey retired ahead of their typical timeline to oblige one of the elderly local sports journalists that wanted to see it happen.
At Ohio State, Pace put together an unusually decorated college campaign for an offensive lineman inspiring the term, ‘pancake block’, and eventually finishing fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. In July 2013, he got the call that he was being inducted into the College Sports Hall of Fame this December.
“It means so much to be recognized by your peers for your body of work in college,” said Pace. “It’s something that was a goal of mine after I left and hoped that I would get the call. It should be a great ceremony with my family and friends, sharing that with them should be really great.”
His college career earned him the No. 1 overall NFL Draft selection afforded to the St. Louis Rams. He was the first offensive lineman to be selected first overall in 30 years. A few years later, Pace and the Rams found themselves in one of the most illustrious Super Bowl runs of all-time, and creating memories that continue to be cherished by St. Louisians.
The Rams hosted many of their ‘Prime Time’ alumni at this year’s Thursday night match-up between the Rams and the 49ers. Though Pace still calls St. Louis home, being in the Edward Jones Dome and honored on the field with his teammates brought back the rush that goes along with a prime time game.
“I remember walking into that Dome just for that Thursday night game, as you’re walking in you can still kind of feel the energy.” Pace said. “It was a nationally televised game, so I was excited not only to see the guys, but I was excited for the game.”
Pace was honored alongside his former teammates as well as some the other great Rams dating back to the L.A. days.
“We don’t get a chance to see Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and those guys as much, so to share that moment with them and to be on the same field that we won championships on and those types of things - it was a special moment,” Pace said.
“And to see the former players, I was up in the box talking to Jackie Slater and a lot of those guys that played for the L.A. Rams and hearing their stories of how they used to do it back in the day – it was good to absorb that type of knowledge and history,” Pace said.
Looking back to his playing days, Pace recalls the 1999 Super Bowl season and how great it was to come out a Champion. But, for him the journey to reach that highest point of success can’t be overlooked.
“Beating Tampa to go to the actual Super Bowl - that game was so intense, it was back and forth, it was a struggle,” Pace said. “To win it in that fashion and then go on…It’s easy to pick out the Super Bowl and say that was the best time we ever had, but the struggle we had getting there was also special too.”
More recently, Pace has taken on a new challenge in partnering up with former teammate Aeneas Williams on the NFL’s Legends program for former players. Pace and Williams are tackling the Midwest area together, making the calls personally and creating a database of former players to begin the process of helping them reconnect with their former teams, teammates and the NFL.
“When they called and asked me to do it, I thought it was great because a lot of players have some sort of disconnect with their organization so we kind of create that bond because it’s so much easier to talk to a former player opposed to talking to an organization,” Pace said. “We’re the middleman between the two.”
The Legends will develop, foster, and manage national and local alumni relations to deepen the relationship and communication between the league office, teams and former players.
Pace has taken advantage of some of the opportunities the Rams have offered him, including announcing the Rams third selection in the 2013 Draft, as well as serving on the Rams Training Academy Leadership board.
At home, Orlando and his wife Carla, stay busy with their four kids: Justin (13), Jalen (10), Kendall (8), and Landon (7). Each of their kids stay active in sports and Orlando takes on coaching duties with both of his younger sons Jalen’s and Landon’s football teams.
“I feel like I’m back on the field sometimes,” Pace said. “I’m coaching two or three different football teams and every day we have something as far as practice, games or something. They enjoy the game and I’m glad that they get a chance to play.”
The Pace family will celebrate Orlando’s induction into the College Sports Hall of Fame in New York City this December together. The Rams family is proud to watch Pace’s achievements be recognized, and look forward to the day when they can celebrate with them in Canton.