The first time I became aware of Orlando Pace’s athletic ability came not during football season but during basketball season.
Lima Senior was playing Sandusky in a boys basketball district tournament game at Bowling Green’s Anderson Arena in 1993 and Pace, as a junior, was one of the Blue Streaks’ starters, averaging around 15 points a game.
The word was that the Ohio State football recruit was more than just pretty good for a big guy at basketball. But the idea that a 6-foot, 6-inch, 300-pound human could be athletic enough to run the floor and do more than be an intimidating presence inside still needed to be confirmed in my mind.
It didn’t take long to see he was a special athlete, a freak of nature type guy. His role was primarily to be a force inside and he was very good at that. But he also got up and down the floor and put up at least a couple of 15-footers in Sandusky’s half-court offense. He wasn’t out there just to shoot lay-ups, grab rebounds and scare people.
Pace went into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton over the weekend after somehow not making the Hall in his first year of eligibility in 2015. They should have just cast his Hall of Fame bust his freshman year at Ohio State and put it in storage until he retired from the NFL.
Pace started from Day One at OSU, was an All-American and was the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player in 1996 before being the No. 1 overall selection in the 1997 NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams. He started at left tackle for the Rams for 12 seasons and went to seven Pro Bowls and was All-Pro five times before finishing his career with one season with the Chicago Bears.
Former OSU running back Pepe Pearson told the Big Ten Network in a documentary on the 1996 Ohio State team how good he thought Pace was when he played with him.
“I had no doubt in my mind if I ran to his side I wouldn’t be touched for at least five yards,” Pearson said.
Ohio State invented a new statistic for Pace, the “pancake” block. Anytime he knocked an offensive player off his feet, he got credit for another pancake.
While his blocks were memorable, my most amazing Pace moment was one that showed off his ability to run and move like he was one of the guys in the offensive backfield.
In one of his games at OSU, a running back broke loose for a long touchdown run. As he neared the goal line, you noticed that right there behind him was big No. 75, Pace, who had followed him 40 or 50 yards down the field in case he was needed to make a block.
I thought the running back was Eddie George but WBNS-TV ran video Friday night of Pace nearly matching Michael Wiley stride for stride on a long scoring play, so maybe it was him. Or maybe he did it on long runs by both George and Wiley. It’s possible he did it more than once.
Pace was a very deserving Hall of Famer. Even though he had to wait only one year, his induction was long overdue.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.