Mr. Pancake Gets the Call
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Few players in the history of college football dominated the trenches the way Orlando Pace did for the Buckeyes in the mid-1990s. The massive left tackle became the first offensive lineman taken No. 1 overall since Ron Yary in 1968, and now Pace finally has a new home.
The College Football Hall of Fame.
The 37-year old from Sandusky was tabbed Tuesday as a member of the 2013 College Football Hall of Fame Class by the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame (NFF).
He is the 24th Ohio State football player to make the Hall of Fame, and the first offensive lineman since John Hicks back in 2001. Like Hicks, Pace was a two-time first-team All-American at Ohio State, where he became the first player in college football history to win the Lombardi Award twice.
The 6-7, 320-pound tackle was the first sophomore to win the award, given annually to the best college football lineman or linebacker, and he finished fourth in voting for the Heisman Trophy as a junior 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 OSU head coach John Cooper, a 2008 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame.
“Every game was a highlight reel for him. 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.”
One of them was Eddie George, a College Football Hall of Fame inductee from last year. Running behind Pace, George set a school-record with 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns as a senior in 1995. He captured the Heisman Trophy that season, but Pace was named the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year in both 1995 and 1996.
He was also voted as Ohio State’s team MVP in 1996 when he helped the team to a Big Ten co-championship under Cooper. He also won the Outland Trophy that season and finished higher in the Heisman voting than any offensive lineman since Hicks back in 1972.
“I don’t know how you could play the position any better than he did,” Cooper said.
“He was just a fantastic football player. He was the best.”
Pace started every game – 38 in all – between 1994-96 before bypassing his senior year to enter the NFL Draft. Still considered as one of the most dominant offensive linemen ever to play the game, the 6-6, 330-pound Pace made the “pancake block” famous his junior year by knocking an opposing player to the ground a reported 80 times.
The Ohio State Athletics Department promoted Pace that year with the “Pace Pancake,” a colorful magnet about the size of one’s palm that can still be spotted every now and then on some fan’s refrigerator or file cabinet.
That magnet was passed around as a promotional item for Pace’s Heisman Trophy campaign, which is somewhat remarkable in and of itself. How many offensive linemen before or since have ever had a Heisman campaign?
Before going No. 1 overall to the St. Louis Rams in the 1997 NFL Draft, Pace was named the Football News and the Big Ten Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year during his junior season. He was further honored in1996 with the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football as the Most Valuable Player in the Big Ten and he was a finalist for the Maxwell Award.
After being chosen as the first pick of the ‘97 NFL Draft, Pace went on to a storied, 13-year career in the league. He was a member of the Rams’ 1999 Super Bowl championship team and was the anchor of an offensive line that paved the way for the team’s “greatest show on turf” offenses that featured the NFL’s MVP for three consecutive years (Kurt Warner in 1999 and 2000 and Marshall Faulk in 2001).
Pace was named All-Pro five times and he was voted into seven Pro Bowl games. He started 154 consecutive games in his career that included 12 years with St. Louis and one season with Chicago.
In addition to winning the Super Bowl in 1999, Pace was named that year to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA Football All-Century team. In 2011 he was voted into Ohio State’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Pace and the rest of the 2013 Hall of Fame Class – including Nebraska’s Tommie Frazier, Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne, Michigan State’s Percy Snow and Florida’s Danny Wuerffel –will be inducted at the 56th NFF Annual Awards Dinner on December 10, 2013, at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.
They will be honored guests at the National Hall of Fame Salute at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on January 2, 2014 and officially enshrined in the summer of 2014.
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