Legendary offensive tackles such as St. Louis Rams great Orlando Pace are a rarity nowadays.
Pace did not merely keep edge rushers at bay. He flattened them with his pancake style of blocking dating back to his college days with the Ohio State Buckeyes.
The 6′ 7″, 325-pound Pace’s agility and quickness made him a cut above other offensive linemen.
Pace was so fast that he could keep up with tight ends and running backs during his heyday.
Pace was a behemoth who protected quarterback Kurt Warner’s blind side. He also opened up holes for running back Marshall Faulk.
With Pace anchoring the offensive line of St. Louis’ “Greatest Show on Turf,” the Rams won their first Super Bowl title at the end of their memorable 1999 NFL season.
Pace went on to earn seven straight Pro Bowl berths during his heyday in St. Louis. Little wonder he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.
This is Orlando Pace’s remarkable football journey.
Orlando Lamar Pace was born in Sandusky OH on November 4, 1975.
Pace’s mother Joyce Pace-Caffey worked two jobs to provide for him and his sister, Katrina.
Both their mother and maternal grandmother, Idella Pace, worked at the Dixon-Ticonderoga plant that manufactured pencils. The two women raised the two children by themselves.
Orlando first played football with his friends when he was seven years old at Sunnyside Park. He progressed to tackle football three years later.
Joyce admitted to Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden in the fall of 1996 that she had reservations about letting her only son play football because of the game’s violent nature.
Fortunately, she eventually relented. She thought getting her only son into sports would keep him on the right path. Sports also picked up the slack for the missing father figure in young Orlando’s life.
Before long, Orlando Pace would become one of the greatest offensive tackles in pro football history.
Pace’s life changed dramatically when he was 13 years old in 1988. He participated in a basketball tournament in Canton, OH that year.
He toured the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the thought of getting inducted someday crossed his mind, per his 2016 enshrinement speech.
Pace attended Sandusky High School in his hometown. He played for Sandusky Blue Streaks head football coach Larry Cook.
When Pace first took the high school football field in ninth grade, one of Cook’s assistants, Bill Sarter, told him that if he played above expectations he could choose a college in four years’ time.
Unknown to Sarter, those words fueled Pace’s desire to excel on the gridiron. Pace even paid tribute to Sarter, Cook, and offensive line coach Tony Munafo in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 2016.
Pace was not your ordinary high school offensive lineman. He wasn’t just huge. He was also one of the fastest and most agile linemen in the Buckeye State.
Orlando Pace was a first team all American in my 1991 summer magazine. I took this picture behind a steakhouse in Sandusky,OH. He was a cook pic.twitter.com/0mft5EwmFw
— Tom Lemming (@LemmingReport) April 27, 2019
As a senior, Pace showed everyone he was a cut above the rest.
In a game against the Vermillion Sailors for the 1993 league championship, Pace left his left tackle spot and ran in front of Blue Streaks running back LeAndre Moore through a running lane on the right side of the offensive line.
Pace never broke stride for the next 55 yards. Next thing he knew, Moore trailed him by a few seconds into the end zone.
Pace also dominated on the basketball court during his high school days.
Pace scored on a last-second shot in the league championship game against Lorain Admiral King High in his senior year.
Pace’s Sandusky teammates celebrated prematurely and failed to defend on the other end of the court.
Fortunately, Pace played transition defense and blocked an opponent’s jump shot just as the final buzzer went off. Bedlam ensued.
Pace was a level-headed player on the basketball court for the most part. Sandusky head basketball coach John Schlessman recalled just one instance in three years when Pace lost his cool.
It happened when an opposing player challenged Pace on the hardwood. Pace shoved him so hard that he almost went through a bass drum that was placed along the sidelines.
Pace gave credit to his hoops background for making him a better offensive lineman on the gridiron.
“When I realized I wouldn’t be the next Michael Jordan, football worked out well for me,” Pace told USA TODAY High School Sports’ Jim Halley in 2013.
As Pace’s high school athletics career wound down, he became a Parade Magazine All-American as a member of Sandusky High’s offensive line.
Pace, who played on both sides of the ball, earned USA TODAY All-American honors as a defensive lineman. He also earned All-Ohio Second-Team honors in 1992.
Orlando Pace would ultimately remain in-state and settle into the left tackle position with John Cooper’s Ohio State Buckeyes. Pace eventually became one of the greatest tackles in the college and professional ranks.
College Days with the Ohio State Buckeyes
Orlando Pace attended Ohio State University from 1994 to 1996. He majored in business.
Pace literally made a huge impression on his teammate, sophomore defensive back Shawn Springs.
Springs was in awe of the gargantuan Pace, who stood 6′ 7″ and weighed more than 300 pounds.
Archie Griffin, the Ohio State running back who won the Heisman Trophy in 1974 and 1975, was impressed with Pace’s mobility. The first time Griffin saw Pace on the football field, he thought he ran around like a running back or tight end.
Buckeyes quarterback Stanley Jackson witnessed Pace’s supreme conditioning. While the other offensive linemen could not keep up with their teammates in their 2.5-mile run, Pace was right on their heels.
Not only that, but Pace, who played basketball in high school, showed up his teammates on the hard court.
Jackson and several of the Buckeyes played hoops during their breaks in summer football practice. Pace was a baller in every sense of the word.
“He could run the floor like anybody,” Jackson told ESPN’s Alex Scarborough in the summer of 2021 .”He had a soft touch around the rim. And if you weren’t careful, he would dunk on you.”
Springs dissuaded Pace from taking shots. The former thought Pace should grab rebounds since he was a big man.
Pace would have none of it. He did a bit of everything – score, rebound, block shots, and rebound with the agility of an NBA forward.
Buckeyes center Juan Porter even thought Pace was a thicker version of the Orlando Magic’s Shaquille O’Neal back in the day.
Ohio State defensive ends coach Bill Conley marveled at Pace’s stamina. He swore the big man never showed signs of fatigue.
Buckeyes head football coach John Cooper even used Pace as a threat during practice.
Whenever the team did not meet his expectations, he scared them by making them run around Pace instead of the gridiron.
Pace’s strength was also something to behold. Buckeyes strength coach Dave Kennedy once dared him to do twenty reps of 400-pound hang cleans without straps.
Pace nonchalantly did thirty reps and then winked at Kennedy.
Two-time Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year Mike Vrabel could not beat Pace in their one-on-one pass rush scrimmages. Pace always outmuscled Vrabel, who finished his four-year college football career as the program’s career leader in sacks.
“Vrabel is a JV, f—ing high school football player compared to this dude,” Springs told Scarborough in August 2021.
— Buckeye Videos+ (@BuckeyeVideos) June 18, 2018
Pace’s college football career coincided with Korey Stringer’s – a Consensus All-American offensive tackle in 1994. Pace was a true freshman in Stringer’s junior season.
Stringer went on to become a Pro Bowl tackle for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Sadly, he passed away due to organ failure stemming from heat stroke in the summer of 2001.
When Orlando Pace entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2016, he revealed Korey Stringer was one of the reasons he wanted to become an Ohio State Buckeye.
“He was my football role model,” Pace said in his enshrinement speech. “As a freshman, I wanted to play the game the way Korey played the game. I was so fortunate to have him in my life.”
Buckeyes head football coach John Cooper named Pace one of his starting offensive linemen in 1994.
Pace went on to start 33 consecutive games for Ohio State until the end of his junior season in 1996.
Pace did remarkable things on the college gridiron. He was one of the few offensive linemen who pursued safeties and employed a one-arm blocking technique.
Pace did not merely block the opposition. His pancake style of blocking ensured the defender lay on the gridiron for several seconds.
Orlando Pace was an immovable force on the Buckeyes’ offensive line in his last two seasons in Columbus, OH. He did not surrender a single sack from 1995 to 1996.
Not only that, but Pace helped Ohio State running back Eddie George rack up 1,927 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground and eventually win the 1995 Heisman Trophy.
Consequently, Pace won the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and Lombardi Award during that memorable two-year time frame. Pace also became a Unanimous All-American offensive lineman as a sophomore and junior.
Pace concluded his junior season at Ohio State in 1996 in strong fashion. He earned Big Ten MVP and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors.
Pace also won the 1996 Outland Trophy as the best offensive lineman in the country. He also earned the 1996 UPI Lineman of the Year award.
After losing in the Citrus Bowl for two consecutive years from 1994 to 1995, the Buckeyes won eleven games in the 1996 NCAA season and beat the Arizona State Sun Devils in the 1996 Rose Bowl, 20-17.
Ohio State's Orlando Pace: King of 🥞🥞🥞
— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 6, 2020
Pace never forgot his Sandusky roots when his star rose in the NCAA football ranks.
Larry Cook, Pace’s head football coach with the Sandusky Blue Streaks, told The Baltimore Sun that Pace regularly read to children in the third and fourth grades when he played for the Buckeyes.
After Pace read stories to the kids, he signed autographs for them.
Orlando Pace, the prized Buckeyes offensive lineman who earned a slew of accolades as a junior, decided to skip his senior season and declare for the 1997 NFL Draft.
Pace, arguably the greatest college offensive lineman ever, was just getting started.
He took his game to unprecedented heights and became a part of a St. Louis Rams juggernaut at the turn of the 21st century.
Pro Football Career
The St. Louis Rams made Orlando Pace the first overall selection of the 1997 NFL Draft.
The Rams traded up with the New York Jets to select the highly-touted offensive lineman from Ohio State.
St. Louis traded four draft picks – the sixth, 67th, 102nd, and 207th overall selections – to the Jets so they could draft Pace first overall.
Pace impressed Rams head coach Dick Vermeil with his athleticism, attitude, and overall upside.
Vermeil told Scarborough in 2021 that the Rams were able to orchestrate the trade for Pace because Jets head coach Bill Parcells, who did not want the first overall selection, was his friend.
For his part, Vermeil was not keen on drafting an offensive lineman in the first round unless he was a Hall-of-Fame caliber player.
Vermeil made an exception for Pace, who was a once-in-a-lifetime talent.
Pace became the first offensive lineman taken first overall in the NFL Draft since the Minnesota Vikings made Ron Yary the No. 1 overall selection in 1968.
Pace held out for three weeks of training camp before signing a seven-year, $29.4 million deal with a $6.3 million signing bonus in the summer of 1997.
Orlando Pace’s Rams teammates gave him his baptism of fire in the National Football League during his rookie season.
They had dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House one night. Pace’s teammates ordered just about everything in sight – dozens of Cristal wines and heaps of food.
Pace noticed the restaurant had only three or four lobsters left. Not only that, but his teammates were not eating or drinking that much. Pace knew something was off.
Suddenly, his teammates handed him the bill which amounted to more than $5,000. They also said, “Welcome to the NFL” aloud.
— Orlando Pace (@OrlandoPace_HOF) February 1, 2019
Pace earned his first and only Super Bowl ring in his third year in the pro football ranks.
Pace became a part of a vaunted St. Louis Rams offense known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” That group also included quarterback Kurt Warner, wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, and running back Marshall Faulk.
With Pace protecting Warner’s blind side and opening up running lanes for Faulk, the Rams averaged a league-leading 32.9 points per game.
Pace remembered the Rams’ young core peaking as the 1999 NFL season progressed. He also loved his teammates’ positive attitudes and relentlessness.
“There were no egos and we genuinely enjoyed being around each other,” Pace said in his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech in 2016. “When faced with adversity, we were relentless, and because (of) our selfless attitudes, we accomplished great things together.”
St. Louis won thirteen games in the regular season and advanced to Super Bowl XXXIV against the Tennessee Titans.
When Rams linebacker Mike Jones tackled Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson at the one-yard line to seal St. Louis’ 23-16 victory, the Rams won their first Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Jones’ game-saving tackle eventually earned the moniker “The Tackle” and “One Yard Short” in ensuing years.
The Rams’ first Super Bowl title coincided with Pace earning the first of his seven consecutive Pro Bowl berths from 1999 to 2005.
St. Louis continued playing at a high level from 2000 to 2003 – a four-season stretch where the Rams averaged nearly eleven wins per year.
— Orlando Pace (@OrlandoPace_HOF) January 29, 2017
They made three postseason appearances during that four-year time frame. Unfortunately, one of the most heartbreaking losses of Orlando Pace’s NFL career was the 20-17 defeat to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI.
Pace and Co. lost on Adam Vinatieri’s game-winning field goal as time expired.
That loss left a bad taste in Pace’s and his teammates’ mouths. To make matters worse, The Boston Herald (via PFT’s Michael David Smith) published a report in 2008 which mentioned that the Patriots had allegedly recorded the Rams’ walk-through practice on video the day before Super Bowl XXXVI.
“There’s a little bit of suspicion there,” Pace told PFT Live in 2018. “They had a pretty solid game plan for us, so I don’t know…They knew exactly what we were going to do down there.”
Pace also felt bad for his Hall-of-Fame caliber teammates after the stinging loss to the Patriots. He felt the Rams could have won more than just one Super Bowl title for the city of St. Louis.
Pace had started every game at left tackle for the Patriots from 1998 to 2001. That streak ended in the 2002 NFL season when he missed a combined six games due to calf and hamstring issues.
Pace returned in 2003 and literally made his mark on the Edward Jones Dome, the Rams’ home stadium.
Former Rams head coach Mike Martz recalled Pace hurling a Cincinnati Bengals running back toward the 45-yard line across the field on a run play.
The battered and bruised Bengals player did not return to the game. It was Martz’s favorite Orlando Pace moment on the field, per Shutdown Corner’s Eric Edholm.
Pace hit the free-agent market in 2005. He thought about signing with the Houston Texans but eventually signed a seven-year, $52.9 million contract with the Rams.
St. Louis went through some lean years after Orlando Pace re-signed with the franchise.
The Rams never won more than eight games in a season from 2005 to 2008. They hit rock bottom in the 2008 NFL season when they mustered just two wins.
Worse, the injury bug bit Pace hard in his last three years in St. Louis. He missed a combined 26 games due to injuries from 2006 to 2008.
— Pro Sports Outlook (@PSO_Sports) October 10, 2022
Despite starting fourteen games in the Rams’ forgettable 2-14 2008 NFL campaign, St. Louis released him on March 10, 2009.
Pace agreed to a three-year, $15 million contract with the Chicago Bears three weeks later.
The move reunited Pace with Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who was the Rams’ defensive coordinator from 2001 to 2003.
Chicago went 7-9 in Pace’s lone season in The Windy City in 2009. The Bears missed the postseason for the sixth time in the past eight years.
Orlando Pace’s generosity continued well into his pro football career.
Pace gave $10,000 in scholarship funds to his alma mater Sandusky High School yearly when he played for the Rams and in his final year with the Bears.
Orlando Pace, one of the greatest offensive tackles in league history, retired following the 2009 NFL season.
Aside from Pace’s seven career Pro Bowl berths, he also earned First-Team All-Pro honors three times and Second-Team All-Pro honors twice.
Pace earned just about every accolade available for an offensive lineman in the college and pro football ranks. His only career regret is not scoring a touchdown.
Pace also proved his value to his other Hall of Fame teammates such as quarterback Kurt Warner.
Hall of Fame defensive back Aeneas Williams remembered a speech from legendary New Orleans quarterback Archie Manning.
Manning told the audience he had been struggling with football-related injuries in retirement. He pointed out that none of his former offensive linemen are currently enshrined in Canton, OH.
Williams thought about Warner, who has been fairly healthy in his retirement years. Orlando Pace, who protected his blind side when they played for the Rams, deserved part of the credit.
For his part, Hall of Fame head coach Dick Vermeil spoke highly of Pace, a vital cog of the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf.”
“He was the best big man athlete I ever coached,” Vermeil told Edholm in the summer of 2016. ‘Everyone was looking for that type of player, but they were hard to find.”
Orlando Pace, his wife Carla, and their children Justin, Jalen, Kendall, and Landon currently reside in the St. Louis, MO area.
Pace has several business ventures in Missouri and his home state of Ohio.
He co-owns the radio station KFNS-AM and TITLE Boxing Club in St. Louis, MO. Pace also owns several real estate properties and a sports bar, Big O’s Ltd, in the Buckeye State.
The thought of coaching football crossed Pace’s mind at some point. However, he held off on the idea because he had young children at the time – the stress and constant travel might have taken a toll on them.
Pace never got caught up in the fame and fortune that went with playing NFL football. He told USA TODAY High School Sports in the summer of 2013 that he preferred saving his money and donating to various charities.
Orlando Pace became a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the summer of 2016.
Pace is just one of fourteen players in league history who were drafted first overall and later earned a gold jacket and bust in Canton, OH, per ProFootballHOF.com.
Pro Football Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker went to Pace’s house the day before Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers in February 2016.
Baker informed Pace that he would officially enter the Hall of Fame some six months later.
Part of his enshrinement speech reads:
“My name in the Hall of Fame will stand as a lasting reminder, a message, that no matter how humble a man’s beginnings, success in achieving one’s highest goal is possible.”
Pace told Sports Illustrated in 2004 that his most important possession is his Super Bowl ring.
If Pace did not play football for a living, he would have been a fireman. The sight of fire trucks impressed him when he was a kid growing up in Sandusky, OH. He has always considered firemen as heroes.
Pace took exception to Los Angeles Rams guard Tremayne Anchrum, Jr. wearing his No. 76 jersey when the latter entered the NFL in 2020.
Pace’s sons Jalen and Landon have followed in their dad’s footsteps on the college gridiron.
Jalen Pace is currently an Ohio State linebacker. His younger brother, Landon, a senior high school tight end, received a scholarship offer from OSU in the summer of 2022.