Mr. Pancake returned to where it all started Saturday night.
With it came a range of emotions for Orlando Pace, who grew up in Sandusky and worked his way to become arguably the greatest left tackle in the history of college football during his three seasons at Ohio State University (1994-96).
Already a member of the OSU Hall of Fame, Pace was back in Columbus to be recognized by the school at the end of the first quarter during Saturday’s game vs. Penn State for his pending induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.
At halftime, the 1994 Sandusky graduate spent some time with the Register for a one-on-one interview.
The often-reserved Pace — who retired from the NFL at the end of the 2009 season — reflected on his days at Sandusky, Ohio State, and his 12 years with the St. Louis Rams in the NFL.
Q: Talk about going from the little boy who grew up in Sandusky to becoming one of the most decorated linemen in football history?
A: “I was just telling my mom up here in the press box during the game, it really was a dream come true. You know how Sandusky can be, obviously you’re there. It is a challenge to be successful coming out of there sometimes, but it was just the will to succeed. I’ve done a lot of great things in my life, but I think Sandusky really made me the person I am today.”
Q: Favorite memory as a Blue Streak football player?
A: “You know what, for me it’s not just one memory. I still have friends that I talk to today just from playing on those teams. We came up together, and just became really good friends with those guys. I just remember our last game. I was just talking to my cousin who plays for the Blue Streaks now (John Pace), and they were saying they were tearing up at the last home game a few weeks ago. And I remember that feeling, the last game. I knew I was going on to play at Ohio State, but also a lot of my friends would never play again. My favorite memories I guess are just the friendships that were formed at that age.”
Q: There were obviously some great moments right here (Ohio Stadium). Favorite memory as a Buckeye?
A: “… Probably that game when Eddie (George) rushed for 300-something yards (vs. Illinois, 1995), and we’re going against Kevin Hardy and Simeon Rice and those guys, and we really just gave it to them. Simeon was one of the top players in the Big Ten, so for me to go out and have that type of performance against him and that defense, and anytime your running back rushed for that many yards (school-record 314), that’s a pretty good game. But I don’t really like to single out one game. I feel like I put my best effort into every game. It was such a blast here. Every game was good for me.”
Q: And obviously you were able to play in some great games in St. Louis with some of the best players of all-time. What memory jumps in your head from there?
A: “I think it was beating Tampa (Bay) to go to the actual Super Bowl (An 11-6 Rams win in the 2000 NFC championship game). That game was intense, back and forth. It was a struggle. To win it the way we did was awesome. It’s easy to pick out the Super Bowl and say that was the best moment, but the struggle we had in getting there was just as special.”
Q: A question I’ve always wanted to ask you. Who is the best player you ever had to face?
A: “That is a tough question, because I don’t want to give a lot of guys a lot of credit (laughs). I got to be honest … Because they’ll be like, ‘Wow, Orlando said I’m the best guy he ever faced.’ Let me see … how about a couple guys. It all happens in phases, right? So when I first came into the league, there were a lot of older veteran guys. Chris Doleman, I can say him because he’s in the Hall of Fame now. So I can say a guy who’s in the Hall was pretty good. Later on, I think Dwight Freeney was a guy that could give you challenges when he was in his prime. I faced him a few times. Those are the guys that kind of stand out to me now … begrudgingly (laughs).”
Q: When you retired, you didn’t have a big fanfare press conference sendoff. I’m sure that was by design, knowing you.
A: “You know what, that’s a typical offensive lineman move. We just go off into the sunset and live our lives, man. We don’t do big press conferences, we don’t do huge celebrations. We just say, ‘our work is done, I’m done here.’ And it’s just on to the next phase.”
Q: I’m sure there were offers to keep playing. Was it a tough decision to walk away?
A: “Not at all. I told my wife prior to that 2009 season that I knew it was my last year. Your body has a way of telling you, ‘hey, it’s over.’ You know … the bumps and bruises, it’s not worth the money that they were paying. I had a great career, not only here at Ohio State, but 13 years in the NFL is a long time for an offensive lineman. I don’t have any regrets. I played well, I won a Super Bowl and did all those things, so I walk way smiling. People ask me if I miss it, no I do not. We had a great run, but that was another part of my life. I have kids, so I just chase them around and enjoy myself.
Q: What are you doing now in retired life?
A: “I do a lot of real estate investing, but mostly I just chase my four kids around. I venture off to different business deals in St. Louis and try to get my feet wet in the business world, and that’s pretty much it.”
Q: Lastly, when I think of Orlando Pace coming out of Sandusky, being a part of the Heisman ceremony and the Rose Bowl, the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’ and Super Bowls with the Rams … You’ve had quite the run, haven’t you?
A: “I can’t complain, that’s for sure. When I look back at the things I’ve done in college and professional football … man, I challenge any lineman out there to say they had a career like that. So when I say I walked away from the game, I did it my way. It was a good ride. It was a good fun ride. If I never played another down, I can’t complain about anything I ever did on the football field.”