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Feb. 6, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Orlando Pace, the great left tackle for the Ohio State Buckeyes in the mid-1990s who went on to a storied, 13-year career in the National Football League, was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s eight-member Class of 2016 Saturday evening. The Hall of Fame announced its class during its “NFL Honors” event in San Francisco.

Pace is the eighth former Ohio State player to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the 11th overall from Ohio State. He is proceeded in the Hall of Fame by former Buckeye players Cris Carter (class of 2013 enshrine), Dick LeBeau (2010), Paul Warfield (1993), Bill Willis (1977), Dante Lavelli (1975), Lou Groza (1974) and Jim Parker (1973). Ohio State coaches Sid Gillman (1983) and Paul Brown (1967), and 1930s-era swimmer Ed Sabol, enshrined in 2011 for his work with NFL Films, are also in the Hall of Fame.

After being chosen as the first pick of the 1997 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams, Pace starred on the field as a left tackle, being named All-Pro five times while being voted into seven Pro Bowl games. He started 154 consecutive games in a career that included 12 years with St. Louis and one season with the Chicago Bears.

Pace played in two Super Bowls: he was a member of the Rams’ 1999 Super Bowl-winning team that defeated the Tennessee Titans, led by his former Ohio State teammate Eddie George, and he played in Super Bowl XXXVI against the New England Patriots. Pace 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).

A “firsts” legacy After a stellar high school career playing football and basketball at Sandusky (Ohio) High School, Pace took over a starting position at Ohio State from his first day of preseason camp as a freshman in 1994 and the firsts remained prevalent. Consider:

  • In 1995 he became the first sophomore to win the Lombardi Award;
  • In 1996 he became the first to ever win the Lombardi Award twice;
  • He was a first-team consensus All-American in 1995 and 1996;
  • He was first-team all-Big Ten Conference in 1995 and 1996;
  • In 1996 he was the first offensive lineman since Ohio State’s John Hicks in 1972 to finish among the Top 4 vote getters for the Heisman Trophy; and
  • He was the first pick of the 1997 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams.

John Cooper, Pace’s college coach, remains convinced of Pace’s No. 1 status.

“Orlando Pace is not only the best offensive lineman I have ever coached, but he is the best I have ever seen,” Cooper, Ohio State coach from 1988-2000 and a 2008 inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame, said in 2014. “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.

“I don’t know how you could play the position any better than he did. He was just a fantastic football player. He was the best.”

Pace started every Ohio State game — 38 in all — between 1994-96 before bypassing his senior year to enter the NFL Draft. 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. Former Ohio State SID Steve Snapp 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.

Pace didn’t need a pancake magnet to win a stack of awards, though. Said to have redefined the role of an offensive lineman with his athleticism and blocking skills, Pace, in addition to those awards already mentioned, won the 1996 Outland Trophy Award and was the Football News and the Big Ten Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year that 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.

Ohio State’s team MVP in 1996 when he helped the team to a Big Ten co-championship, Pace was the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year in 1994 and the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1995 and 1996.

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.

In 2014, the College Football Hall of Fame enshrined Pace. He’ll become only the third Buckeye in school history to be selected into both the college and pro football Halls of Fame when he is enshrined later this year, joining two other greatest of the greats: Bill Willis and Jim Parker.

Joining Pace in the Class of 2016 is Brett Favre, Marvin Harrison, Kevin Greene, Tony Dungy, Ken Stabler, Dick Stanfel and Eddie DeBartolo Jr.

Buckeyes in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Individual Position Class Years at OSU
Orlando Pace Tackle 2016 1994-96
Cris Carter Receiver 2013 1984-86
Ed Sabol Contributor 2011 mid-1930s
Dick LeBeau Cornerback 2010 1956-58
Paul Warfield Receiver 1993 1961-63
Sid Gillman Coach 1983 1938-40
Bill Willis Guard 1977 1942-44
Dante Lavelli End 1975 1942
Lou Groza Kicker 1974 1943
Jim Parker Guard/Tackle 1973 1954-56
Paul Brown Coach 1967 1941-43

Most Pro Football Hall of Famers (by College)
USC — 12
Notre Dame — 12
*Ohio State — 10
Michigan — 8
Pittsburgh — 8
Syracuse — 8
Alabama — 8
Illinois — 6
Miami, Florida — 6
Minnesota — 6

*The Pro Football Hall of Fame recognizes Paul Brown as a Miami (Ohio) inductee.