xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Colts wide receiver Jimmy Orr, Super Bowl champion and two-time Pro Bowl selection, dies at 85

Throughout the 1960s, former Baltimore Colts wide receiver Jimmy Orr owned a patch of land fondly called Orrsville.

Located in the right corner of the end zone at the closed end of Memorial Stadium, it’s where the sure-handed fan favorite caught most of his 66 touchdown receptions during his 13-year NFL career.

Advertisement

A Super Bowl champion and two-time Pro Bowl selection — beloved in Baltimore for his play-hard, party-hard approach — Orr died Tuesday at his home in Brunswick, Georgia. He was 85.

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay wrote on Twitter: “Rest in peace to another NFL legend, JIMMY ORR. … ‘Orr’s Corner’ in the south end zone at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium was sacred ground. Our condolences to Jimmy’s family.”

Advertisement

After a standout college career at Georgia, where he twice led the Southeastern Conference in receiving, Orr was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 25th round in 1957. He made his NFL debut with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1958, winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and spent three seasons there before spending the final 10 years of his career with the Colts.

In his 13 years, Orr caught 400 passes for 7,914 yards and 66 touchdowns — most of his production coming from throws by Johnny Unitas. Orr averaged a staggering 19.8 yards per catch, three times leading the league in yards per catch. After the Colts claimed Super Bowl V with a 16-13 win over the Dallas Cowboys in 1971, Orr called it a career.

Colts legendary running back Tom Matte, who was Orr’s roommate during training camp and for road games throughout their careers in Baltimore, said there wasn’t a wide receiver that came out of a move better than Orr.

“He had an innate ability to get open and had more moves than any other receiver I’ve ever seen. And he and Unitas tied up real well,” Matte said. “I can even remember when I played quarterback, he’d say ‘I’ll get open, just throw it.’ He worked hard to be a great receiver, studied film, and he and Unitas would always work extra after practice and had a great connection.”

Colts five-time Pro Bowl guard Bob Vogel can still picture Orr coming out of a decisive break and a perfect throw from Unitas there at the same time. Defenders covering Orr never had a chance, having no idea when he would break off his pattern.

“Jimmy was someone who was utterly dependable,” Vogel said. “He gave you his best and you knew that when he was in a game, you were going to get it. He was absolutely consistent. Johnny Unitas would not put up with a receiver who was not consistent, so the fact that he threw so much to Jimmy was an endorsement of John’s confidence in Jimmy.”

His toughness and team-first approach were respected by all of Baltimore.

Injured early in a game against the Philadelphia Eagles in 1965, Orr was rushed to Union Memorial Hospital at halftime for X-rays.

In 2009, he told The Sun: “There were 17 people ahead of me in the emergency room at Union Memorial. But they had the game on the radio and when someone recognized me, all of those people sent me to the front of the line.”

Orr shook off the separated shoulder he was diagnosed with, got back to the stadium by the fourth quarter and caught a 22-yard touchdown from Unitas to secure a 34-24 win.

But the most memorable play in Orr’s career was one he never got the chance to make. In Super Bowl III, the Colts were trailing the New York Jets, 7-0, in the final seconds of the first half when they called a flea-flicker just past midfield. Quarterback Earl Morrall handed the ball off to Matte, who threw it back to the signal-caller.

Orr was streaking down the field all alone near the end zone, waving his arms wildly, but he wasn’t seen by Morrall, who ended up throwing underneath and having the pass intercepted. The Jets pulled off the upset, 16-7.

Advertisement

“It was a shame. He’s standing in the end zone waving his arms and Earl doesn’t see him. That killed us right there,” Matte said.

As much as he was respected and admired for his production on the field, Orr was equally appreciated for his fun-loving manner off it.

Born and raised in the small town of Seneca, South Carolina, Orr came to Baltimore with a distinct southern drawl and carefree mischievous side.

On those road trips, coach Don Shula had bed check at 11 p.m. on nights before games and always a second one at midnight or 1 a.m. for the room shared by Orr and Matte.

Because of Orr’s penchant for smoking cigars, whoever was checking in on the pair was told to make sure no smoking was taking place. But that didn’t stop Orr.

“He used to drive me nuts,” Matte said. “He wasn’t supposed to, but he’d sneak them in and put them under the mattress. They’d come in and ask ‘You got any cigars?’ He’d say ‘No, no — I don’t have any.’ He’d walk out and Jimmy would pull out a cigar from underneath the mattress. He was a character. He was a legend — no question about it — and his antics off the field were just as much as they were on the field.”

Former Colts center Bill Curry, who played at Georgia with Orr, tweeted: “He was one of those few men who could find the good when the rest of us could not. As a WR no one could cover him-He quietly put up incredible numbers, and didn’t know it! Thanks Jimmy, Love you Man”

After retiring from football, Orr became a stockbroker in Atlanta, also working as an assistant coach and broadcaster for the Atlanta Falcons. He also became a blackjack dealer in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. Matte recalled how Orr once set up his former teammate with a speaking engagement in Vegas so the two could hang out.

Vogel recalled the double take he had during his rookie year when he saw Orr standing in front of a mirror shaving in the Colts locker room before a game.

“I said ‘Jimmy, how can you shave before a game?’ because with the chin strap and everything else — my face was tender. He said ‘You’re a rookie, I like you, let me help you.’ Then he says ‘The No. 1 rule in the hustler’s handbook is always look nice for your opponent.’”

After sharing the story, Vogel laughed: “That’s classic Jimmy Orr.”

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement