Former CU Buffalos defensive end Herb Orvis, formerly of southeast Aurora, will be inducted this year into the College Football Hall of Fame.Photos courtesy of Herb Orvis
BY PETER JONES
Herb Orvis may have been a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Colts, but his glory days at the University of Colorado are what he likes to talk about.
“Without any doubt, Colorado was the most fun,” he said. “We had real characters on our team. It made it a real adventure, right along with the hard work. To beat Ohio State right out of the bat was just a wonderful experience.”
CU Boulder—and the entire college football community—remembers Orvis fondly as well. The National Football Foundation announced this month that the 69-year-old retired player would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He is one of 14 players and two coaches to be formally instated this December at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City.
“It was a total surprise,” the onetime southeast Aurora resident said from his home in Goodyear, Arizona, after receiving his football-size trophy in the mail.
In 1971, Orvis, a Playboy Preseason All-American, played a large part in CU’s 10-2 record and No. 3 final national ranking, both of which were school records at the time. In addition to being a 1971 All-American, he earned first-team All-Big Eight honors twice and was named to the 1970s All-Big Eight Decade team.
During his college years, the 6-foot-5 and 235-pound Orvis forged a reputation as an aggressive pass rusher, having made 144 tackles in his sophomore and junior years. He finished college after chalking that number up to 189, tying for the most tackles at the time among CU defensive linemen. His 20 quarterback sacks would have been a record setter had they been computed at the time.
Although this was all rough and tumble football, Orvis remembers that some players—even those in Texas—could seem like something out of a polo match, but not the CU Buffalos.
“The Bluebonnet Bowl was a contrast of opposites,” the pass rusher said of the bowl game at the Houston Astrodome. “They were a very genteel team and very polite. We had people that were chewing tobacco, talking loud and pushing people out of the way. But we weren’t that obnoxious.”
Born in 1946 in rural Petoskey, Michigan, Orvis was raised in the Great Lakes State and played high school football in Flint, a long-beleaguered industrial city most recently known for its polluted drinking water.
“When you think about all the cars that have been made there over the years, you would think the town would be in better shape than that. I hope they get things straightened out. Football was my way out of Flint,” Orvis said.
During his college years, the 6-foot-5 and 235-pound Herb Orvis forged a reputation as an aggressive pass rusher. In addition to being a 1971 All-American, he earned first-team All-Big Eight honors twice and was named to the 1970s All-Big Eight Decade team.
After two years of pigskin in the Army, Orvis received a scholarship to play the game for CU. Although he was the only one of his Army teammates to keep with a locker-room promise to meet up again in Boulder, Orvis acclimated well without his fickle buddies.
“Once I realized how beautiful this place was and the great players that we had—you could see these guys were darn serious about football—it really got me wound up,” he said.
A badly sprained ankle in his senior year forced Orvis to miss most of five games, but the star athlete was “a terror in opponent backfields,” according to the CU website, helping limit Nebraska’s running game to 180 yards and recording two sacks in Lincoln.
“It could have been career ending,” Orvis said of the injury. “But it healed and I played another 10 years of pro football.”
He was drafted by Detroit in the first round of the 1972 NFL Draft.
“They wanted a local boy,” the former player said. “We were down to bare bones on the defense. Joe Schmidt, the coach at the time, said, ‘Herb, we need you inside,’ I had never played inside tackle. It was like watching freight trains come at each other at full speed.”
Orvis takes the issue of injury seriously. He says his Parkinson’s disease can be attributed to his football career and is pleased the new movie Concussion has brought attention to the serious problem of head trauma. The film tells the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, played by Will Smith, who uncovers a disturbing and decidedly unpopular truth about repeated brain injuries in football.
“It’s very well done. I must have cried a dozen times,” Orvis said. “It’s a one-way street. It isn’t an injury you can fix. I don’t think they’ve done enough in that area. The owners and management better get off their butts.”
As for his new Hall of Fame trophy, the player is undecided about where he will place it. Orvis wants to see what it does to his ego before he makes a final decision about whether the mantle is the right place.
“If I start forgetting all my teammates, I’m going to stuff him away,” Orvis said of the trophy. “But if he stands up there and announces this is a team sport, I’m going to keep him up there.”
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