I never met Jimmy Orr, the former NFL wide receiver who played with the Baltimore Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who died on Thursday at the age of 85.
But I sure knew about him. And I spoke to him on the phone.
My grandparents were big Baltimore Colts fans and loved the team’s football coach, Don Shula.
When I was born as the fifth generation of my family to have the middle name of “James” and it was decided I would be called “Jimmy,” my grandma decided the NFL star of the same name should know about it.
She wrote Jimmy Orr a letter announcing my existence to him.
A few months later, a football arrived in the mail which said “To Jimmy Orr, See you in the NFL, from Jimmy Orr.”
I still have the football. It’s in the same shoebox that it’s always been in (in some other box in the basement). The ink has faded somewhat but was still legible the last time I checked.
In ninth grade, we were given the assignment of writing about someone famous and the catch was you had to try to call them. If they got back with you, that was a bonus. But you had to make the effort.
Jimmy Orr was legitimately famous.
First-round draft pick. Super Bowl champ. Two-time All-Pro. And was most-known for the missed opportunity that the Colts had in Super Bowl III.
I was barely alive at that point. But the story has been told to me countless times from older NFL fans who wanted me to know about it.
Orr was wide open near the end zone waving his hands frantically. But the quarterback, Earl Morrall didn’t see him.
As Baltimore Sun sportswriter John Steadman wrote:
“Morrall then wasn’t able to locate his primary receiver, Jimmy Orr, who, when realizing he wasn’t being recognized, began to frantically wave his hand at the 10-yard line. He resembled a man on a life raft signaling a passing ship in hope of rescue.”
Morrall didn’t see him and the guaranteed touchdown never happened. And the big underdog, the upstart Jets, went on to win that game, as Joe Namath boldly predicted.
That story has been told to me dozens of times.
Most memorably by Jimmy Orr himself when he did pick up the phone after I tracked him down in Atlanta.
We talked about the play. We talked about the NFL. And he asked me about me.
I most remember that he was more interested in my life than telling me about his life as a former NFL star.
Growing up I would be asked if I was related to Jimmy Orr or the more famous of the sports Orrs — Bobby Orr — all the time.
When I lived in Boston I was asked the question of Bobby at least weekly.
I finally gave up and said he was my uncle. That’s a good lie to tell in Boston. I feel no shame.
Although I never met Jimmy Orr, and we’re only connected by a 54-year-old football and a 40-plus year-old phone call, I’m saddened by the news this morning. The kindness he showed the 14-year-old me I’ll never forget.
Thanks for memory, Jimmy.
Jimmy Orr is a Wyoming native who was on the masthead at the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor as the Managing Editor, Digital. Orr served as a spokesman for the White House, directed digital strategy for President George W. Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Orr launched “The Sports Show” with Woody Paige and Les Shapiro in 2015 and advised Clay Travis on “Outkick the Show” from 2017 – 2020. Orr co-founded Cowboy State Daily in January, 2018.