Catching Up With ... former Colt Jimmy Orr
Each Tuesday in The Toy Department, veteran Baltimore Sun sports reporter Mike Klingaman tracks down a former local sports figure and lets you know what's happening in his/her life in a segment called "Catching Up With ..." Let Klingaman know who you'd like him to find and click here to check out previous editions of "Catching Up With ..."
Colts receiver Jimmy Orr catches a third touchdown pass against the Rams during a game in 1964. (Baltimore Sun photo Paul Hutchins)
They called it Orrsville, that patch of paydirt in the Baltimore Colts’ end zone where No. 28 plied his trade. How many teams were buried there, in the closed end of Memorial Stadium, beaten by a scoring pass to the elusive Jimmy Orr?
"I must have caught 45 or 50 touchdowns in that right corner," said Orr, a favorite Colts receiver in the 1960s. "It was sloped some, a little downhill, which helped me, speed-wise. I wasn’t all that fast."
But Orr had sure hands and he ran smart routes, which made him All-Pro -- and the club’s deep threat for much of his 10 years with the Colts. In 1968, at an age when his legs should have quit, he led the NFL with an average of 25.6 yards per catch. Orr was 33 at the time.
Fans loved the tough, cigar-smoking flanker with the southern drawl, who played and partied hard. Injured during a close game in 1965, Orr was hurried to the hospital at halftime for X-rays.
"There were 17 people ahead of me in the emergency room at Union Memorial," Orr said. "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."
Told he had a shoulder separation, Orr shrugged and returned to the ballpark for the final quarter. When he trotted onto the field from the Orioles’ dugout, "a roar built until it just about lifted Memorial Stadium off the ground," The Sun reported.
Without a word, Coach Don Shula waved Orr into the game where, on the Colts’s second play, he slipped behind a Philadelphia defender and caught a 22-yard TD from John Unitas to ice a 34-24 victory over the Eagles.
Later, in the locker room, Orr lit a victory stogie with his bum right arm as general manager Don Kellett praised the late-game heroics of the team’s "Cecil B. DeOrr."
But it was a catch that he didn’t make that has dogged Orr, and Colts’ fans, for 40 years. That was the play in Super Bowl III where quarterback Earl Morrall failed to spot a wide-open Orr waving wildly in the end zone. The flub cost Baltimore dearly in its 16-7 loss to the New York Jets.
Orr, 73, has watched the films many times. He figures he was 37 yards from the nearest defender while flailing his arms to draw Morrall’s attention.
"What else could I do? Yelling wouldn’t have done any good," Orr said. "Maybe Earl thought the Jets’ safety had followed me downfield (he hadn’t). Or maybe I blended in with the band members crowding inside the fence before halftime."
1966 Baltimore Sun photo by William L. Klender
For 20 years, the two men didn’t speak of the matter. Finally, at a celebrity golf tournament, Orr sidled up to Morrall in the bar and popped The Question.
"He said, ‘Jimmy, I just didn’t see you,’ " Orr recalled.
The former Georgia star retired in 1971 with 400 career receptions and 66 touchdowns for Baltimore. Orr worked awhile for the Atlanta Falcons, as a broadcaster and assistant coach, then became a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Now retired, he lives with his wife, Lyneath in a house alongside the first tee of a golf course in St. Simons Island, Ga.
A prostate cancer survivor, he plays golf regularly and, two years ago, made a hole-in-one at Augusta National, site of the Masters.
"I’ve got life about where I like it," said Orr. "I’m glad I played football when I did. My time (in the 40-yard dash) back then might not get me a tryout today. On the Colts, both Raymond Berry and I ran a 4.8. That might have been the only team in history where the tight end (John Mackey) was faster than the two wide receivers."