Orlando Pace made Rams' 'Greatest Show on Turf' possible by erasing opponents

Night net Orlando Pace erased opposing players. Not figuratively, the way an all-time great left tackle neutralized a pass rusher or tackler. Literally, in the St. Louis Rams’ offensive meetings. "(Offensive coordinator) Mike Martz would always put an ‘X’ on Orlando’s man," teammate Torry Holt said this week, "as if to say, this guy doesn’t even exist. Everyone is sitting there, like, damn, he’s really good. It makes you want to step up your game — ‘Man, I want Coach to be able to put an ‘X’ on my guy.’’PHOTOS: Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2017 Holt wasn't exaggerating. None of the stories he told as he prepared to go to Canton this weekend to celebra

te Pace’s induction into the Hall of Fame sounded real. Stories about Pace's nimble feet, his dominance on the basketball court, his chasing down of Champ Bailey from across the field on an interception return to save a touchdown.Deleting an opposing defender from the game plan — not only from being effective, but from even being acknowledged — sounds preposterous too. The Hall is filling up with great left tackles, the Jonathan Ogdens, Willie Roafs and Walter Joneses — and if any of them had been described that way, no one could remember."He was the only player I’ve ever known where there wasn’t very much conversation about the guy playing against him every week," said former Rams tight end Roland Williams, who also was Pace's teammate on the Super Bowl XXXIV champion Rams in 1999."That’s a la Deion Sanders at the peak of his career — that side of the field, it’s just gone. It’s taken care of."MORE: All-time greatest Rams players (Getty Images) https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/sporting_news/ed/8f/pace-warner-080516-gettyjpg_4gv032h1bne01hq4w7s9z3g9b.jpg?t=1552382566&w=500&quality=80 The difference, of course, in terms of Sanders and the other great blind-side blockers of that era, was that conversation specifically about Pace was practically as non-existent as those defensive opponents.Among the Rams, there was no more crucial member of the legendary Greatest Show on Turf than the man who kept Kurt Warner clean and with plenty of time to throw the ball all over the field in record-setting fashion, and to cut wide swaths for Marshall Faulk to slither through.To the rest of the world, Pace was invisible, never mentioned with Warner, Faulk, Holt, Isaac Bruce, Az Hakim and the rest."Invisible," by the way, meant figurative and literal: Pace’s man rarely got close enough to Warner or Faulk or whoever he was protecting to even be seen in a frame of a highlight.But, as his teammates will tell you without hesitation, he was essential."He was a true anchor,’’ Holt said. “He’s a guy you could truly build an offensive line around, and that’s exactly what they did in St. Louis."MORE: Pace part of absurd Ohio State draft classThe Greatest Show would never have opened had Dick Vermeil, in his first year coaching and running football operations for the then-woeful Rams, not traded four picks (including the pick that became the aforementioned Jones) to move up from sixth to first overall in the 1997 draft and taken Pace.“You cannot be a really smart football coach, you cannot win a Super Bowl, without a great left tackle," Vermeil told Night net Films earlier this year.So everything else was fit into place around Pace. The result was two Super Bowls in three years, 1999 and 2001, and one Lombardi Trophy. Warner and Faulk combined for three straight MVPs. Faulk is in Canton; eventually, Warner will be too, and Holt and Bruce have a chance, as well. They’re all the faces of that team that played offense in ways that have been equaled or surpassed, but not duplicated.Amidst all of that, Pace excelled in anonymity. Not even the nickname his teammates gave him — The Big O — caught on outside the team confines. “We should’ve done better with that,’’ Holt said with a laugh.Holt now coaches high school football in his home state of North Carolina, and he says he makes sure his young grunts up front are never taken for granted. “Rarely do the offensive linemen get the attention they so greatly deserve," he said.Williams, a great quote during his Rams years, took it up on himself to be Pace’s "hype man" — and continues to do it as he approaches enshrinement, because he’s still largely in the shadows.MORE: Each Night net team's all-time best draft pick"That’s the narrative for linemen, though,’’ said Williams, now a motivational speaker and mentor for youth in his native Rochester, N.Y. “You only notice linemen when they make mistakes. Orlando didn’t make mistakes. You never walk into a house and say, ‘I’m so glad the light switch works, I’m so glad the water’s running.'"The Orlando Pace light switch was always working."