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Hall of Famer Herb Orvis Passes Away After Long Illness

Aug 14, 2020

        GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Herb Orvis, one of the stalwarts on defense at the University of Colorado on its 1969 Liberty and 1971 Astro-Bluebonnet bowl champion teams, succumbed here Friday morning after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.  He was 73.
 
        Orvis was inducted last decade into both the CU Athletic Hall of Fame (in 2014) and the College Football Hall of Fame (2016).  In 1989, he was named to CU's All-Century Football Team when the school celebrated its 100th year of intercollegiate athletics.
 
        He was as humble as can be after he learned he was being inducted into the College Hall.  "First of all, it's a great surprise," he said at the time. "A run of vivid memories come back to mind – the players you get to play with, the coaches you played for, the games. They all eventually disappear into another life, but an honor like this brings it all back – just the excitement of playing on a great team and the love of the game. This is truly an unexpected honor."
 
        "I came to know Herb very well through his two hall inductions," said CU athletic director Rick George.  "We talked a lot about his playing days, what it meant for him to be recruited to CU out of the Army and the great Buffalo teams he played for.  He followed the program closely after he went into the NFL and beyond.  We've lost another great Buffalo and a great person."
 
        Orvis had joined the United States Army prior to his senior year at Flint (Mich.) Beecher High School, and would earn his diploma after serving overseas.  While stationed in Germany, he met then-CU head coach Eddie Crowder when the Buff boss was in Europe on a government-sponsored coaching tour.  Upon being discharged from the Army, he was offered as scholarship from Crowder and enrolled at Colorado as a 21-year old freshman in 1968. 
 
        He was a consensus All-American as a senior team captain in 1971, earning recognition from five organizations, including AFCA/Kodak, Walter Camp and The Sporting News (he was a third-team Associated Press team member).  Prior to the season, he was also honored as a Playboy Preseason All-American.  A two-time first-team All-Big Eight Conference performer as a junior and senior, and was the Big Eight Conference Newcomer of the Year as a sophomore in 1969, when he had 75 tackles, including 12 for losses, which included nine quarterback sacks.
 
        Orvis earned national lineman-of-the-week accolades for his play in CU's 41-13 win over Penn State on Sept. 13, 1970, a victory that stopped the Nittany Lions' winning streak at 23 games and overall unbeaten streak at 31 in a row.  He recorded 12 tackles, three for losses including two sacks that afternoon at Folsom Field.  He also helped limit the potent Penn State rushing attack featuring Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell to 144 yards on 50 carries.
 
        In his day, he 'towered' at 6-foot-5 and weighed no more than 235 pounds.  He developed the reputation as fierce pass rusher his sophomore and junior seasons, when he racked up 144 total tackles, which included 26 for losses and 17 quarterback sacks.  A badly sprained ankle early in his senior year forced him to miss the better part of three games and play extremely limited in most of two others, but when healthy, he was a force against the run as well as a terror in opponent backfields.  One of the best examples of such was when helped limit Nebraska's potent running game to just 180 yards and recorded two sacks in Lincoln.
 
        Orvis still played as significant a role as anyone in CU's 1971 season in helping CU to a 10-2 record and No. 3 final national ranking, both school-bests at the time.  Colorado's only losses came to top-ranked Nebraska and No. 2 Oklahoma, and to this day, it is the only time that the same conference occupied the top three spots in a final poll.  That season he had 46 tackles, six for losses and three sacks.
 
        Colorado was 24-10 in the three seasons he lettered, earning bowl invitations all three years.  As a sophomore in 1969, the Buffs defeated Bear Bryant and Alabama in the Liberty Bowl, 47-33; the following year, CU lost in its return to the Liberty to Tulane; and in '71, Colorado upended No. 15 Houston in the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl in what was practically a home game for the Cougars.  In that game, he tied for the game-high in recording 10 tackles (five solo, three for losses), a sack and a pass broken up and finished second in the voting for the defensive player of the game.
 
        National Football Foundation President and CEO Steve Hatchell was the head manager on the CU equipment staff as a student when Orvis first arrived in Boulder and then was hired full-time as an assistant to Crowder and as the director equipment and grounds in 1970.  He was witness first-hand to Orvis' caliber of play. 
 
        "Herb Orvis caused nightmares for opposing offenses during a Hall of Fame career at Colorado," Hatchell recalled.  "He had another gear, another level, and when he became angry or very intense he could be unstoppable.  Remember, he was unanimous All-Decade for the Big Eight when the conference was the best in the country.  He had everyone's respect.  People always asked me for a long time when they made the connection between me and CU, did I know Orvis, what was he really like.  He was something else.  People didn't just say, Herb was good – they said he was something else.  
 
            "His intensity was what defined him," Hatchell added.  "Opponents just shook their heads and tried to work around him as best they could.   With Bill Brundige on the other side it was really tough – just ask Alabama (the two combined for six sacks in the '69 Liberty Bowl).  Great person, and never an ego guy and he had it all together." 
   
        Orvis was selected as a member of the Big Eight's All-Decade Team for the 1970s, and he recently had been named to the All-Decade teams for the Liberty Bowl for both the '60s and the '70s.  He was enshrined in the Big Eight Hall of Fame in 1982, and in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of College Football in 2019, he was named to the Football Bowl Association's Top 150 all-time bowl game performers (the only Buffalo to be honored).
 
        Colorado's interior line coach for that '71 team, Jim Mora, once said of what Orvis' style of play meant to the defense: "He gives us the kind of lift on defense that a Cliff Branch runback does on offense.  It's the kind of thing you can't really explain.  It's electric in its makeup and it sometimes can turn a game around."
 
        Eric Harris, the '69 team's star cornerback (he had a CU single-season record 17 pass deflections), got emotional in recalling his relationship with Orvis. 
 
        "As a defensive back, where you have to worry about the run, the pass and the option, I didn't have any worries with Herb on the field on my side," Harris said.  "His coverage was so vast, he could cover from one sideline to the other. 
Many a time I'd make an initial stop on an end run or somewhere downfield, and I'd feel someone else help finish with a loud grunt and I knew it was Herb.  A player you simply could rely on, not only with his presence, but the way he rallied us.  It brings a tear to my eye that we have lost him, especially the spirit of somebody like that.  I wish that our current players could be around someone like him to see what he brings to a team.  Black or white, we would strap it on, and he'd say, 'let's get on the bus and make it happen.'
 
        "The world needs more people more than like him," Harris added.  "I respected him so much.  If you made a mistake, he'd come your way, but not to yell or berate you – he was calming and told you it was going to be okay.  Always the first one to lift you up." 
 
        "He was such a tenacious competitor on defense," said Bobby Anderson, CU's All-American tailback in 1969.  "I remember some of the scrimmages and practices we had, Herb was really tough to play against.  He was kind of like 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde' – he was so passive and kind in the locker room and meetings, but on the field he was a raging maniac of a competitor.  All the guys who ever played across from Herb in college and in the NFL said he was amazing to play against.  He headed up a strong defense with captain Bill Collins and the late Bill Brundige as our stellar defensive front on our '69 team.  But a nicer guy he could not be.  It was a pleasure to be his teammate and we were really lucky to have him at Colorado."

         A funny story that was recounted by a few Oklahoma State players at Orvis' College Hall of Fame induction was about CU's 17-14 win in Boulder in 1969.  The Cowboys ran an option attack, and their star running back, Bob Deerinwater, had a decent first half, gaining 53 yards on seven carries.  But following the usual halftime adjustments, he was blown up taking the pitch early twice in the third quarter by a charging Orvis.  After the second time, Deerinwater shouted at his quarterback, Bob Cutburth, "Hey!  This is supposed to be option football!" Cutburth yelled back, "Not today it's not!" 

        'I am happy that I had an opportunity to visit with Herb when he was honored in Boulder," said Larry Zimmer, the voice of the Buffaloes for 42 years, with that '71 season his first behind the microphone.  "Today, defensive linemen are much bigger.  Herb was as tough as they come and he won many battles with his grit and quickness.  It was my first year of broadcasting the Buffs and I had heard a lot about the offense, but to me, the stellar defense was a key to CU finishing number three in the nation. It all started with Herb Orvis."
 
        Doug English was an All-American defensive lineman at the University of Texas, a teammate Orvis with the Detroit Lions and a fellow inductee in the College Football Hall of Fame. 
 
        "I'll never forget what a true teammate and mentor he was to me when I went to the Lions," English said.  "He showed me all the ropes and never hesitated to help so many.  He cut a wide swath as a player and provided great leadership all the time.  He was just wonderful.   I'm so sorry about his passing."
 
        Orvis remains one of the most prolific pass rushers in school history.  He finished his career with 189 tackles (regular season), tied for the most at the time among CU defensive linemen and still tied for 13th.  His 20 career quarterback sacks would have ranked first at the time of his graduation, but they weren't computed until several years later (film study); his 32 tackles for loss at the end of his career did rank second.  In the three bowl games, he recorded an additional 24 tackles, three sacks, two passes broken up and a fumble recovery.
 
        He was one of three players inducted in the College Hall of Fame who were coached by Crowder, who died in 2008.  Orvis was preceded by the Anderson brothers, Dick in 1993 and Bobby in 2006.  Crowder piloted the Buffaloes from 1963-73.
 
        Orvis was a first round pick by the Detroit Lions in the 1972 National Football League Draft; as the 16th player selected overall, it was the highest at the time for a CU defender.  He played in 122 NFL games with Detroit (1972-77) and the Baltimore Colts (1978-81).  He was a second-team All-NFC performer at tackle for the Lions in 1975.  Orvis had six different head coaches in his 10 seasons in the NFL.
 
        He was born Oct. 17, 1946 in Petoskey, Mich., and his native state never forgot him.  In 2019, he was inducted into the Flint Area Sports Hall of Fame and was also named as one of the 25 greatest football players of all-time from the Flint area that year.
 
        After his football playing days, he was involved in several different careers, including growing and shipping citrus fruit (oranges and grapefruits) in Florida for over 20 years, while also owning an art gallery, and ran a construction business.  He eventually relocated to Colorado in 2002 and then to Goodyear in 2015.  He returned to Boulder for a special on-field celebration for his college Hall of Fame induction in 2016, and then again last year for the 50th reunion of the '69 Liberty Bowl team.
 
        He is survived by his fiancé, Marilu Trainor, sons Gabriel and Wilson, seven grandchildren, his brother Dave (who was a linebacker for the Buffaloes in 1971-72) and his sister Daeanna and their families. 
 
        Trainor reminisced about how Herb would, between high school, the Army, CU and the NFL, that he, "played twenty total years as a hard-fighting defensive lineman and damn proud of every hit."
 
        At Herb's request, no public services will be held; he is donating his brain for scientific research to the CTE Center at Boston University.  In lieu of flowers, he requested those interested can send memorial gifts made out to the CU Foundation c/o Buff Club, Champions Center, 369 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309 (attn.: Scott McMichael; scott.mcmichael@colorado.edu; link to donate via credit card here: https://buffs.me/31QF2cV).
 
(Orvis is the third longtime Buffalo to pass away in the last 10 days; "superfan" Betty Hoover, one of CU's famous twins, died on Aug. 5 at the age of 95, and three-sport star Carroll Hardy lost his battle with dementia at the age of 87 last Sunday, Aug. 9.)