Jimmy Orr – Georgia’s Greatest Walk-On

Jimmy Orr – Georgia’s Greatest Walk-On

Jimmy Orr, photo courtesy of University of Georgia

By Charlie Norris

Let’s not forget one of the greatest wide receivers in Georgia Bulldog history…………..

Over the years, I’ve often heard the question posed and read various opinions on “who is Georgia’s greatest receiver?” No one will argue that A.J. Green was a truly great one, perhaps the most talented of all. Terrence Edwards would make my all-time UGA wide receiver list too. While his record breaking stats speak for themselves, it’s amazing this kid came to Georgia and immediately contributed as a wide receiver after a high school career of playing quarterback only. Hines Ward would certainly make my list, because he was dependable, versatile, and just a great overall team player. Of course Lindsay Scott would make my list, as would seldom mentioned Mickey Babb (WR and TE in his UGA career), who was Larry Rakestraw’s favorite receiver (remember the NCAA record breaking performance vs George Mira and Miami in the early 1960s?). Back in Babb’s playing days, the players had to play on both offense and defense. Don Porterfield, an outstanding running back in the mid 1960s once told me Mickey Babb was a man among boys. Don said he dreaded practices because when Mickey hit you he would hurt you. There are many other great Bulldog wide receivers, but there is one who is all too often forgotten in these type conversations.

This kid was the son of a doctor in South Carolina. He was a standout baseball and basketball player. He didn’t even go out for football until his junior season in high school, where he immediately became the starting quarterback. The two high school seasons that he led his team were average at best, and they didn’t pass the football. Still, this young kid played well enough to cause a few colleges to show interest. At his dad’s prompting (where his dad could watch him play on Saturdays), he ended up signing a football scholarship with nearby Clemson. He wanted to also play college basketball, but that was against the coaches’ wishes. Thus he transferred to Wake Forest, a school that placed a higher emphasis on basketball. However, he soon discovered the Wake Forest basketball coaches would advise him that football was his sport.

Feeling somewhat depressed, he lent his ear to a then Bulldog trainer, who convinced him he could play football at UGA. He accepted the challenge, transferred to Georgia (his third major college admission), walked on to the Dawg football team, but only on the promise that he be given a shot at quarterback.

Coach Sterling Dupree soon convinced him to play halfback, because Dupree was impressed with his glue like hands catching the ball. He started the season as a fifth string walk-on halfback at Georgia, but after his play in just two games, Head Coach Wally Butts awarded him a scholarship and moved him to a starter, a spot he would never relinquish. He led the SEC in pass receiving in both 1955 and again in 1957. He was named to the All-SEC Academic Team, and was chosen to play in the once prestigious Blue-Gray All-Star game.

His less than average (at best) speed and his small size portrayed him as a gamble in the NFL Draft. The LA Rams finally gambled on him, selecting him in the 25th Round with the 291st pick in the draft. However, the Rams gambled and selected him to play defensive back, not wide receiver, because they didn’t think his small frame could take the NFL punishment. He talked the Rams into giving him a shot at receiver in a meaningless preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He responded by catching a 75 yard touchdown. The Steeler coaching staff was impressed by his play that day, but the Rams remained convinced he couldn’t play receiver. Thus, a trade was made for him from the Rams to the Steelers before the NFL season began (a trade that ranks among the biggest blunders of all-time in NFL history). He responded to the trade and as a receiver was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Year in 1958, the first ever NFL Rookie of the Year player for the Steelers (he led the NFL in receiving yards per reception in his rookie year). He played 3 years for the Steelers, and then was involved in a colossal trade between the Steelers and the Baltimore Colts, which sent Orr to the Colts and Big Daddy Lipscomb to the Steelers. He played 10 more NFL seasons for the Colts.

Jimmy Orr, photo courtesy of University of Georgia

During his NFL career, he: (1) earned both first and/or second team All-Pro Honors for 3 years, (2) earned All-Pro Bowl team twice, (3) caught at least one TD pass in the NFL for 13 consecutive years, (4) played in two Super Bowls including one NFL Champion team, (5) ended his NFL career with 400 receptions for 7,914 yards and 66 TDs, (6) was called by one successful NFL General Manager as having the greatest hands he had ever seen (an opinion strongly supported by his career 19.8 yards per reception average compared to his amazing 19.4 yards per career touch average—a mark that ranked 4th all-time best in NFL history upon his retirement—simply said, he caught everything thrown his way and just did not drop the ball), (6) was among the NFL’s Top 10 punters during his rookie season, (7) was a fan favorite, as the Colt fans named the right hand corner of Baltimore Stadium for his productive play (“Orrsville”), (8) was a favorite target for two of the NFL’s greatest QBs (Johnny Unitas and Bobby Layne), (9) in his NFL career, he finished in the Top 10: 5 times in yards gained per reception in a season, 3 times in longest TD reception of the year in a season, 5 times in most yards receiving in a season, 4 times in most TD passes caught in a season, 2 times in most TD’s scored in a season, and 4 times in most yards receiving in a game in a season.

After his retirement from the NFL, he was a radio analyst for the Atlanta Falcons for 3 years, an Atlanta Falcon wide receiver coach for 3 years, and even made a hole in one at the famous #12 at Augusta National during a guest round of golf. Hines Ward, current All-Star player for the Steelers and former Dawg great, is one of his favorite NFL players, a fact helped in part because Hines wears the same Steeler uniform number that he once did. The most often told story on him is during Super Bowl III when quarterback Earl Morrell failed to spot him 40 yards wide open on the final play of the first half. But the most realistic story of this former Dawg’s heart among the many bumps in the road to his sporting career occurred when the Colts were playing the Philadelphia Eagles and a 300+ pound defensive tackle fell on top of him, separating his shoulder and severely bruising his hip. He had to be helped from the field, and rushed to a nearby hospital for X-rays. He demanded that he return to the game, and had to be helped getting his uniform back on. He then ran 5 blocks from the Hospital back to the Stadium, insisted on immediately going back into the game (which the Colt coaches somehow allowed), entered the first huddle upon his return, and caught a 22 yard TD pass on his first play back into the game. He was a very determined gutsy player, and he delivered!!

Jimmy Orr was deemed too small, he was not fast, but his hands were legendary, his routes were precision, and his moves were unmatched. In a similar way, UGA had their Fred Belitnikoff (FSU WR All-Star) a full decade before Belitnikoff played Seminole football. FSU honors Belitnikoff (rightfully so) by a retired jersey and proper remembrance, but it’s truly sad that UGA and Dawg fans everywhere rarely even mention Jimmy Orr or Lamar “Racehorse” Davis, or Johnny Carson, Harry Babcock, or Bobby Walston in their conversations of UGA greatest wide receivers ever.

Well, I’ll simply conclude by saying Jimmy Orr will make my All-Time UGA team as a wide receiver anytime, anyday. Jimmy Orr is a DGD in my book!!

And, he may very well be UGA’s greatest walk-on of all-time………….

Editor’s note:

About the author:

Charles Norris, aka “redclayhound” to anyone that’s been around Georgia internet boards over the past couple of decades is as avid a UGA football fan as a person can be. 2013 will be his 42nd consecutive year of purchasing season tickets for UGA football. He collects UGA football memorabilia as a hobby, with over 900 different UGA game day programs in his collection. He has been a UGA football recruitnik for over 4 decades, and was a member of the old Frog Pond Lounge recruitniks group for years, many know him from the days he ran The Grapevine, a free UGA recruiting website. He loves UGA football history and truly appreciates the UGA players of the past. Charlie is quick to tell you that Herschel Walker is the greatest collegiate football player ever, he believes Charley Trippi is the greatest two-way collegiate football player ever and there are hundreds of other past UGA players he can tell you about. He can tell you about the highly hyped UGA signers that didn’t pan out and he can tell you about the UGA signees flying under the radar that became stars. He’s a retired Transportation Engineer and resides in Sandersville, Georgia with his bride of 42 years.

Charlie will be a regular contributor to Dawn of the Dawgs, follow his historical look at Great Dawgs In UGA history!