Style Features

Off the Cuff with Claiborne: Orlando Pace

When it comes to football, it’s hard to think of a player who has made a larger mark on St. Louis than Orlando Pace. Standing 6 feet, 7 inches, the NFL Hall of Famer was the first player drafted the year he made his pro debut. During his 12-year career, he made seven Pro Bowl appearances and helped the Rams win the Super Bowl in 1999. Now, he’s talking to T&S about what he’s been up to since retiring.

You had a great NFL career. You’re a Super Bowl champion. You went into the Hall of Fame. What’s it like to retire before the age of 35?
As an athlete, my time was always scheduled, starting in high school. At 34, I didn’t have that schedule anymore. I had to figure out what my next phase looked like. I have four kids, so being a dad and catching up with them was my first priority. Second, I had to find something I was passionate about to get me going and out of the house. I jumped into the business world and got my feet wet with some investments.

And when you weren’t sure, you just listened to whatever your wife told you to do.
Yes, absolutely., When I talk about that schedule, she had one for me, too, but I wasn’t necessarily getting paid for it.

You had the chance to live anywhere in the country. Why did you choose St. Louis?
My kids already were embedded in the community and had a ton of friends here. I always think of things with the end in mind. The Rams were here when I retired, so it helped with my transition. It was an easy decision. St. Louis is a great place to raise a family.

When did you start the game plan for life after football?
To be honest, it was from day one when I arrived in St. Louis. I was fortunate enough to have people in my corner to help set goals. For me, it was about where I wanted to be financially when I was done playing. I didn’t have a tone of specifics, but I knew I wanted to do something in the business sector and be my own boss. Throughout my career, I had mentors who helped steer me in the right direction.

What project are you most proud of since leaving the NFL?
Helping people. The NFL Legends Community connects former players like myself with guys who are having a more difficult time transitioning from the league to everyday life. Talking with those guys are some of the most gratifying conversations I’ve ever had. It’s helped me in my process as well.

Did you ever consider coaching?
It crossed my mind to do some individual training, but I couldn’t coach. To be honest, I don’t think I have the patience. If a young player asks me about the game, I’m always willing to share my knowledge and help in any way I can. But I don’t want that much structure in retirement, having to be somewhere 10 hours a day. I still love football, but coaching wasn’t the direction I wanted to go in.

Best advice you ever got.
Begin with the end in mind. Whatever you might do in life, continue to think about the end game. One thing I’m learning about post-career that I wished I learned earlier is the value of building relationships. When athletes are playing the game, we’re in a bubble. We don’t allow a lot of people in our circle. In hindsight, so much of the world is about relationships.

What hobbies have you picked up?
I’ve been playing a lot of golf. Once a week, I’ll say I’m never playing again, but then I get a good shot and I’m back at it. It’s the perfect game during this pandemic. It gets me out of the house, gets me active. Once the country opens up and we’re back at celebrity tournaments, my game will be ready to go.

COVID-19 pumped the brakes on all our lives. What did you learn about Orlando Pace?
I learned to appreciate having my family around me all day. Without the travel and hustle and bustle, you can sit down and enjoy the simpler things. I probably get on my kids’ nerves, but just getting to know what they’re up to has been really important for me during this time.

Where is your favorite place to travel?
We were in Turks and Caicos right before this craziness happened. We had to leave early because we thought they were shutting the country down. The water, the beaches, the people—everything was so nice. I can’t wait until we can travel again.

Who is the best cook at your house?
The pandemic has upped my skills in the kitchen and as a bartender. We can’t go out to restaurants as much, so we’ve got cookbooks open and are trying all kinds of different dishes. It’s been quite the experience.

Your favorite meal and drink of choice these days?
I’ve been grilling like crazy. I love smoked wings. I use my smoker, and they fall off the bone. I may serve them with something like a mashed sweet potato. I took a trip to Napa for my 44th birthday, and I’ve been walking around like I know all things wine since. But I’m really a scotch and bourbon guy. Johnnie Walker Blue is one of my go-tos.

Take-out or cooking, when was the last time you provided dinner for your wife?
It was take-out. I surprised her the other day with sushi. We had some of our favorite rolls delivered. It was a perfect evening.

What’s your favorite secret spot for dinner?
We like going to Billie-Jean. I’m not sure it’s a secret, but it’s a quiet place. We enjoy going over and grabbing some of our favorite food.

During the pandemic, have you become Amazon’s best friend?
I haven’t done a ton of shopping. In fact, I’ve probably saved money. But I do see a lot of Amazon boxes at my door every day, so somebody in the house is shopping. My grocery bill definitely has increased.

Beach or mountains?
I’m a beach guy all day.

Cigar or good wine?
That’s tough. I’m going to go wine.

People have probably most recently seen Orlando Pace in the FanDuel commercial.
It took nine hours to tape that commercial. They had to get every angle, and stuff that didn’t make the final edit took time as well. I’d like to say I was a one-take wonder, and we were in and out. It was a fun spot, and it’s always nice to be part of a national campaign when you’re 10 years out of the game.

Other than winning the Super Bowl and raising your family, what is the best experience you’ve had in St. Louis?
I think it’s the friendships I’ve built over the years. I’ve also enjoyed being part of the community and watching the city win other championships. I’ve watched some pretty good Cardinals baseball and Blues hockey. St. Louis may get flack for not being the best NFL town, but I can say there are great fans here.

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