Orlando Pace's Hall of Fame dreams started when he was young

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- It's a 109-mile southeastern trip across Ohio to get from Sandusky to Canton. But the journey from high school basketball player to enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was much longer for former St. Louis Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace.

Pace, 40, remembers his first visit to the Hall.

"I was in high school, we were playing a basketball game in Canton and part of our trip was to go visit the Hall of Fame and take a tour," said Pace, a Sandusky native. "It was pretty cool just to see. I was obviously into football, but to see all those great players -- as a kid it seems so far-fetched that you'd have an opportunity to possibly be there. But you play this game to be great, you want to be one of the greats of the game. That's what I think all players, especially professional players strive to be there."

Pace realized that goal on Saturday night when he was elected to the Hall of Fame.

This was Pace's second year on the ballot after just missing the cut in 2015. He learned plenty from that first time through, acknowledging that he was nervous and made the mistake of reading and listening to everybody telling him he was a lock to be voted into the Hall.

By the time the Saturday voting process began last year, Pace was nervous and didn't have any good diversions.

He vowed not to make that mistake again and made sure to fill up his itinerary with things to do in the San Francisco Bay Area this time around. Pace said earlier this week that he and his wife, Carla, planned to spend Saturday visiting nearby Napa, California.

"Last year, being that it was the first year, I didn't know what to expect, and now I do," Pace said earlier in the week. "You can handle it a little bit better the second time with the nerves.

"You've got to find something to do during the day to keep your mind off of it."

Pace, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 draft, earned seven Pro Bowl trips, five All-Pro honors and landed a spot on the NFL's 2000s All-Decade team. He helped the Rams win Super Bowl XXXIV and return to the big stage for Super Bowl XXXVI.

He blocked for two MVPs, protecting Kurt Warner's blind side and opening holes for Marshall Faulk, as the Rams finished in the top 10 of total offense seven times and led the league in total yards, passing yards and points three straight seasons (1999-2001). Additionally, Pace was the left tackle for an offense that finished in the top five in passing yards for eight consecutive seasons.

But for all of those achievements, it's this testimonial from former teammate Isaac Bruce that might best sum up why Pace is in Canton for more than just a visit.

"A guy like Orlando Pace, there's no replacing him," Bruce said. "How do you do what you do without him there? He was the one guy we didn't want to lose to a knee injury or for two or three games. Oh no, that changes everything. So to me, he's the guy. He's the guy that you didn't want to have to replace. Thank god we didn't have to."

It's sentiment like that Pace values the most.

"That's what you play for," Pace said. "You can get your own stats or accolades, but when your peers respect you and peers say those types of things about you, that's really why you play the game, to be respected by your peers. When they hold you in that high regard, that means a lot. It means a lot to me."

And now the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton beckons a kid from Sandusky.

"Being from Ohio, having the chance to visit the Hall of Fame as a young player, you envision yourself being in that room or having your own bust. And for me, it's always been a goal of mine to do that," Pace said. "It's just the chance to close out my career by meeting that last goal, that final goal I set out for."