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1,000 Words: Remembering one of Nevada's most unheralded stars

Dan Orlich
Dan Orlich played for the Green Bay Packers for three seasons. (Packers.com)

Nevada Sports Net columnist Chris Murray is known to be a bit wordy, so we're giving him 1,000 words (but no more than that) to share his thoughts from the week that was in the world of sports.

* THE NEW KIND OF SLID under the radar last week but Northern Nevada lost one of the most accomplished athletes in its history last Friday when Dan Orlich died at age 94 (as first reported by Mr. Nevada, Guy Clifton). Orlich was a Wolf Pack Hall of Fame football player and the last living link to the Green Bay Packers’ Curly Lambeau era. He also is in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame (he was the 54th member to be so honored). And he passed down the good genes, with two of his granddaughters – Mallory and Morgan McGwire – earning college basketball scholarships. Orlich’s name might not be the first to pop into your mind when discussing Northern Nevada’s greatest athletes ever, but he was one of Reno’s best.

* ORLICH WAS BORN IN Chisholm, Minn., and played for Northwestern and Penn State (with a stint in the Marines in there) before landing at Nevada in 1947. He also played for the Wolf Pack in 1948 and was a member of the first great teams in Wolf Pack athletics, the 1947 and 1948 squads led by coach Joe Sheeketski posting back-to-back 9-2 seasons while reaching the program’s first two bowls. Those teams included 11 future Nevada Hall of Famers and were the first nationally ranked football team in school history (Nevada wasn’t ranked again until 2010). Orlich also played basketball and ran track at Nevada.

* THE GREEN BAY PACKERS took notice of Orlich when Lambeau traveled to Reno to scout Wolf Pack quarterback Stan Heath, the first college quarterback to throw for 2,000 yards in a season. They liked the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Orlich, too, and selected him in the eighth round of the 1949 draft. Orlich played three NFL seasons before retiring in 1952 due to friction with Lambeau’s replacement, coach Gene Ronzani. Orlich never made more than $5,500 a season. Adjusting for inflation, that's about $57,000 in 2019 dollars, although still a far cry from today's NFL minimum of $495,000.

* A GREAT FOOTBALL PLAYER, Orlich’s true passion was trapshooting, and he was a hell of a shooter. From 1956-71, he won 37 trophies at the Grand American World Trapshooting Championships. That included 13 major championships. He went into the national Hall of Fame in 1979. He was the first Nevadan to go into that Hall of Fame and remains one of just two from the Silver State enshrined (Wm. Hunter equaled the feat in 2008). He was the first person to shoot a perfect 400 in all-around competition (200 out of 200 in singles, 100 for 100 in doubles and 100 for 100 in handicap over three days). His full list of accomplishments in the sport was expansive. He was indeed one of the best trapshooters ever.

* WHEN I RANKED the best male athletes in Wolf Pack history in 2015, Orlich slotted in at seventh place between basketball star Edgar Jones and NFL star Charles Mann. He was that good. At the time of that article, Orlich was the 59th-oldest living pro football player. He had certainly moved into the top 30 or so since then and was the oldest living Packer before his death. Nevada has had many elite athletes over the years, but Orlich was among the best to ever come through Reno and he will be missed.

* BASEBALL’S HALL OF FAME vote came in this week and Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay all made it, as they should have. Rivera is the first player to unanimously be voted in, an honor he deserves. They’ll join Harold Baines and Lee Smith in the 2019 class. Those two were voted in via the Today’s Game Committee. Barry Bonds and Rogers Clemens made minimal progress and likely won’t make it into the Hall of Fame before their 10 years on the ballot are up. So, Harold Baines is a Hall of Famer but Barry Bonds is not. That’s incredibly dumb. Fun fact: Plácido Polanco, who got one vote in the balloting this week, had more WAR in his career than Baines.

* NEW ORLEANS SAINTS fans will go to the grave complaining about the blown call at the end of the NFL Championship game. Of course, there were many blown calls that went both ways in that game and the Saints did get the ball first in overtime before turning it over. New Orleans had plenty of chances to win that game but frittered away a double-digit home lead. Coach Sean Payton has complained about the call, but it has actually benefited him to some degree. Saints fans are focusing on the blown pass interference and not the fact his team crumbled after leading 13-0 or the fact his team didn't score more than 23 points in either of its two playoff games, both at home.

* THE CONFERENCE TITLE GAMES also showed how bad the NFL overtime rules are. Why not just apply the college rules but start the ball at midfield? At least that way both teams get the ball and the game isn't largely impacted by who wins a coin toss. The drama of college overtime is great. The drama of NFL overtime comes down to who picks heads or tails correctly.

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