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 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.
“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.
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).
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 2018, 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.
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.
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; firstname.lastname@example.org).