“They got the best defense in America, to me, by far.”
That’s what Joshua Perry, a 2015 finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy and current Big Ten Network analyst, had to say about the then-No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers after they kept Michigan State scoreless in Week 7. Anchoring that defense is ILB Chris Orr, whose team-high six tackles, plus a sack, quarterback hurry, and a pass defended against the Spartans earned him the distinction of Lott IMPACT Trophy Player of the Week.
Curious to know more about their defensive success, Ronnie Lott asked Orr to take him inside the Badger huddle in a recent phone call between the two defenders.
The senior linebacker called his huddle “truly special.”
“You just see so much passion in everybody’s eyes. That’s probably one of the first things I do when we get our first defensive series; I look into everybody’s eyes as soon we get on the field,” he said. “Next is the confidence in their voice,” Orr continued. “We meet the night before, or right before we take the field, and we’re talking about what we would like to do, how we want to prove people wrong.”
“That’s the first thing I do,” he repeated, “I look in everybody’s eyes and tell them, ‘Let’s go.'”
Orr, himself a three-star prospect out of DeSoto, TX, admitted he and his teammates play with something more to prove. “Pretty much everybody that comes here, especially to a place like Wisconsin, they’ve been overlooked probably their entire life.”
Not only does that mean they all relate to each other, said Orr, but it means they’re all eager to see each other succeed. “We all are selfless enough to help each other make plays,” he said of the Badger defense.
“You’ve seen these people cry, you’ve laughed with these guys, so it’s a great feeling to see the passion and see the joy after somebody makes a play,” he remarked. “Right before we start the next series, you see the drive in their eyes. I love it.”
“I don’t think everybody gets that everywhere else, to be honest,” concluded Orr.
Lott lauded the connection the Badger backer shared with his teammates. He also wanted to know what the one thing was that Orr woke up every morning striving to be.
“For me, it’s just being the best player and person I could possibly be, and I genuinely believe that,” said Orr. He recognized the cliché, and clarified exactly how he defined being his best.
“I feel like a lot of people say that, but it’s not too heartfelt all the time. I always feel like I can give more. I can give more to my teammates. I can give more to somebody else,” he said.
There’s a common refrain in the Orr family, a household that includes five former Division I football players, one former All-Pro NFL linebacker, and a two-time Super Bowl Champion: “Keep eating crumbs.”
The youngest Orr credited the saying with helping him remain humble. “No matter who you think you are, just keep eating crumbs. Keep trying to get better everyday,” he explained.
Orr shared two other sources of motivation: a love of football, and of making others happy.
“I genuinely love to see other people smile,” said Orr. “It’s crazy how much you can impact somebody’s life by just shaking their hand and holding a conversation with them, maybe joking with them a little bit. It’s crazy how much you can see their face light up,” he acknowledged.
It was Lott’s face who lit up hearing the wisdom with which Orr spoke, and the story he shared next.
“I don’t even know if you remember this, but my dad definitely does,” began the Badger. “My father played with the Redskins for awhile, close to a decade. He said you almost broke his arm when he was trying to throw his arm out to help Earnest Byner on the offense in pass pro[tection].”
The conversation dissolved into laughter. Lott blamed the brute force on his “pursuit of excellence.”
With his college career winding down and a hopeful future in football ahead of him, Lott asked Orr to compare his own path to his father’s.
Orr said the two were quite different, citing his father’s status as a big-time recruit out of high school and his largely injury-free college and early NFL career. The younger Orr, on the other hand, tore his ACL on the first defensive snap of his sophomore season.
He felt instead that his path was more like his brother Zachary’s, the aforementioned All-Pro linebacker, who was forced to retire after just three seasons in the league when doctors discovered a malformed vertebrae at the top of his spine.
“I switched my number to honor him,” said Orr, who now wears #54. It felt only natural. “He honored me the year I tore my ACL, he ended up becoming an All-Pro backer.”
Seeing his brother’s career come to a premature close changed things for Orr. “I feel like any and everything I can do on the field, I’m going to do it. Even if I have to empty my tank every game, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
There was one more difference between himself and his father that Orr couldn’t help but mention.
“He played offense so I mean … he wanted to be pretty,” he chuckled, sparking another fit of laughter over the phone line.
“When we’re dogs, we’re dogs, right?!” said Lott between laughs. “I love everything that you stand for,” he added. “Continue to find your best everyday.”
The undefeated No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers will look to extend their streak on the road this Saturday against the Fighting Illini at 9:00 am PST.
Press play to listen to the full conversation between Ronnie Lott and Chris Orr.