At 25, Zachary Orr didn’t foresee ending his professional football career after just three years, particularly after his breakout 2016 season. Sadly, injuries can overpower even the most persistent of athletes possessing a wealth of potential.
In an candid, heartfelt letter published today by The Players’ Tribune, the former linebacker announced that he is, in fact, retiring as the result of a worrisome congenital spinal condition that he said could leave him for dead if he’s hit the wrong way.
Orr originally signed on with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent out of the University of North Texas in 2014. He improved each year, culminating in an excellent 2016 season in which he led the team in tackles and ranked third in interceptions, earning a spot on the All-Pro second team as a result.
However, in January Orr announced that he’d been forced to retire due to an issue with his vertebrae. The Ravens’ doctors discovered it after he suffered a season-ending herniated disc in December during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. They told him the problem – he had an underdeveloped C-1 vertebrae right under his neck – and said it could “explode,” ending his career or, worse, his life.
“I don’t want my life to end on a football field,” Orr said he thought at the time. “I don’t want to die during a commercial break.”
But he struggled to believe that it could all be over so quickly, and rightfully so. He’d just come off of a career year, and was in line for a contract worth far more than all three years of his recently expired rookie deal. He “started to get the itch,” he wrote.
Orr un-retired in June after saying he’d gotten approval from two doctors on the advice of another player he met during his rehabilitation. He put himself on the market to see who would sign him.
The result were staggering. Went he went back to the Ravens, doctors performed a physical and, again, said they couldn’t clear him to play because of his spinal condition. He went on to speak with 16 other teams in all. Each franchise ultimately declined, citing concerns about either his vertebrae, the herniated disc he suffered in December or newly discovered signs of damage to his spinal cord resulting from the latter injury.
“And no team wants to be the one that has a player die on the field,” Orr wrote.
Now, he’s retiring for good. The ex-Raven shouted out his team, including coach John Harbuagh, owner Steve Bisciotti, GM Ozzie Newsome and players C.J. Mosley, Albert McClellan, Daryl Smith and Anthony Levine Sr., among others. He also heaped praise on Ravens Nation, calling the team’s supporters “the best fans in the world.”
“I’m gonna miss that sea of purple on Sundays. I’m gonna miss the electricity of M&T Bank Stadium, I’m gonna miss seeing everybody around town wearing their Ravens gear on Purple Fridays,” he wrote.
However, Orr can at least retire in small way how he wanted to. “We have a saying in Baltimore: Once a Raven, always a Raven,” he wrote. “Well, I wanted to end my career as a Raven. And even though it didn’t happen the way I envisioned, I’ve done that.
He’s now planning to stay on as a fan: “I’m one of you guys now. I’m joining the flock. I’ll be wearing my purple on Friday and rooting the Ravens to victory on Sunday.”
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