As UConn honors local legend, current squad destroyed by Missouri
EAST HARTFORD – Dan Orlovsky is arguably the most important player in UConn football history, and very few people, if any, would even try to dispute it. After recently retiring from the NFL, he was honored on Saturday, taking the field with the Huskies as their honorary captain. The crowd of 21,062 at Pratt and Whitney Stadium showered him with cheers after a tribute video was played, with those fans undoubtedly craving for the glory days of the program with him at quarterback.
UConn’s performance, along with the attendance figure, was a shining example of how far it needs to go to recapture that time. Missouri moved the ball at will and scored with ease, running the Huskies off the field to the tune of a 52-12 final.
With Randy Edsall back at the helm and the team (now 3-5) showing improvement after a disastrous 2016 campaign under Bob Diaco, there is light at the end of tunnel. That light, at this moment, is still a tad dim.
Facing an SEC team which is used to playing in front of 80,000-100,000 fans on the road, the half-empty stadium (down to a few hundred by the end of the game) was not a good look. Drew Lock shredded the Huskies, easily completing 31 of 37 passes for 377 yards and five touchdowns. Edsall even sent Jamar Summers back to the locker room after getting called for a taunting penalty, and bluntly said, “(You’re) not going to disrespect the game like that and play in this program.”
It was an ugly night all-around for the Huskies. If UConn fans need a sign of hope, the sight of Orlovsky, and the dream of finding another quarterback like him, may be it.
The Shelton High School graduate was a crucial recruit for Edsall in 2000 as the program was in the midst of becoming Division I team, and was also set to open a new 40,000-seat stadium in 2003. Orlovsky helped give the Huskies the credibility they desperately needed. He eventually became the school’s all-time leader in total offense (10,421 yards) and passing touchdowns (84), and led UConn to its first ever bowl game, the Motor City Bowl, which it won over Toledo in 2004.
While waiting to take the field with his wife and kids on Saturday, Orlovsky reflected on his top memory as a Husky: the first game ever played at the Rent, a day in which UConn topped Indiana. It was a tone-setter for what was to come.
“Walking out into the stadium against Indiana would be the top one. It was like the ‘alright, we’re here’ (moment). As a competitor, and someone who is prideful, that moment became very real. I just remember sitting in that tunnel, taking a deep breath, looking all around, and taking it all in.”
In the NFL, he played for the Lions, Texans, Colts, and Buccaneers. He signed with the Rams in the offseason, but was released at the end of training camp. His time, in his words, was up.
“I was ready,” said Orlovsky, now 34. “I always told myself if I stopped loving the grind of football, I would be done. It was just my time. It wasn’t an incredibly emotional decision. I knew in my heart it was time to move on. Right now, I’m just enjoying being home. I’ve got stuff in my head that if the situations present themselves, I would jump at them.”
As a proud alum, and one never shy to voice his opinion about the program on Twitter, the 2016 season was difficult to endure. With Edsall back, Orlovsky feels UConn is on the right path again.
“I’m from this state and I went here for a very specific reason. It’s a big deal to me,” Orlovsky said. “To see the quick transgression that happened was hard. I know this - I love talking about the past and all of the good memories, but I’m really excited for the guys who are here, especially with coach being back, and I also have friends that are coaches on the team. I’m super excited to watch them and see where it goes over the next couple of years.”
“Couple of years” is important to note, because rebuilding a football team takes time, and UConn has a lot of holes, especially on defense. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a quarterback with an Orlovsky-like impact either.
As Orlovsky showed, it can be done at UConn. And just knowing that is very important for the program at this time.