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Paul Orndorff, Saints draft pick turned wrestling star, dies at 71

Chiller Theatre Expo Fall 2018

PARSIPPANY, NJ - OCTOBER 27: Paul Orndorff attends the Chiller Theatre Expo Fall 2018 at Hilton Parsippany on October 27, 2018 in Parsippany, New Jersey. (Photo by Bobby Bank/Getty Images)

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Paul Orndorff, a running back who had a short career in the NFL and a much longer career in professional wrestling, has died at the age of 71.

At the University of Tampa, Orndorff scored 21 career touchdowns and gained more than 2,000 all-purpose yards. Although Tampa no longer has a football program, it was a hotbed of talent in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and several of Orndorff’s teammates were drafted. Orndorff himself went to the Saints in the 12th round of the 1973 NFL draft.

But Orndorff never got on the field with the Saints, or with the Chiefs, who also gave him a brief shot in the NFL. He briefly played in the World Football League, but his pro football career never really took off.

After trading the gridiron for the squared circle, however, Orndorff thrived. He had success in the 1970s and early 1980s with Mid-South Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance, and in 1983 he signed with the World Wrestling Federation.

In the WWF, Orndorff got the nickname “Mr. Wonderful” and often shared the ring with Hulk Hogan, both as his tag team partner and, after a storyline that saw Orndorff betray Hogan, as his opponent for the WWF heavyweight championship. The first WrestleMania saw Orndorff in the main event, teaming with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper against Hogan and Mr. T. A later steel cage match between Orndorff and Hogan would become one of the WWF’s most-watched matches on television.

Although his football career was short, millions of fans will remember Orndorff for his post-football career.