“Merlin was a larger-than-life person, literally and figuratively, and leaves an enormously positive legacy.”
WaPo – By DOUG ALDEN
SALT LAKE CITY — Pro Football Hall of Famer and former television actor Merlin Olsen has died. He was 69.
Utah State, Olsen’s alma mater, said he died outside of Los Angeles early Thursday after battling cancer. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining, last year.
“This was the voice of a man who not only became one of our country’s most decorated athletes, but also one of the most accomplished and respected people ever to hail from the state of Utah,” said Stan Albrecht, president of Utah State.
Olsen was an All-American at Utah State and a first-round draft pick of the Los Angles Rams in 1962.
The burley giant from northern Utah joined Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier on the Rams’ storied “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line known for either stopping or knocking backward whatever offenses it faced. The Rams set an NFL record for the fewest yards allowed during a 14-game season in 1968.
Olsen was rookie of the year for the Rams in 1962 and is still the Rams’ all-time leader in career tackles with 915. He was named to 14 consecutive Pro Bowls, a string that started his rookie year.
Olsen was also an established television actor with a role on “Little House on the Prairie,” then starring in his own series, “Father Murphy,” from 1981 to 1983 and the short-lived “Aaron’s Way” in 1988.
Olsen was a consensus All-American at Utah State and won the 1961 Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman. The Rams drafted Olsen third overall in 1962 and he spent the next 15 years with the team before retiring in 1976.
Utah State honored Olsen in December by naming the football field at Romney Stadium “Merlin Olsen Field.” Because of his illness, Olsen’s alma mater didn’t want to wait until football season and made the announcement during halftime of a basketball game.
Olsen was well enough to attend, but did not speak at the event. He stood and smiled as he waved to fans during a standing ovation and chants of “Merlin Olsen!” and “Aggie Legend!”
Utah State is also planning a statue of Olsen at the southeast corner of the stadium.
The Rams also honored Olsen during a game Dec. 20, with a video tribute narrated by Dick Enberg, Olsen’s longtime broadcast partner. Olsen did not attend because of his health. His name was already part of the Ring of Fame inside the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis along with other franchise standouts.
He was voted NFC defensive lineman of the year in 1973 and the NFL MVP in 1974, and was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982.
Merlin Olsen, who passed away Wednesday night, was a great player and a great person.
I first met the Hall of Famer in September of 1960 when I was visiting with Utah State coach John Ralston. Ralston always made a point to do nice things for his players, and my visit coincided with a birthday celebration for one of his best players, Olsen.
At the time, it was clear that Olsen was both a great football player and a great person. Over the next 50 years, Olsen did nothing to dispel that notion.
As a player, Olsen was a man among boys. He was big, fast, and strong. He never took a play off. For many years, the Cowboys and Rams would scrimmage against each other in training camp, and Olsen was always going 100 percent.
The amazing thing is that Olsen was really ahead of his time in terms of the kind of football player he was. Remember, in those days there was no such thing as weight training programs. These days, it is not unusual to see a 6-foot-5, 270-pound player with a combination of outstanding strength and athleticism. But back then, Olsen was a rarity.
I spent a good deal of time with Olsen in the summer of 1962. Even though he had been drafted by the Rams earlier that year, he was one of the player’s I was assigned to “babysit” (and keep away from the rival AFL) during the college all-star game in Evanston, Ill. We had been friends ever since.
The last time I saw Olsen was a couple of years ago at the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement weekend in Canton, Ohio. Olsen was always active in getting fellow Hall of Famers to return to Canton. And when he called, people listened. Olsen was a gentle giant who was very even-keeled and very bright. I’m not sure anyone who knew him didn’t like him.
He will be missed.
– Gil Brandt
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Aug. 7, 1982
Tony Knap (presenter)
Honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce a good man. My motto of this speech is “let a man be judged by ‘his achievements,” so that is a very simple easy four minutes for me to do because all I have to do is read this list of credits and achievements and my speech is over.
While attending and graduating from Utah State University Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1962, he added his masters degree in economics in 1970. While playing collegiate football at Utah State he was a two-year All-American and winner of the Outland trophy as the nation’s outstanding collegiate lineman in 1962. In addition, he was a three time academic All-American and in 1961 was one of five men picked as the National Football Foundation scholar athlete and in 1980 he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Merlin was the No. 1 draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams in 1962 and started as a defensive tackle for 15 years. An inspirational player, Merlin served as captain of the Rams in 1962 to 1966. He started in 198 consecutive games and played 208 regular games to set club records in both those categories. As a member of the Rams, he set an NFL record by being named to the Pro Bowl for 14 consecutive years. His other honors include Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1962, Consensus All-Pro 1965, 1969. Most Valuable Lineman in the NFL 1973. Maxwell Trophy as the NFL’s most Valuable Player 1974. Vince Lombardi Dedication Trophy, 1976 and the NFL Alumni Achievement Award in 1981.
While playing for the Rams he prepared for his future by hosting a national syndicated show man to man and acting in more than two dozen movies and shows. In 1977 Merlin Olsen joined NBC-TV Sports and quickly became very adapt as a football analyst. He continued his acting career by co-starring with Michael Landon on NBC’s top rated series Little House on the Prairie. This led to his starring role in the new NBC prime time television series Father Murphy.
Merlin also has been a driving force with the multiple sclerosis society for the past 10 years, first as a member and now as Vice President of the Board of Trustees. In 1981, he was named as the nation’s outstanding volunteer for these efforts. Obviously, this young man has been greatly blessed with rare endowments. He chose his parents Lyn Jay and Merlin Olsen very wisely. Eight other outstanding children make this a great family to behold. Much of his character, out1ook on life and emotional stability was developed right there.
As a player I remember Merlin as being caught up in and absorbed by the mental aspects of the games. Techniques and strategies of play were most interesting to him and we talked by the hour of those things. As his coach, I really loved and appreciated that. In addition, it thrilled him to see his attitude towards football in general. In his mind the gridiron was a field of honor, a place where manhood and all of its virtues can be tested and developed. A true viking, that’s how he looked to me.
In closing, I would like to thank Merlin for letting me share in this great honor and to voice my admiration and appreciation to the City of Canton and the Hall of Fame for their fabulous hospitality that was favored on us this past few days.
Without further ado, here’s Merlin.
Thank you. I think my flower is wilting. I have been sitting searching for a few words and one of the words that came rather quickly was improbable. How very improbable it would be to look back and block the course that would bring me here today.
I always wanted to be an athlete. That was a desire I carried from a very young age and unfortunately with feet and hands that didn’t quite match the rest of the body and the ability to fall down on flat sidewalks, I was not very impressive to my coaches. In fact, although my name was on the sign-up sheet, usually first or shortly thereafter, I was also one of the first cut from all those teams. And things got so bad finally in the ninth grade my junior high school coach pulled me aside and said, “”Merlin why are you doing this to yourself? Why don’t you use this energy and apply it to some other field, go work on the school paper, find a place to use this energy because or job here at the junior high school is to develop these athletes for the high school, and you are never going to be an athlete, just let it go.”
Well I have to say I didn’t always listen to my coaches and there are some of them back here and thank goodness I didn’t or I would have never had a chance to make it to Canton. And what a trip it has been. Not only just being here today and feeling all the warmth and the hospitality of your fine city and a lot of love poured out on us as we made that trip through that parade trip today and I think I can speak for all the honorees in saying that was very special for us.
I think everyone of my classmates in this enshrinees class has mentioned that we did not arrive here alone. We made the trip with the help of a great many people. I think in order to be here too, there had to be great commitment not only of physical assets but of mind and emotion; commitments that often take a very heavy toll on family. I think much of the honor that we share here on the stage today, should be handed out to the special members of our family who are here with us. I don’t know how football wives, wives of professional athletes put up with some of the things that they have to put up with. To be sitting trying to chat with your husband at a restaurant and suddenly an arm goes in front of your face and your fork is stuck out here and you realize that someone has just come to get an autograph, not even knowing that you are there.
I would like to thank my wife Susan who has put up with me for more than 20 years now and still survives with a sense of humor. My children, Kelly, Jill and Nathan who didn’t get to see as much of their dad as they would like to. I certainly would like to thank a very special lady, who is here. I’m sorry my father is not here. My dad was my greatest fan, our greatest fan I am sure he is close by and I’m sure he is keeping an eye on us.
My mom is a great lady. She came to her first college game, actually the first time she saw me play and someone wacked me in the nose and I had a nose bleed that was just buckets of blood down the front of me before I knew what had happened. My father had to grab her as she was coming out of the stands. And I am not sure if she was coming to help me or take on the guy who had hit me, I never really understood. Mom, I love you and I thank you for all the long hours and the time. My brother, Phil played some NFL football as did my youngest brother Orrum. Nice for a mom to have three sons who played in the NFL and Phil thanks for being here today and sharing this with me.
Each of us has talked about coaches and teammates and I would be remiss not to mention briefly the coaches who helped me. Tony Knapp, of course, who represents them today. Harland Svare, one of my first coaches is here. Several of my teammates are here, Irv Cross among them. I would also like to mention the other three members of the Fearsome Foursome, one of them has been talked about today, Rosie Grier, who was a teammate of Sam’s, Lamar Lundy and Deacon Jones, an enshrinee of a class two years ago who is a special friend of mine and the other member of that group.
I think one of the nicest things for me is to share this honor with good friends. To know that there was so many people who cared that I was here today. It gives me a feeling that is truly uplifting and special.
I love the game of football, I liked playing the game; more than liked playing the game. There was some special magic out on that piece of grass out there on that field. And win or lose when I came off that field, it was always coming down. I am sure that the thing I miss most about the game is the people, the very special people and those incredible highs and lows. You can imagine being at the’ top of the world one minute and down in the cellar the next.
Compress that kind of emotion in one brief span and you have the roller coaster life of a professional football player. But it is a life you come to love, you share with friends and I don’t doubt for a minute that if you could find a time capsule that the four of us and the other enshrinees that are here today would jump in quickly, go back and put on our 20-year old bodies, race over and grab the first jersey and helmet we could find and enjoy, even in this heat, having the chance to once more play the game.
I think for players, for competitors it is wonderful to look back. This is without question the greatest singular honor bestowed upon me as an athlete and I thank the Hall of Fame Committee, the Select ion Committee and, all those who have made it possible and at the same time, if you are a real player you need to find the game and I am proud to be playing on a couple of new teams.
Art Watson’s NBC sports team, Michael Landon’s Father Murphy team. I find some of the same kind of excitement, some of the same kind of love there. I just hope that I can find it in myself and have the opportunity to enjoy in my new games and my new challenges, the kind of thrills, the kind of honor you gave me today by allowing me to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.