Sports

Merlin Olsen and Me

March 11, 2010

NFL Hall of Famer, ‘Little House’ star Olsen dies

69-year-old once was star on L.A. Rams’ “Fearsome Foursome” defense and a True American Hero to Many

Merlin Olsen
Merlin Olsen, right, of the Los Angeles Rams, battles Atlanta guard Gregg Kindle in Olsen's final regular-season game with Los Angeles on Dec. 4, 1976.

 

When I was around 11 years old, my father took me to a Los Angeles Rams game at the L.A. Colisseum.  Maybe it was sometime around 1973.   I was pop warner player in the San Fernando Valley playing for the Northridge Nights.   So going to game was very big for me.   After the game, we went out for pizza across the street.  It was one of those pizza dives that serve the thin crust, you know, the New York style pizza.

Anyways, so I am sitting there with my dad when this HUGE MONSTER of a man walks in.  It was Merlin Olsen.  Just back from the trenches of battle.  He stood 15 feet tall weighing 400 lbs at least!  Oh my!  My dad said before games he used to eat 20 raw eggs and 5 new york steaks.   And there he was!  The man himself!   He was a monster!  The biggest man in the world!  Oh boy, was I thrilled.

My dad said “go get his autogrpah”.  So I ran over to his table wide eyed and asked.  On a napkin, with a huge smile, he signed his name.  He was my hero forever!  He was Mr. Los Angeles Rams to me. 

As I write this note, tears are coming down my eyes because this man was such a role model and hero for me.   And I am so sure that he was for many young wide eyed boys like me.   I mean back in those days, players were rough, tough gritty, and Merlin was all that.  But he was also articulate, intelligent, sharp, and kind; a man’s man.  Someone I wanted to be like someday.  

Yes, he was an actor and a super color commentor for NFL Games with Dick Enberg.    But to me, he always Mr. Los Angeles Ram, one of my true heros and role models.

Today, Pro Football Hall of Famer and former television actor Merlin Olsen has died. He was 69.  Utah State University assistant athletic media relations director Zach Fisher says Olsen died Wednesday night at a Los Angeles hospital. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma last year.

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.

He will be missed by this older Northridge Knight with a Merlin Olsen signature on his heart!  Go Rams!

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