Courtesy of Utah State Athletics
NFL Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen, the greatest athlete in Utah State University history, died at City of Hope Hospital near Los Angeles early Thursday morning (March 11) after a courageous battle with cancer.
Olsenâ€™s outstanding record on both college and NFL football fields was followed by successful careers as a beloved television actor and as a television sports commentator. He is remembered also as a tireless philanthropist, giving enormous amounts of time, talent and financial resources to numerous causes across the country.
â€œI can't think of anyone who has graduated from Utah State University who has accomplished more in a broader array of fields than Merlin Olsen,â€ said Utah State University President Stan Albrecht. â€œHis distinctive and powerful voice will be remembered for the breadth of its influence and by the impact it has had in so many different facets of our lives.â€
Albrecht said he knows of no other Utah State University graduate whose impact has been so far reaching or so profound.
â€œThis was the voice of a man who not only became one of our countryâ€™s most decorated athletes, but also one of the most accomplished and respected people ever to hail from the state of Utah,â€ Albrecht said. â€œThroughout this long and impressive career, we are proud to note that it has been an Aggie voice. We will remember him always as a dear and lifelong friend of this institution at so many levels.â€
Olsen was a three-year letterman on the offensive and defensive lines for Utah State's football team from 1959-61, earning All-American honors during both his junior and senior seasons. During his senior season in 1961, he won the Outland Trophy as the nation's outstanding interior defensive lineman.
Olsen also was a three-time academic All-American at Utah State and graduated Summa Cum Laude and Phi Kappa Phi in 1962 with a degree in finance.
During his senior season, Olsen anchored an Aggie defense that yielded an average of 50.8 rushing yards per game to lead the nation. USU also allowed 88.6 passing yards and 139.4 total yards per game in 1961, and all three of those averages still rank as the best single-season efforts in school history.
The 1961 Aggie defense gave up an average 7.8 points a game, which is second in school history behind Olsen's 1960 team, which allowed 6.5 points per game. Additionally, the Aggie defense held four opponents to less than 100 total yards that season, including Idaho who was held to a school-record 23 total yards in USU's 69-0 win on Oct. 28.
During Olsen's junior and senior seasons, Utah State had a combined 18-3-1 record under head coach John Ralston and was Skyline Conference co-Champions each year as USU played in back-to-back bowl games against New Mexico State (Sun Bowl, 1960) and Baylor (Gotham Bowl, 1961). Utah State finished the 1961 season ranked 10th in both the Associated Press and United Press International polls, the highest-ever final ranking for a USU team.
Olsen is a member of the State of Utah's Sports Hall of Fame, the Utah State University Sports Hall of Fame and USU's All-Century Football Team. In 2000, he was selected by â€œSports Illustratedâ€ as one of the state of Utah's Top 50 Athletes of the Century.
Following his collegiate career, Olsen was the third overall pick in the 1962 NFL Draft and became a charter member of the Los Angeles Rams and the famed "Fearsome Foursome." In 15 professional seasons, he was named to an NFL-record 14 Pro Bowls and missed a total of two games during his career. Along with earning All-Pro honors nine times during his career, Olsen was named the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1962 and the league's Most Valuable Lineman in 1973.
Olsen, who retired from professional football in 1976, was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982 and in 1999 was ranked No. 25 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. He was voted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980 and to the All-Academic All-America Hall of Fame in 1988. In 2008 Olsen was named to the 75th Anniversary All-Sun Bowl Team to commemorate the Sun Bowl Association's Diamond Anniversary.
Olsen succeeded in everything he did because he devoted full effort to it. He starred in television's â€œLittle House on the Prairie,â€ â€œFather Murphyâ€ and â€œAaron's Way,â€ easily transitioning into life after football. Dick Enberg, his longtime broadcasting partner with NBC Sports, recently described him as â€œthe complete man.â€
Enberg was particularly impressed by Olsen's commitment to their weekly NFL telecasts.
In a letter to Olsen, Enberg wrote of his partner's â€œuncommon willingness to prepareâ€ and added, â€œI'd often feel that I had given an â€˜Aâ€™ effort in our broadcasts, only to recognize you earned the â€˜Aâ€“plus.â€™ â€
Beyond their professional relationship, Enberg also was struck by Olsen's personality â€” â€œa man of goodness, eager to consciously do the right thing for yourself, while helping others.â€
John Ralston, coach of those great Aggie teams who went on to have more success at Stanford and in the NFL, still raves about Olsen to this day. Back then, players stayed on the field for most of the game, playing both offense and defense. For those who picture Olsen strictly as a defensive tackle in the NFL, it is almost confusing to hear Ralston's recollections of him.
â€œHe was the best blocker I've ever seen, and I've been around football for a lot of years,â€ Ralston said. â€œYou'd just run your running back right behind him. He could do it all. You'd play him 60 minutes, and the last minute would be as good as the first minute.â€
Chip Rosenbloom, majority owner of the St. Louis Rams, said Olsen will never be forgotten in Rams history. The team honored him again at a Dec. 20, 2009, game in St. Louis.
â€œIn Rams history, there are maybe 10 guys who are iconic, and he's one of them,â€ Rosenbloom said. â€œThere's nobody who is more important.â€