USU, NFL Great Merlin Olsen Dies

A celebration of Merlin Olsen’s life is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 16, at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif. The service is private. Utah State University also is planning to hold a remembrance for the Aggie legend. A schedule will be released when plans are set.
Information on giving to the Merlin Olsen Field project is available online. Click here for more details.
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.
Olsen’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.
“I 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,” said Utah State University President Stan Albrecht. “His 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.”
Albrecht said he knows of no other Utah State University graduate whose impact has been so far reaching or so profound.
“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,” Albrecht said. “Throughout 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.”
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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 Sports Illustrated 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 Little House on the Prairie, Father Murphy and Aaron's Way, easily transitioning into life after football. Dick Enberg, his longtime broadcasting partner with NBC Sports, recently described him as “the complete man.”
Enberg was particularly impressed by Olsen’s commitment to their weekly NFL telecasts.
In a letter to Olsen, Enberg wrote of his partner’s “uncommon willingness to prepare” and added, “I'd often feel that I had given an ‘A’ effort in our broadcasts, only to recognize you earned the ‘A–plus.’ ”
Beyond their professional relationship, Enberg also was struck by Olsen's personality — “a man of goodness, eager to consciously do the right thing for yourself, while helping others.”
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.
“He was the best blocker I've ever seen, and I've been around football for a lot of years,” Ralston said. “You'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.”
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.
“In Rams history, there are maybe 10 guys who are iconic, and he's one of them,” Rosenbloom said. “There's nobody who is more important.”
Writer and contact: Tim Vitale, 435-797-1356
Merlin Olsen at USU Commencement, 2005

Merlin Olsen was honored at USU in 2005 with an honorary degree.

Merlin Olsen, USU football

Olsen was a three-year letterman on the offensive and defensive lines for Utah State's football team 1959-61, earning All-American honors during both his junior and senior seasons.

The 'Fearsome Foursome'

Merlin Olsen became a charter member of the Los Angeles Rams and the famed "Fearsome Foursome."

Merlin Olsen from television series

Following his football career, Merlin Olsen had a successful career as an actor and is remembered for several popular television series.


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Sent by Dorrie Barnes on Friday, March 12 - 4:21PM
Reading this, I have a tear going down my cheek. What a wonderful man. Looks like God needs him to help "on the other side."

Sent by Jan on Friday, March 12 - 4:43PM
What a neat man, sorry for his familys loss. Hope he didn't suffer to much.

Sent by Robert Kendall on Friday, March 12 - 4:45PM
As a kid growing up in the 70's, I always admired Merlin Olsen. For a man that did so many things well (football, acting, broadcasting) he appeared very humble. He was a soft-spoken man than appeared like the ideal father figure. He was a great example for all men to follow. He will be missed.

Sent by I Hate Syracuse on Friday, March 12 - 4:45PM
He will surely be missed. What a great man!

Sent by Merrill Johnson on Friday, March 12 - 4:45PM
I remember that Merlin was especially fond of the "tackle-eligible" pass. Merrill Johnson USU, 1961

Sent by John Beckmeyer on Friday, March 12 - 4:46PM
As a 1980 USU graduate it was with great sadness to learn of the passing of Merlin Olsen. As a long time resident of Park City, it was always an honor to chat with fellow alum Merlin Olsen at the Post Office. He was a great man.

Sent by james williams on Friday, March 12 - 4:47PM
Went too Logan High with Merlin. Knew him well while growing up in Logan, Utah. When and where will his funeal be?

Sent by Elwyn Peterson on Friday, March 12 - 4:47PM
I missed watching him play at USU by one year, but my landlord during my years in Logan owned a construction company and had hired Merlin Olson during the summer. I recall him describing his special 'work crew math' during those years; if a job required a 5-man crew he would send three guys... and Merlin. Sad day, but cushioned with with some pride of being a fellow USU alumnus.

Sent by Jeff Alkire on Tuesday, March 16 - 5:30PM
Simply the greatest Aggie Athlete ever! Also, the greatest Athlete to come out of the state of Utah. I only wish he could have been with us long enough to see the field named after him, he deserved to see that honor. Prayers are with his family and friends, god bless Merlin Olsen!

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