Mar 11

Farewell, Merlin Olsen

NFL/Getty Images
Merlin Olsen splits a double team during a 15-12 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on October 22, 1972, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.


Three days after the passing of Willie Davis comes the news that Merlin Olsen has died. Two leading heroes of a generation.

The difference for me personally is that I saw Olsen play – in fact, he was one of the foundations of my sports fandom. Before I even saw the inside of Dodger Stadium, my family had season tickets to the Rams. When I was born as a sports fan, Merlin Olsen was a titan.

That he was so powerful on the football field, yet so personable off it (much like his Fearsome Foursome teammate, Rosey Grier), made him all the more special to a little kid.

But for fans of any age in Los Angeles, Olsen was a pillar of the sports scene – a redwood. Completely reliable and completely unsurpassed. You simply couldn’t do better. At the bottom of this webpage you’ll see his list of honors.  Now surround that with the 90,000 fans at the Coliseum he would enrapture with his play. To make it clear to the younger folk, he was a big deal.

For a long time after his playing career was done, Olsen stayed with us through his roles on “Little House on the Prairie” and “Father Murphy.” It was a rare treat to have one of your heroes not fade away into oblivion (or alternatively, the broadcast booth).

Thinking of Olsen today, you think of an era where the Los Angeles Rams – even without an NFL title since 1951 – were a beloved giant in this city. And Olsen was a giant’s giant.