SALT LAKE CITY - Labeled fierce for his relentless play as a Hall of Fame defensive lineman, Merlin Olsen was also gentle enough for a role on one of television's most wholesome shows and as a spokesman in a well-known flower ad campaign.
Olsen's deep, rich voice and sincerity made him a success both as an actor and in the broadcast booth, where he offered insights to the game he played so well for so long. Olsen died early yesterday after a battle with cancer. He was 69.
"He was ferocious and fearless on the football field and then the other probably more important aspect of his personality was he was a true gentleman," said fellow Hall of Famer Jack Youngblood, Olsen's teammate with the Rams in Los Angeles.
Whether it was his role in the Rams' "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line or the characters he played on Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy, Olsen had the versatility to break through to any audience. He was the spokesman for a well-known FTD ad campaign in the 1980s - a 6-foot-5 giant pitching flower bouquets.
Utah State, Olsen's alma mater, said he died outside of Los Angeles. He was diagnosed last year with mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining often linked to asbestos. He filed a lawsuit last year, claiming he contracted the disease as a result of being exposed to asbestos on construction sites where he worked as a child and young adult.
Olsen was an All-American at Utah State and a first-round draft pick of the Los Angles Rams in 1962.
He 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.
Youngblood joined the Rams as a rookie in 1971, backing up Jones as Olsen continued to anchor the other side of the line. Youngblood remembered Olsen telling him as a young player to push to be great not just on every play, but with "every heartbeat."
"When you stop and think of Merlin on the field, he accomplished things that will never be accomplished again," Youngblood said.
Former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Jerry Kramer remembered in his 1968 book Instant Replay, co-written with late sportswriter and broadcaster Dick Schaap, dreading going up against Olsen.
"I'll be facing Merlin Olsen, and that's definitely work, not fun," Kramer wrote. "Merlin never lets up. He'll run right over you no matter what the score is."
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.
After football, Olsen played the role of Jonathan Garvey, friend to Michael Landon's Charles Ingalls, on Little House. Olsen later starred in his own series, Father Murphy, from 1981 to 1983.
The son of a former school teacher, Olsen graduated summa cum laude at Utah State with a degree in economics and earned a master's in economics in between his 15 NFL seasons.
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 1976.40.75951 -111.8882 ERROR: Template storyimage.ldo not found in theme default for section Pro!
Labeled fierce for his relentless play as a Hall of Fame defensive lineman, Merlin Olsen was also gentle enough for a role on one of television's most wholesome shows and as a spokesman in a well-known flower ad campaign.