Friday, March 12, 2010

Merlin Olsen – The Greatest Defensive Tackle

I have seen a lot of NFL games on television during my 50 years on this earth. Naturally, I remember the great offensive players of my youth --- Fran Tarkenton, Terry Bradshaw, Larry Csonka, and Art Monk to name a few. I also remember great defensive tackles such as “Mean Joe” Greene of “The Steel Curtain” Pittsburgh Steelers, Alan Page of “The Purple People Eaters” Minnesota Vikings, and Bob Lilly of “The Doomsday Defense” Dallas Cowboys.

Sticking to the position of defensive tackle, there was one that was revered by all players and especially feared by guards and centers on the offensive line. Unfortunately, the greatest defensive tackle in the history of the NFL passed away on Thursday, March 11 to mesothelioma.

Merlin Olsen.

Olsen was a defensive stalwart at Utah State University under legendary coach John Ralston from 1959 to 1961. he was a 2 time All-American in 1960 and 1961 and was the Outland Trophy winner as the nation's outstanding collegiate lineman.

Drafted in the 1st round by both the Los Angeles Rams (NFL) and the Denver Broncos (AFL), Merlin chose the NFL's Rams with a contact reportedly in upwards of $50,000 for 2 seasons. That was huge money in those days.

Olsen anchored his entire 15 season career on the L.A. defensive line known as “The Fearsome Foursome”. His original line mates included greats David “Deacon” Jones, Rosie Grier, and the late Lamar Lundy. Later during Merlin's career, my memories of him were along side Jack Youngblood, Diron Talbert, and his brother Phil Olsen as well as the aforementioned Jones.

Not only was Olsen the best run stopper of all, he was a fierce pass rusher from the inside as his 94 career sacks will attest, including 11 of those during the 1972 season.

Merlin's career highlight list is long and distinguished. He was the 1962 NFL Rookie of the Year,a Pro Bowl selection for all but his final season of his career including six times a 1st team All-Pro selection and three time 2nd teamer. A member of the All Decade team for the 1960's AND 1970's, and of course elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982. There are many other accolades Merlin has garnered --- too many to mention here.

After his playing days, Olsen was a color commentator at NBC alongside Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Dick Enberg, was on the cast of Little House on the Prairie, and was the lead in Father Murphy.

There is so much more to Merlin Olsen than a football icon and actor. Far be it for me to mention that he was a wonderful human off the field as well. Those are items that are written far better by those who knew him.

With that, may we all say “Merlin Jay Olsen, Rest In Peace”.


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1 comment:

  1. I wish ESPN had given him more coverage. Although he was before my time, I've heard/watched enough of him to know that he deserves great praise and acclaim for all that he did for the game of football.