Hall of Fame Football Player Merlin Olsen Dies

Olsen was diagnosed with mesothelioma last year

By Jonathan Lloyd
|  Thursday, Mar 11, 2010  |  Updated 1:15 PM PDT
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Former LA Ram Merlin Olsen has died at age 69.

Utah State University assistant athletic media relations director Zach Fisher said Olsen died Wednesday night at a Los Angeles hospital. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma last year.

Olsen was a Hall of Fame defensive lineman and a member of the famed "Fearsome Foursome." He also had successful careers in broadcasting and acting after his football days.

Olsen was an All-American at Utah State and a first-round draft pick of the Los Angles Rams in 1962. He was the 1962 Rookie of the Year.

Olsen, Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier were known as the "Fearsome Foursome." Together, the formed a defensive line that lived up to the nickname -- just ask an opposing quarterback.

The Rams set an NFL record for the fewest yards allowed during a 14-game season in 1968.

Olsen was also an established television actor with a role on "Little House on the Prairie," then starring in his own series, "Father Murphy," from 1981 to 1983 and the short-lived "Aaron's Way" in 1988.

According to the LA Times:

In December, Olsen sued NBC Studios and several other companies claiming that his exposure to asbestos since he was about 10 resulted in mesothelioma.

Olsen, played 15 seasons in the NFL from 1962 to 1976, all with the Rams. He was the league’s most valuable player in 1974 and appeared 14 times in the Pro Bowl. After retiring as a player, he spent another 15 seasons in broadcast booths as an analyst for NBC and CBS and acted in such television shows as "Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy."
 

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement lauding Olsen as an "extraordinary person, friend and football player."

"He cared deeply about people, especially those that shared the game of football with him," Goodell said. "Merlin was a larger-than-life person, literally and figuratively, and leaves an enormously positive legacy."

Utah State honored Olsen in December by naming the football field at Romney Stadium "Merlin Olsen Field." Because of his illness, Olsen's alma mater didn't want to wait until football season and made the announcement during halftime of a basketball game.

Olsen was well enough to attend, but did not speak at the event. He stood and smiled as he waved to fans during a standing ovation and chants of "Merlin Olsen!" and "Aggie Legend!"

Utah State is also planning a statue of Olsen at the southeast corner of the stadium.

"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," said Stan Albrecht, president of Utah State.

Albrecht told the Salt Lake Tribune he "can't think of anyone who's gone through this institution that has accomplished more in a broader array or arenas."

Olsen was physically imposing, but a former Utah assistant coach told the Salt Lake Tribune he also used his head.

"He was a thinker," Tom Ramage told the newspaper. "He was trying to come up with new stuff all the time, ways to do it better. He was really a fun guy to work with. You had to be on your toes to coach Merlin."

The Tribune has a photo gallery of Olsen's career -- on and off the field.

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