Thursday, March 11, 2010

Merlin Olsen: Farewell to a Football Hero

You know you’re getting old when your favorite football players—the ones you remember watching on TV Sunday afternoons or Monday nights when you were a kid—start dying on you. The death of former Los Angeles Rams (that goes to show you how old I am, I lived in a time when the Rams were in Los Angeles and not St. Louis) defensive tackle Merlin Olsen is a sad loss to football fans everywhere.

Merlin Olsen was something we’re not used to seeing in today’s sports: a true hero. We live in an age where we’ve become accustomed to seeing great athletes behave badly and un-heroically. Olsen was a true hero. From 1967 to 1976 Olsen (along with Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy, and Rosey Grier—later to be succeeded by Roger Brown) was a member of the Fearsome Foursome one of the greatest defensive lines in NFL history. Olsen anchored the line thus allowing teammate and fellow Hall-of-Fame member Deacon Jones to do what he did best: sack quarterbacks. Olsen was magnificent in containing the run—leading all Rams players in tackles. His greatness as a defensive lineman was so manifest that football historian Sean Lahman in his book "The Pro Football Historical Abstract" ranked Olsen the third greatest defensive lineman of all time after Bruce Smith and the late Reggie White.

Green Bay Packer legend Jerry Kramer who played offensive guard opposite Olsen in many a tense match-up had this to say about Olsen in his best selling book "Instant Replay", “Merlin [Olsen] is simply a great football player. Merlin’s not as quick as Alex Karras, but he’s stronger. Both of them have great lateral movement. Merlin has tremendous hustle; he never quits. Alex sometimes will ease up if his club is far ahead or far behind, but Merlin never lets up. He’ll run right over you no matter what the score is. When I play against a guy like that there’s a lot of mutual respect, and there’s never any holding or kicking or clipping, just straight, clean, hard football.” Later on in the book when Kramer had to face Olsen in a playoff game Kramer would tell the press, “Merlin Olsen is very big, very strong, has great speed and great agility…gives at least 110 percent on every play, and these are his weak points.”

The fact that an opponent would say such things about Olsen speaks volumes about his overall impact on the game.

Sadly Olsen never played for an NFL champion. The Rams were either losing to the Green Bay Packers or the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs during those years.

Despite Merlin Olsen never stopped being a great player, a great human being, and a true football hero.

Rest in Peace, Merlin.

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