Merlin Olsen, known as much as a member of the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome as he was Father Murphy on TV, died Wednesday night at a Los Angeles hospital after a battle with cancer. He was 69.
Olsen was diagnosed with mesothelioma last year, and he had filed a lawsuit against NBC Studios, among others, claiming exposure to asbestos caused the cancer.
The Rams’ first-round draft pick in 1962 out of Utah State, where he was the Outland Trophy winner, the burly, bearded defensive tackle combined forces with Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier to form one of the most feared defensive lines in NFL history. The Rams set an NFL record for the fewest yards allowed during a 14-game season in 1968.
A 14-time Pro Bowl participant, Olsen remains the Rams’ all-time leader in tackles with 915. His last game was with the Rams in the 1976 NFC title game, a 24-13 loss.
The NFC defensive lineman of the year in 1973 and the NFL MVP in 1974 was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982. He is also in the College Football Hall of Fame.
After his retirement he comfortably seguayed into TV work, first in acting with a role on “Little House on the Prairie,” then starring in his own series, “Father Murphy,” from 1981 to 1983.
He also had a long run in the 1980s as a NFL and college football game analyst on CBS and NBC. He and Dick Enberg were the regular broadcasters for NBC’s Rose Bowl through almost the entire decade. He was also a visible spokesman for FTD flowers.
Utah State honored Olsen in December by naming the football field at Romney Stadium “Merlin Olsen Field.” The school did so during halftime of a basketball game because it didn’t want to wait until the 2010 football season knowing how ill Olsen had become. Olsen attended the ceremony but did not speak, only smiling and waving as the fans cheered.
Utah State is also planning a statue of Olsen at the southeast corner of the stadium.
The Rams also honored Olsen during a game Dec. 20, with a video tribute narrated by Enberg. Olsen did not attend because of his health. His name was already part of the Ring of Fame inside the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis along with other franchise standouts.
In 2007, Olsen was inducted as a “Fearsome Foursome” member into the Coliseum’s Hall of Plaques that are arranged in the peristyle entrance. Coliseum general manager John Lynch said Olsen was “especially moved by the installation of the plaque,” done so on the 70th anniversary of the team. (linked here)
In his lawsuit filed last year in L.A. against NBC, Fox and others, Olsen said his mesothelioma “is a vicious, painful, and invariably fatal malignancy” and there is no known cure.
Olsen and his wife Susan were suing for unspecified damages.
== In 2007, we picked Olsen to represent No. 74 on the All-Time L.A. Sports Roster (linked here). He was also Sports Illustrated’s choice for the all-time sports No. 74 (linked here)
== Olsen’s Wikipedia bio (linked here)
== Olsen’s Pro Football Hall of Fame bio (linked here)
== The lawsuit Olsen filed in December (linked here)