Thursday, March 11, 2010

Merlin Olsen, R.I.P.

I remember Merlin Olsen before Father Murphy, before Little House on the Prairie, before his long stint as Dick Enberg’s partner on NBC’s football telecasts or being Grand Marshal of the Rose Parade. I even remember him before he wore a beard.

Merlin Olsen was part of the “Fearsome Foursome,” the defensive line of the Los Angeles Rams that included (quick: can you name them all?) Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier.* In the late 60s, back when the Rams depended on defense and not offense to win games (they actually won games back then – a lot of them), these four were the main reason the Rams were so successful. I was never much of a Rams fan, though, since they were usually in the same division as my two favorite teams of the time, the Green Bay Packers and the Baltimore Colts.

*I admit, I couldn’t name them all – at least not at the same time. I did come up with all four of them, including Lundy, the most difficult one to name, but invariably I’d wind up leaving one of the others out. But now that I’ve made a point of it, it will probably become one of those things that I’ll still be mumbling about on my deathbed, when the doctors shake their heads and conclude that I’ve finally lost it.

The Rams came close, but they never one the big one while Olsen was with them. It was pretty much the only thing missing from a career that started when he was All-America at Utah State and ended in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with 14 All-Pro appearances in-between.

He was soft-spoken, articulate, and intelligent about football (and probably a number of other things; he graduated summa cum laude), which made him a natural for television after he retired. And that’s probably how most people remember him – as the gentle giant in all those shows I mentioned above, plus the blink-and-you-missed-it Aaron’s Way (I know; if you blinked, you missed it.) Not my kind of shows, but there’s no doubt he was good at what he did. He even sold flowers on TV for FTD, and made it seem manly. Not having known him, it’s tempting to suggest that in all of these series, Merlin Olsen simply played himself – typecasting, but in the same way that John Wayne was typecast.

If it’s true, if he was playing himself all those years, then it is less of a tribute to his acting abilities (although I’ve seen much worse) and more to his character as a man. He died today of mesothelioma at 69, but his accomplishments remain secure.

1 comment:

  1. And obviously, Mitchell, with your age, you remember those things. The pre-merger NFL and you reminded me of how much loyalty is gone. I read it was the Colts and Rams who had that swap that led Carroll Rosenbloom who tried to take the Super Bowl V trophy to Los Angeles when Rosenbloom wanted the Rams. In a tax ruse, Irsay bought the Rams, traded it to Rosenbloom, who gave the Colts to Irsay for the tax policy at the time. The Lombardi Trophy was "stolen" by Rosenbloom at a Super Bowl VII party, held in Los Angeles, and the Colts asked, and the NFL decided, a replica trophy be made. Fast forward 11 years later to the Mayflower moving vans, and the replica trophy was taken away from the Colts in the settlement. The original trophy reportedly is in Chip Rosenbloom's hands (as heirs) and the replica is in the Babe Ruth museum in Baltimore.

    If the IRL does race in the streets of Baltimore, A. J. Foyt would be booed almost immediately. Foyt's grandson Anthony Joseph IV is the son-in-law of Jim Irsay, whose father led the Mayflower moving vans. Can you imagine A. J. Foyt as an NFL team owner?

    Olsen selling flowers reminds me of what football players taking ballet lessons have done for the genre (helps players with footwork) and dance as a while (see the Strictly Come Dancing franchise with football players doing well). Once tough football players take these things with the killer instinct and use dance as a ways to learn fancy footwork to escape tough spots, it showed men can do these things.

    Reminds me watching Imus this morning that Fox Sports' Darrell Waltrip told Imus that if Mitt Romney is to win in 2012, he needs the correct crew chief in Karl Rove. Sports guys always talk in team talk.


Remember: Think Before Commenting.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...