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.
*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. ◙