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Merlin Jay Olsen (born September 15, 1940) is a former American football player in the National Football League and an actor. He played his entire 15-year career with the Los Angeles Rams and was elected to the Pro Bowl in 14 of those seasons, a current record shared with Bruce Matthews. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Famemarker and the College Football Hall of Famemarker.



Born to Lynn Jay and Merle Barrus Olsen in Loganmarker, Utahmarker,Sep 15, 1940, Olsen is the second of nine children. He attended Utah State University, is a member of Sigma Chi fraternity, and was a three-year letterman in football as a defensive tackle. In football, as a senior, he was a consensus All-American selection (making the vast majority of All-America teams) and was the winner of the Outland Trophy. After Olsen's junior year of 1960 he was also named All-American by the Football Writers Association of America and Newspaper Enterprise Association. He was also All-Conference in both 1960 and 1961 and an Academic All-America in 1961. Olsen and Utah State were in the 1960 Sun Bowl, losing to New Mexico State, 20-13. Led by Olsen, the Aggie defense held the New Mexico State Aggies to just 44 rushing yards on 32 carries.

As a senior the Aggie defense Olsen anchored gave up an average of 50.8 rushing yards (which led the nation), 88.6 passing yards, and 139.4 total yards which all still stand as school records for defense. The 1961 Aggie defense gave up an average 7.8 points a game, which is second in team history behind Olsen's 1960 team, which allowed 6.5 points per game. Additionally, the Aggie defense held four opponents to less than 100 total yards. One, the University of Idahomarker, was held to a school-record 23 total yards, with the Aggies winning 69-0.

The Aggies, not known as a national power football program, finished 10th in both the AP and UPI post-season polls, the only time that has occurred in school history. The Aggies had a combined 18-3-1 record during Olsen's junior and senior seasons under coach John Ralston and were conference champions those two seasons as well.

Olsen played in the East-West Shrine Game in 1961 and in 2003 was voted to the game's Hall of Fame. He also played in the Hula Bowl after his senior season and was voted MVP of the game.

Olsen is a member of the State of Utah’s Sports Hall of Fame, the Utah State University Sports Hall of Fame and USU’s All-Century Football Team. In 2000, he was selected by Sports Illustrated as one of the State of Utah’s Top 50 Athletes of the Century. He was voted to the All-Academic All-America Hall of Fame in 1988. In 1969 he was voted to the Newspaper Enterprise Association All-Time All-America team with collegiate greats such as Bronco Nagurski, Red Grange, Jim Thorpe, and O.J. Simpson, among others.

In 2008 Olsen was named to the 75th Anniversary All-Sun Bowl Team to commemorate the Sun Bowl Association's Diamond Anniversary. Utah State University will name their football field after Olsen. The ceremony will take place in Logan at halftime of the USU-St. Mary’s basketball game on December 5, 2009. HOF Sculptor Blair Buswell is creating a bronze sculpture that will sit at the entrance to Merlin Olsen Field at Romney Stadium.


Olsen played professionally (from 1962 to 1976) for the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League. A leading defensive star of his era, he did not miss a single game in his 15-season NFL career. He was All-Pro in 1964, and 1966 through 1970. He was voted second team All-Pro in 1965, 1973 and 1974.

Coming out of college, Olsen had offers from both Los Angeles of the NFL and the Denver Broncos of the rival American Football League. He chose the security of the NFL and signed with the Rams. Olsen's first contract was for around $50,000 for 2 years, plus a bonus. It was 1962, and the average football player salary at the time was around $12,000 a year. He was the first USU Aggie to be drafted in the 1st round of the NFL draft.

Olsen almost ended up on offense, but was later moved to the defensive line after a few experiments in practice. Soon he became part of one of the best front fours in NFL history. Deacon Jones, Rosey Grier, and Lamar Lundy joined Olsen on the defensive line in 1963 that was aptly nicknamed "The Fearsome Foursome." He was named the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Week for week 12, 1965. Olsen scored his first touchdown in that game.

Throughout the 1960s, this foursome terrorized opposing offenses. Olsen's play helped the Rams to the playoffs in 1967 and 1969. He was voted the club's Outstanding Defensive Lineman from 1967-70 by the Los Angeles Rams Alumni. In week 14, 1967, Olsen and the rest of the Fearsome Foursome were named the AP NFL Defensive Players of the Week for their performance against the Baltimore Colts.

In the 1970s, Olsen continued his dominant play at defensive tackle and his 11 sacks in 1972 was second on the team. After week 8 in 1972 Olsen was named the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Week for the third time in his career.

The Rams won the NFC West crown in 1973 through 1976 thanks in part to the solid play of Olsen. They ranked first in the NFL in run defense in 1973 and 1974 and finished second in sacking opposing passers both years. In 1973 Olsen was voted the NFLPA NFC Defensive Lineman of the Year and the next season, 1974, he was voted the Bert Bell Award as the NFL MVP as voted by the Maxwell Club. Olsen accepted the award "on behalf of all who toil in the NFL trenches".

In 1975 and 1976 the Rams defense finished second in the NFL against the run while ranking in the top 5 in sacking opposing quarterbacks and compiling a 22-5-1 record over those two seasons.

Olsen's last game was the NFC Championship game in 1976 at Bloomington, Minnesotamarker. The Vikings took advantage on a freak play early in the game. A blocked field goal returned 90 yards for a touchdown shocked the Rams in the first quarter. The defense was later victimized by a couple of big plays by the Vikings. The Rams came up short, losing 24-13, bringing the storied career of the Rams finest defensive tackle to an end.

Olsen made the Pro Bowl a record 14 times throughout his career, only missing it on his final year. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Famemarker in 1982. In 1999, he was ranked number 25 on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.

After NFL retirement

Following his retirement as a player, Olsen went to television as a color commentator, teaming with Dick Enberg on NBC's coverage of the AFC throughout the 1980s. He and Enberg also teamed for the Rose Bowl Game broadcast beginning with the 1980 Rose Bowl through the 1988 Rose Bowl.

He also enjoyed success as an actor. When Little House on the Prairie actor Victor French left to star in his own comedy Carter Country in 1977, Olsen was tapped to play Michael Landon's new sidekick Jonathan Garvey. One memorable quote from Merlin during the series, "I don't know a thing about football" was when Charles and Jonathan were to coach a boys football team. A couple of years later, Landon cast Olsen as the masquerading priest Father Murphy. He has been a commercial spokesman for FTD Florists. His most recent television acting work was in the short-lived 1988 TV series Aaron's Way, in which he played the lead role. Olsen has often co-hosted the Children's Miracle Network telethons, a humanitarian organization founded in 1983 by Marie Osmond and John Schneider. He also appears in many Sigma Chi promotional campaigns; Olsen is a Life Loyal Sig, Significant Sig (given to members for distinguishing acts outside the fraternity) and a member of the Order of Constantine (given for service to the Fraternity).

Olsen donated one of his cleats, which were bronzed, to be used during the annual football rivalry between two Las Vegasmarker high schools, Eldorado High School and Chaparral High School, which both opened in 1973. Each year, Olsen presents the "trophy" in the ceremony at the rivalry game.

He was named the Walter Camp Man of the Year in 1982.

He was also named Athlete of the Century for the state of Utah.

Personal life

He is married to Susan Wakely (30 March 1962 - present) . They have 3 children, Kelly, Jill, and Nathan.

One of his younger brothers is Phil Olsen. They played together with the Rams from 1971-1974. Brothers, Merlin, Phil and Orrin all played in the NFL. Another brother, Clark, has a son, Hans, who later played professional football, in the family tradition.

Merlin is a passionate fisherman, and enjoys fly fishing the most. In total, he has three brothers and five sisters. Colleen, Clark, Lorraine, Gwen, Phil, Winona, Ramona, and Orrin. Merlin is the first son, and second child of nine children born to Merle Barrus and Lynn Jay Olsen. He has four grandchildren.


  • Olsen was mentioned in a commercial for the National Association for the Self Employed (NASE) on the Free Speech Radio Network in 2007.

  • Per a photo in Sports Illustrated, Olsen smoked Benson & Hedges Menthol 100's.

See also


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