Even on excellent Aggie teams that would send many players into the NFL, “He was head and shoulders above whatever we had around us,” Ramage said.
And there was much more to Olsen’s Aggie story besides football. He’s a charter member of the Academic All-America Hall of Fame and completed a USU master’s degree in economics in the middle of his NFL career. Olsen transitioned nicely to the next phase of his life and remained someone who has brought “honor and dignity” to the school, USU Athletic Director Scott Barnes said.
|Merlin Olsen’s legendary talents and abilities reach far beyond the football field. The Aggie exemplar has also made a name for himself as an actor in motion pictures and TV shows and has lent his name, presence and trademark voice to successful advertising and charity campaigns. He is the unforgettable spokesperson for FTD, has helped the Children’s Miracle Network raise over $3.4 billion since its inception in 1983, and has provided unsurpassed professionalism to countless USU commercials, videos and special projects. Click here to see a list of his contributions to entertainment>>>
Albrecht applauds Olsen’s widespread influence.
“I can’t think of anyone who has gone through this institution that has accomplished more in a broader array of arenas than Merlin Olsen,” Albrecht said.
Olsen succeeded in everything he did because he devoted full effort to it. He starred in television’s “Little House on the Prairie,” “Father Murphy” and “Aaron’s Way,” easily transitioning into life after football. Dick Enberg, his longtime broadcasting partner with NBC Sports, recently described him as “the complete man.”
Enberg was particularly impressed by Olsen’s commitment to their weekly NFL telecasts.
In a letter to Olsen, Enberg wrote of his partner’s “uncommon willingness to prepare” and added, “I’d often feel that I had given an ‘A’ effort in our broadcasts, only to recognize you earned the ‘A-plus.’ ”
Beyond their professional relationship, Enberg also is struck by Olsen’s personality — “a man of goodness, eager to consciously do the right thing for yourself, while helping others.”
It all started in Logan, where Olsen was the second of nine children born to Lynn and Merle (that’s where “Merlin” came from) Olsen. They lived near Central Park, and Olsen once joked that he was the last player picked for football games in the park that later would be named for him.
Friends remember Lynn Olsen driving to Idaho and coming back with loads of potatoes to be stored in the cellar, providing the nutritional basis for those nine children. Olsen weighed 220 pounds as a Logan High School senior. That may not sound like much, compared with today’s linemen, but consider that when he was a college senior, the average weight of the All-American linemen was just 226 pounds.
Olsen was a four-sport athlete for the Logan Grizzlies, and would later join Phil Johnson, now a Utah Jazz assistant coach, in playing for the champions of the All-Church basketball tournament while Johnson was working as a graduate assistant in the USU basketball program.
It was just a throwaway line in a movie. Yet when “Anchorman” star Will Ferrell tried to impress a co-worker by saying, “I’m friends with Merlin Olsen,” plenty of Aggie followers could relate.
Joe Watts, a basketball player who was a year ahead of Olsen at Logan High School and USU, summarized the feelings of many when he said, “We’ve all been just a little bit better than we would have been without him in our lives.”
This article originally appeared in the Utah State magazine (Vol. 15, No. 4. Winter 2010). Reprinted with permission.
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