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.
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.”
|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>>>
One of Olsen’s more famous endorsements was pushing flowers for FTD. Fittingly, there’s no shortage of admirers eager to toss him a “Merlin Olsen bouquet.” It’s a reciprocal deal, apparently. “The thing about him that I find remarkable is never once have I ever heard him say a negative word about anybody, in any circumstance,” Rosenbloom said. “I just remember having a lot of admiration and respect for him, because he was a unique guy on the team, just the kind of person he is … gentle and wonderful, and treated everybody so well.”
Described by Enberg as “a 280-pound Care package,” Olsen is known for being more concerned about others than himself.
“Even in the face of this (illness), he’s asking people how they’re doing,” Rosenbloom marveled. “I hope they find something that works. He’s one of a kind.”
That discovery was made long ago in Logan, and that’s why USU is so proud to claim him.
“How he’s represented Utah State has been phenomenal,” Barnes said.
Albrecht recalled how as a member of the USU Foundation Board, Olsen was not satisfied with reaching the initial fund-raising goal of $200 million. Once that figure was achieved, Olsen said, “We’re not going to stop here. We’re going to go on.”
When he once spoke at USU’s Founders Day observance, Olsen said, “The real test doesn’t come when we are doing well, but when we have been knocked down and stepped on a few times, then get right back up and go on with our lives.”
So Olsen is determined to press on now, even while dealing with an opponent more aggressive and insidious than Conrad Dobler or any of the other NFL offensive linemen who challenged him in his prime.
In his letter to Olsen, Enberg wrote, “In my mind, you’ll always be that ‘mountain of a man.’”
Olsen will be viewed similarly in Logan, with the naming of the Aggies’ football field and the statue being sculpted in his honor.
“We don’t think there’s anybody more deserving of this distinction,” Albrecht said, citing how admirably Olsen has “carried the banner” for USU for more than half a century.
The statue, to be unveiled during the football season, is described as “larger-than-life-sized.” Even then, it will not fully capture Olsen’s aura in his hometown and on the campus where he excelled athletically and academically.
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Kurt Kragthorpe writes a regular sports column for The Salt Lake Tribune.
This article originally appeared in the Utah State magazine (Vol. 15, No. 4. Winter 2010). Reprinted with permission.
|Utah State University’s announcement that the field at Romney Stadium will henceforth be known as Merlin Olsen Field has been met with a ground swell of enthusiasm, both in Logan and across the nation. Efforts are underway to further enhance and preserve Olsen’s legacy through The Merlin Olsen Field Campaign, created to achieve three specific objectives in Aggie Athletics. You can find out more about Olsen and how you can join his former teammates, friends and fans in further honoring the Aggie great by visiting http://www.utahstateaggies.com/merlinolsencampaign.html
||Just a couple of hours before USU’s most highly regarded and famous son made his way to center court during the St. Mary’s vs. Utah State basketball game on Dec. 5 — before students in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum spontaneously chanted “Mer-lin Ol-sen, Mer-lin Ol-sen” and then “Agg-ie Le-gend, Agg-ie Le-gend” — Olsen attended a celebratory dinner at the Jim and Carol Laub Athletics-Academic Complex with family and friends. USU President Stan Albrecht and Athletics Director Scott Barnes offered tributes to the man they said has carried the Aggie banner like none other, and then the lights were raised inside adjacent Romney Stadium, illuminating the snowy field that, henceforth, will be known as Merlin Olsen Field. Read the complete story>>>
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