Merlin Olsen

Class of 1982

All-Pro selections


Pro Bowls




"You can take the best team and the worst team and line them up and you would find very little physical difference. You would find an emotional difference. The winning team has a dedication. It will have at its core a group of veteran players who set the standard. They will not accept defeat.”

Enshrinement Speech

Career Highlights

Merlin Olsen was a coach's player. Punctual, steady, gifted, a quiet leader, a player you could always count on. He was a standout as a rookie and thereafter stood out in every game he played for the Rams in a 15- year career. Every game. Fifteen years.

As a rookie Olsen was voted into the Pro Bowl. And in the winters that followed they never played a Pro Bowl without him for 14 consecutive years. Ten times he was selected a first- or second-team All-Pro. Merlin came to the Rams as one of their two first round draft choices in 1962.

He had the physical qualifications of the best-ever defensive tackles of the day, as evidenced by the fact that he won the Outland Trophy as a collegian at Utah State. But Merlin’s true strength may have been the intelligence he used in each game.

During the off-season he earned a master’s degree in economics. It was Olsen's hard luck to perform for many mediocre teams in Los Angeles – he never won a Super Bowl – but he had as much to do as any other individual with glamorizing defensive football in the NFL.

Before the era of Olsen, and teammate and future Hall of Fame defensive end Deacon Jones, this was an offensive league. Few fans talked knowledgeably about defense. Starting in the 1960s the Rams fielded one of the most famous of the front fours of that or any other time, the “Fearsome Foursome” of Jones, Olsen, Roosevelt Grier and Lamar Lundy. And the anchor and leader of the group was Olsen. He was the stabilizer in the middle that allowed the others to tee off on quarterbacks. Olsen kept order along the scrimmage line, often stopping the draw play himself or quickly identifying the screen pass.

1962 Los Angeles
1963 Los Angeles
1964 Los Angeles
1965 Los Angeles
1966 Los Angeles
1967 Los Angeles
1968 Los Angeles
1969 Los Angeles
1970 Los Angeles
1971 Los Angeles
1972 Los Angeles
1973 Los Angeles
1974 Los Angeles
1975 Los Angeles
1976 Los Angeles
Career Total
Additional Career Statistics: Kickoff Returns: 1-0; Interceptions: 1-20, 1 TD

Championship Games

1974 NFC - Minnesota Vikings 14, Los Angeles Rams 10
Olsen started at left defensive tackle. He made five tackles and had one assist.

1975 NFC - Dallas Cowboys 37, Los Angeles Rams 7
Olsen started at left defensive tackle. He made nine tackles and had two assists.

1976 NFC - Minnesota Vikings 24, Los Angeles Rams 13
Olsen started at left defensive tackle. He made three tackles, one assist and had one sack for a loss of two yards.

All-NFL: 1964 (NEA), 1966 (AP, UPI, NEA, WA, NY), 1967 (AP, UPI, NEA, NY), 1968 (AP, UPI, NEA, NY, PW), 1969 (AP, UPI, NEA, PW, NY), 1970 (AP, PFWA, NEA, PW)

All-NFL Second Team: 1963 (AP, UPI, NEA, NY), 1964 (AP, UPI, NY), 1965 (AP, UPI, NEA, NY), 1973 (AP), 1974 (PFWA)

All-Pro: 1968 (PFWA), 1969 (HOF, PFWA, NEA)

All-NFC: 1970 (AP, UPI, SN, PW), 1973 (AP, UPI, SN, PW)

All-NFC Second Team: 1971 (UPI), 1972 (UPI), 1974 (UPI), 1975 (UPI)

All Western Conference: 1964 (SN), 1965 (SN), 1966 (SN), 1967 (SN), 1968 (SN), 1969 (SN)

(14) – 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971*, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976

*Did not play

(at time of his retirement following the 1976 season)
Pro Bowl Records

• [Tied for 1st] Most Pro Bowl Selections – 14
• [Tied for 1st] Most Consecutive Pro Bowl Selections – 14 (1963-1976)

Rams’ Records held by Olsen at the time of his retirement following the 1976 season

• [1st] Most Games Played, Career – 208 (1962-1976)
• [1st] Most Consecutive Games Played – 198 (1962-1976)
• [Tied for 1st] Most Years Active – 15 (1962-1976)

• 1974 Most Valuable Player (MX)
• 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
• 1960s All-Decade Team
• 1970s All-Decade Team
• AFL-NFL 1960-1984 All-Star Team

Year Team W L T Division Finish
1962 Los Angeles Rams 1 12 1 (7th)
1963 Los Angeles Rams 5 9 0 (6th)
1964 Los Angeles Rams 5 7 2 (5th)
1965 Los Angeles Rams 4 10 0 (7th)
1966 Los Angeles Rams 8 6 0 (3rd)
1967 Los Angeles Rams 11 1 2 (1st)
1968 Los Angeles Rams 10 3 1 (2nd)
1969 Los Angeles Rams 11 3 0 (1st)
1970 Los Angeles Rams 9 4 1 (2nd)
1971 Los Angeles Rams 8 5 1 (2nd)
1972 Los Angeles Rams 6 7 1 (3rd)
1973 Los Angeles Rams 12 2 0 (1st)
1974 Los Angeles Rams 10 4 0 (1st)
1975 Los Angeles Rams 12 2 0 (1st)
1976 Los Angeles Rams 10 3 1 (1st)

Full name: Merlin Jay Olsen

Birthdate: September 15, 1940

Birthplace: Logan, Utah

Died: March 11, 2010 in Duarte, California

High School: James Logan (Logan, UT)

Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame: January 23, 1982

Enshrined into Pro Football Hall of Fame: August 7, 1982

Tony Knap, Olsen’s coach at Utah State

Other Members of the Class of 1982: Doug Atkins, Sam Huff, George Musso

Pro Career:
15 Seasons, 208 Games

Drafted: 1st round (3rd player overall) in 1962 by Los Angeles Rams. Also drafted in 1st round, (2nd player overall) in 1962 by Denver Broncos, AFL.

Uniform Number: #74

Pro Football Hall of Fame
Aug. 7, 1982

Tony Knap (presenter)
Honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce a good man. My motto of this speech is “let a man be judged by 'his achievements,” so that is a very simple easy four minutes for me to do because all I have to do is read this list of credits and achievements and my speech is over.

While attending and graduating from Utah State University Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1962, he added his masters degree in economics in 1970. While playing collegiate football at Utah State he was a two-year All-American and winner of the Outland trophy as the nation's outstanding collegiate lineman in 1962. In addition, he was a three time academic All-American and in 1961 was one of five men picked as the National Football Foundation scholar athlete and in 1980 he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame.
Merlin was the No. 1 draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams in 1962 and started as a defensive tackle for 15 years.  An inspirational player, Merlin served as captain of the Rams in 1962 to 1966. He started in 198 consecutive games and played 208 regular games to set club records in both those categories.  As a member of the Rams, he set an NFL record by being named to the Pro Bowl for 14 consecutive years. His other honors include Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1962, Consensus All-Pro 1965, 1969. Most Valuable Lineman in the NFL 1973.  Maxwell Trophy as the NFL’s most Valuable Player 1974.  Vince Lombardi Dedication Trophy, 1976 and the NFL Alumni Achievement Award in 1981.
While playing for the Rams he prepared for his future by hosting a national syndicated show man to man and acting in more than two dozen movies and shows.  In 1977 Merlin Olsen joined NBC-TV Sports and quickly became very adept as a football analyst. He continued his acting career by co-starring with Michael Landon on NBC's top rated series Little House on the Prairie. This led to his starring role in the new NBC prime time television series Father Murphy.

Merlin also has been a driving force with the Multiple Sclerosis Society for the past 10 years, first as a member and now as Vice President of the Board of Trustees. In 1981, he was named as the nation's outstanding volunteer for these efforts. Obviously, this young man has been greatly blessed with rare endowments. He chose his parents Lyn Jay and Merlin Olsen very wisely. Eight other outstanding children make this a great family to behold. Much of his character, outlook on life and emotional stability was developed right there.

As a player I remember Merlin as being caught up in and absorbed by the mental aspects of the games. Techniques and strategies of play were most interesting to him and we talked by the hour of those things. As his coach, I really loved and appreciated that. In addition, it thrilled him to see his attitude towards football in general. In his mind the gridiron was a field of honor, a place where manhood and all of its virtues can be tested and developed. A true viking, that's how he looked to me.

In closing, I would like to thank Merlin for letting me share in this great honor and to voice my admiration and appreciation to the City of Canton and the Hall of Fame for their fabulous hospitality that was favored on us this past few days.

Without further ado, here's Merlin.

Merlin Olsen
Thank you. I think my flower is wilting. I have been sitting searching for a few words and one of the words that came rather quickly was improbable. How very improbable it would be to look back and block the course that would bring me here today.

I always wanted to be an athlete. That was a desire I carried from a very young age and unfortunately with feet and hands that didn't quite match the rest of the body and the ability to fall down on flat sidewalks, I was not very impressive to my coaches. In fact, although my name was on the sign-up sheet, usually first or shortly thereafter, I was also one of the first cut from all those teams. And things got so bad finally in the ninth grade my junior high school coach pulled me aside and said, "”Merlin why are you doing this to yourself? Why don't you use this energy and apply it to some other field, go work on the school paper, find a place to use this energy because or job here at the junior high school is to develop these athletes for the high school, and you are never going to be an athlete, just let it go."

Well I have to say I didn't always listen to my coaches and there are some of them back here and thank goodness I didn't or I would have never had a chance to make it to Canton. And what a trip it has been. Not only just being here today and feeling all the warmth and the hospitality of your fine city and a lot of love poured out on us as we made that trip through that parade trip today and I think I can speak for all the honorees in saying that was very special for us.

I think everyone of my classmates in this enshrinees class has mentioned that we did not arrive here alone. We made the trip with the help of a great many people. I think in order to be here too, there had to be great commitment not only of physical assets but of mind and emotion; commitments that often take a very heavy toll on family. I think much of the honor that we share here on the stage today, should be handed out to the special members of our family who are here with us. I don't know how football wives, wives of professional athletes put up with some of the things that they have to put up with. To be sitting trying to chat with your husband at a restaurant and suddenly an arm goes in front of your face and your fork is stuck out here and you realize that someone has just come to get an autograph, not even knowing that you are there.

I would like to thank my wife Susan who has put up with me for more than 20 years now and still survives with a sense of humor. My children, Kelly, Jill and Nathan who didn't get to see as much of their dad as they would like to. I certainly would like to thank a very special lady, who is here. I'm sorry my father is not here. My dad was my greatest fan, our greatest fan I am sure he is close by and I'm sure he is keeping an eye on us. My mom is a great lady. She came to her first college game, actually the first time she saw me play and someone wacked me in the nose and I had a nose bleed that was just buckets of blood down the front of me before I knew what had happened.  My father had to grab her as she was coming out of the stands. And I am not sure if she was coming to help me or take on the guy who had hit me, I never really understood.  Mom, I love you and I thank you for all the long hours and the time. My brother, Phil played some NFL football as did my youngest brother Orrum.  Nice for a mom to have three sons who played in the NFL and Phil thanks for being here today and sharing this with me.

Each of us has talked about coaches and teammates and I would be remiss not to mention briefly the coaches who helped me. Tony Knapp, of course, who represents them today. Harland Svare, one of my first coaches is here. Several of my teammates are here, Irv Cross among them. I would also like to mention the other three members of the Fearsome Foursome, one of them has been talked about today, Rosie Grier, who was a teammate of Sam's, Lamar Lundy and Deacon Jones, an enshrinee of a class two years ago who is a special friend of mine and the other member of that group.

I think one of the nicest things for me is to share this honor with good friends. To know that there was so many people who cared that I was here today. It gives me a feeling that is truly uplifting and special.

I love the game of football, I liked playing the game; more than liked playing the game. There was some special magic out on that piece of grass out there on that field. And win or lose when I came off that field, it was always coming down. I am sure that the thing I miss most about the game is the people, the very special people and those incredible highs and lows. You can imagine being at the' top of the world one minute and down in the cellar the next.  Compress that kind of emotion in one brief span and you have the roller coaster life of a professional football player. But it is a life you come to love, you share with friends and I don't doubt for a minute that if you could find a time capsule that the four of us and the other enshrinees that are here today would jump in quickly, go back and put on our 20-year old bodies, race over and grab the first jersey and helmet we could find and enjoy, even in this heat, having the chance to once more play the game.

I think for players, for competitors it is wonderful to look back. This is without question the greatest singular honor bestowed upon me as an athlete and I thank the Hall of Fame Committee, the Select ion Committee and, all those who have made it possible and at the same time, if you are a real player you need to find the game and I am proud to be playing on a couple of new teams. Art Watson's NBC sports team, Michael Landon's Father Murphy team. I find some of the same kind of excitement, some of the same kind of love there. I just hope that I can find it in myself and have the opportunity to enjoy in my new games and my new challenges, the kind of thrills, the kind of honor you gave me today by allowing me to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Thank you.