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Rest in Peace, Merlin

Posted by Chase Stuart on March 11, 2010

The football community lost one of its greatest members today. Merlin Olsen spent all fifteen seasons of his playing career with the Los Angeles Rams. After that, he teamed with Dick Enberg to cover AFC football games (and the Rose Bowl) as a color commentator in the '80s. For Rams and Olsen fans out there, let's take a trip down memory lane:

  • Olsen was a huge star at Utah State, where he played defensive tackle under future Denver Broncos coach John Ralston. During Olsen's junior and senior seasons, the Aggies won nine games each season, the only time in school history USU has hit the nine-win mark. As a junior, Utah State ended the season 18th in the polls, the first time the school ever finished a season ranked in the AP poll. The 9-0-1 Aggies ended Olsen's senior season ranked 10th in the polls, which was the last time the school has been ranked by the Associated Press. Ironically, the second best NFL player from Utah State was in the same class as Olsen; one can only imagine how good the Aggies would have been if he actually played football for them.
  • As a senior, Olsen won the Outland Trophy as the nation's best linemen; unsurprisingly, he then went in the top three in both the NFL and AFL drafts in 1962. The Los Angeles Rams went 4-10 in 1961, earning themselves the 3rd pick in the NFL draft. Before the '61 season began, LA traded wide receiver Del Shofner (who was 27 years old and already a two time, first-team AP All-Pro selection and would make that team again in '61, '62 and '63) to the Giants for the Vikings first round pick (which the Giants owned after fleecing Minnesota in a trade for QB George Shaw), which turned out to be the #2 overall selection. After Ernie Davis went first overall, the Rams selected QB Roman Gabriel and Olsen with those two picks; in the process, they solidified both sides of the ball for the next decade.

  • When Olsen arrived, the Rams' defense was terrible. Los Angeles had ranked in the bottom three of the league in yards and points allowed in both '60 and '61, and their best player -- middle linebacker Les Richter -- was about to retire. A fourteenth round pick the season before, Deacon Jones, had shown some promise as a rookie in '61, but that was it. Olsen's first season, he made the Pro Bowl; he would make the Pro Bowl each of the next thirteen seasons, too. Los Angeles' defense would gradually improve, but it wasn't until 1966 that the defense finally became elite under new coach George Allen. With Olsen, Jones, Roger Brown and Lamar Lundy, the Rams front four earned the nickname "Fearsome Foursome." Those men, along with Allen, helped transform the Rams from a team with a constantly inferior defense to one with the most dominating front line in football.
  • Starting in 1966, the Rams would finish in the top three in points or yards allowed in eight of Olsen's last eleven seasons. Three times over that span, Los Angeles would lose two or fewer games; seven times the Rams allowed 202 or fewer points, including an incredibly low 135 points in 1975. From '66 to '76, the Rams switched out ten of their defensive starters, went through multiple coaches and changed owners (or more accurately, their owner changed them); the one constant was Olsen.

Olsen's fourteen Pro Bowl appearances in his career is tied for the most in NFL history.

                                            Game  Game Misc Misc Misc Misc
Rk                Player From   To  Tm  Lg     G    GS  Yrs   PB  AP1   AV
1        Bruce Matthews* 1983 2001 OTI NFL   296   292   19   14    7  187
2          Merlin Olsen* 1962 1976 RAM NFL   208   138   15   14    5  200
3            Jerry Rice* 1985 2004 TOT NFL   303   284   20   13   10  250
4          Reggie White* 1985 2000 TOT NFL   232   228   15   13    8  234
5           Ken Houston* 1967 1980 TOT TOT   196   113   14   12    2  153
6      Randall McDaniel* 1988 2001 TOT NFL   222   220   14   12    7  143
7              Jim Otto* 1960 1974 RAI TOT   210    98   15   12   10  140
8            Junior Seau 1990 2009 TOT NFL   268   243   20   12    6  189
9           Will Shields 1993 2006 KAN NFL   224   223   14   12    2  133
10           Larry Allen 1994 2007 TOT NFL   203   197   14   11    6  122
11        Derrick Brooks 1995 2008 TAM NFL   224   221   14   11    5  187
12           Brett Favre 1991 2009 TOT NFL   289   285   19   11    3  250
13             Ray Lewis 1996 2009 RAV NFL   194   193   14   11    7  189
14            Bob Lilly* 1961 1974 DAL NFL   196    14   14   11    7  175
15             Tom Mack* 1966 1978 RAM NFL   184   162   13   11    1  124
16       Gino Marchetti* 1952 1966 TOT NFL   161     2   14   11    7  160
17        Anthony Munoz* 1980 1992 CIN NFL   185   183   13   11    9  181
18        Jonathan Ogden 1996 2007 RAV NFL   177   176   12   11    4  135
19           Willie Roaf 1993 2005 TOT NFL   189   189   13   11    3  146
20          Bruce Smith* 1985 2003 TOT NFL   279   267   19   11    8  222
21          Rod Woodson* 1987 2003 TOT NFL   238   229   17   11    6  194
22         Tony Gonzalez 1997 2009 TOT NFL   206   190   13   10    5  142
23           Joe Greene* 1969 1981 PIT NFL   181   172   13   10    5  166
24          Ronnie Lott* 1981 1994 TOT NFL   192   189   14   10    6  159
25        Peyton Manning 1998 2009 CLT NFL   192   192   12   10    5  204
26        Leo Nomellini* 1950 1963 SFO NFL   174   166   14   10    6  153
27           Mel Renfro* 1964 1977 DAL NFL   174    44   14   10    1  149
28            Jim Ringo* 1953 1967 TOT NFL   187   168   15   10    6  157
29        Barry Sanders* 1989 1998 DET NFL   153   151   10   10    6  152
30          Joe Schmidt* 1953 1965 DET NFL   155     0   13   10    8  154
31      Mike Singletary* 1981 1992 CHI NFL   179   172   12   10    7  161
32      Lawrence Taylor* 1981 1993 NYG NFL   184   180   13   10    8  185
33        Johnny Unitas* 1956 1973 TOT NFL   211   186   18   10    5  202

When Olsen retired, only Unitas had accumulated more points of career AV; Olsen is currently 11th all-time in career AV, with Reggie White, Bruce Smith and Alan Page the only defenders ahead of him. Olsen was an obvious first ballot Hall of Fame choice in 1982.

Below, the starting eleven defenders for the Rams during each season of Olsen's career.

1962    LDE Deacon Jones    LLB Marlin McKeever    LCB Eddie Meador
        LDT Merlin Olsen    MLB Mike Henry         LS  Lindon Crow
        RDT John LoVetere   RLB Jack Pardee        RS  Charley Britt
        RDE Lamar Lundy                            RCB Carver Shannon

1963    LDE Deacon Jones    LLB Marlin McKeever    LCB Eddie Meador
        LDT Merlin Olsen    MLB Mike Henry         LS  Lindon Crow
        RDT Rosey Grier     RLB Jack Pardee        RS  Carver Shannon
        RDE Lamar Lundy                            RCB Bobby Smith

1964    LDE Deacon Jones    LLB Jack Pardee        LCB Jerry Richardson
        LDT Merlin Olsen    MLB Mike Henry         LS  Bobby Smith
        RDT Rosey Grier     RLB Cliff Livingston   RS  Eddie Meador
        RDE Lamar Lundy                            RCB Aaron Martin

1965    LDE Deacon Jones    LLB Tony Guillory      LCB Clancy Williams
        LDT Merlin Olsen    MLB Doug Woodlief      LS  Chuck Lamson
        RDT Rosey Grier     RLB Dan Currie         RS  Eddie Meador
        RDE Lamar Lundy                            RCB Danny McIlhany

1966    LDE Deacon Jones    LLB Jack Pardee        LCB Clancy Williams
        LDT Merlin Olsen    MLB Bill George        LS  Chuck Lamson
        RDT Rosey Grier     RLB Maxie Baughan      RS  Eddie Meador
        RDE Lamar Lundy                            RCB Irv Cross

1967    LDE Deacon Jones    LLB Jack Pardee        LCB Clancy Williams
        LDT Merlin Olsen    MLB Myron Pottios      LS  Chuck Lamson
        RDT Roger Brown     RLB Maxie Baughan      RS  Eddie Meador
        RDE Lamar Lundy                            RCB Irv Cross

1968    LDE Deacon Jones    LLB Jack Pardee        LCB Clancy Williams
        LDT Merlin Olsen    MLB Myron Pottios      LS  Ron Smith
        RDT Roger Brown     RLB Maxie Baughan      RS  Eddie Meador
        RDE Gregg Schumacher                       RCB Irv Cross

1969    LDE Deacon Jones    LLB Jack Pardee        LCB Clancy Williams
        LDT Merlin Olsen    MLB Doug Woodlief      LS  Richie Petitbon
        RDT Coy Bacon       RLB Maxie Baughan      RS  Eddie Meador
        RDE Diron Talbert                          RCB Ron Smith

1970    LDE Deacon Jones    LLB Jack Pardee        LCB Clancy Williams
        LDT Merlin Olsen    MLB Myron Pottios      FS  Eddie Meador
        RDT Diron Talbert   RLB Maxie Baughan      SS  Richie Petitbon
        RDE Coy Bacon                              RCB Kermit Alexander

1971    LDE Deacon Jones    LLB Jim Purnell        LCB Jim Nettles
        LDT Merlin Olsen    MLB Marlin McKeever    FS  Dave Elmendorf
        RDT Phil Olsen      RLB Isiah Robertson    SS  Kermit Alexander
        RDE Coy Bacon                              RCB Gene Howard
 
1972    LDE Jack Youngblood LLB Jim Purnell        LCB Al Clark
        LDT Merlin Olsen    MLB Marlin McKeever    FS  Jim Nettles
        RDT Larry Brooks    RLB Isiah Robertson    SS  Dave Elmendorf
        RDE Coy Bacon                              RCB Gene Howard

1973    LDE Jack Youngblood LLB Ken Geddes         LCB Eddie McMillan
        LDT Larry Brooks    MLB Jack Reynolds      FS  Steve Preece
        RDT Merlin Olsen    RLB Isiah Robertson    SS  Dave Elmendorf
        RDE Fred Dryer                             RCB Charlie Stukes

1974    LDE Jack Youngblood LLB Ken Geddes         LCB Eddie McMillan
        LDT Larry Brooks    MLB Jack Reynolds      FS  Steve Preece
        RDT Merlin Olsen    RLB Isiah Robertson    SS  Dave Elmendorf
        RDE Fred Dryer                             RCB Charlie Stukes

1975    LDE Jack Youngblood LLB Ken Geddes         LCB Eddie McMillan
        LDT Larry Brooks    MLB Jack Reynolds      FS  Bill Simpson
        RDT Merlin Olsen    RLB Isiah Robertson    SS  Dave Elmendorf
        RDE Fred Dryer                             RCB Monte Jackson

1976    LDE Jack Youngblood LLB Jim Youngblood     LCB Rod Perry
        LDT Larry Brooks    MLB Jack Reynolds      FS  Bill Simpson
        RDT Merlin Olsen    RLB Isiah Robertson    SS  Dave Elmendorf
        RDE Fred Dryer                             RCB Monte Jackson

This entry was posted on Thursday, March 11th, 2010 at 11:28 pm and is filed under Obituaries. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.