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These days Olsen travels with family, not football

September 18, 2006|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

Short of throwing a brick through your television, you probably would have had a hard time escaping Merlin Olsen in the early 1980s.

The Pro Football Hall of Famer and former Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle played a title role in a prime-time network television series, pitched products in commercials and worked Sundays with Dick Enberg to form one of the most beloved and respected announcing duos in NFL history.

But after working a game at Dallas in December 1991 -- by then he was with another network, paired with Dick Stockton -- Olsen was gone.

He was only 51, but the FTD pitchman had stopped to smell the roses.

Fifteen years later, speaking by phone from his home alongside a ski run at Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah -- he and wife Susan can ski right out their back door and down Bald Eagle Mountain -- Olsen said he had no regrets.

"I got very tired of living on the road," he said of his surprising decision to walk away from what, by 1991, was his most prominent role. "I think, more than anything, what I finally decided was, if I didn't take time out to do the enjoyable things that I kept postponing, I wasn't going to have time to do them.

"A lot of my career, I worked seven days a week, and that's not any fun. Life should be fun, and if you wait too long, you're probably going to miss the fun."

Calling himself "semiretired," Olsen, 66, said that he still worked in a public relations capacity for FTD, an association that began in 1982.

He also is the spokesman for the National Assn. for the Self-Employed, makes eight to 10 appearances a year as a motivational speaker and sits on the board of directors for banks in California and Utah, his home state.

"That leaves me enough time to play some golf and catch some fish and enjoy my family," said Olsen, adding that he and his wife also enjoy cycling and have traveled extensively. Often including their three children and four grandchildren, Olsen said, they've visited "a good part of the world."

Physically, he has held up "fairly well," he said.

"You don't play as many years in football as I did without your body taking some pretty good abuse," said Olsen, who at 6 feet 5 and 260 pounds is 10 pounds lighter than his listed playing weight and 40 pounds lighter than what he said he actually weighed at his heaviest.

"I've had a knee replaced and will have the other one replaced. And I suffer from traumatic arthritis and the pain that comes from having abused shoulders and hands and legs and ankles and knees -- the whole thing."

An All-American and Outland Trophy winner at Utah State, Olsen was the Rams' first-round draft pick in 1962 and played 15 NFL seasons, all with the Rams. He was named to the Pro Bowl a league-record 14 consecutive times, missing out only after his swan song in 1976, and anchored the Fearsome Foursome, one of the most celebrated and disruptive defensive lines in NFL history.

Playing alongside fellow Hall of Famer Deacon Jones, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy in the original Fearsome Foursome, Olsen was honored as either the Rams' top defensive lineman or most valuable player six consecutive years. He played 208 regular-season games for the Rams, the last 198 in a row as a starter.

Later, he played Jonathan Garvey in the NBC series "Little House on the Prairie" and had the title role in "Father Murphy."

And for 16 seasons he was a genial, incisive NFL commentator, paired most famously with Enberg on NBC for 11 seasons and five Super Bowls.

Though their partnership ended after the 1988 season, when NBC hired former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh to replace Olsen, Enberg is still stopped by fans telling him that he and Olsen were the best NFL announcing team ever.

"I don't take that as any credit to me," Enberg said, "but I do for him. He was so competitive, in all the good ways. He was driven to always be the greatest he could be.

"We all have the perfectionist complex, but he carried it out in the most noble and social way because he didn't jump on anybody or walk on anybody to get to where he was; he did it all the right ways.

"He was so thoroughly prepared, he should have been a lawyer."

But then the job got old.

"A lot of the enjoyment of it was dissipating and the workload never dissipated," Olsen said of the tail end of his broadcasting career. "I think the excitement for me was learning how to do it efficiently and effectively. Once it became kind of repetitive for me, a lot of the fun was gone out of it."

And so he left, off to pursue his fun outside the spotlight.


Jerry Crowe will use this space to catch up with former sports figures, do occasional Q&A stories and give readers a chance to say what's on their minds about the sports fan experience in Southern California. Concession lines too long? Food at the stadium deteriorating? Got an inside tip on the best way to enjoy a game at the ballpark? If you've got issues when you head out to watch games, let Jerry know at

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