Merlin Olsen, RIP
Merlin Olsen died yesterday. That may not mean much to you, but it means a great deal to me.
Though I live in Washington now, I originally come from a city in Utah called Logan. Logan is rather isolated from the bulk of Utah's population, and is mostly forgotten compared to the larger cities of Salt Lake, Provo, Orem, and Ogden.
Logan is the home to Utah State University (my alma mater), which is the forgotten third school in the state after Provo's BYU and Salt Lake's University of Utah. USU is particularly forgotten when it comes to athletics: we certainly have nothing to compare with BYU's NCAA football title, or U of U's BCS and Final Four appearances.
But USU and Logan do have one legendary figure in whom to take pride. We have the greatest athletics star in the history of Utah. We have Merlin Olsen.
Merlin was born in Logan, and raised in a white frame house on Canyon Road across from Logan's Central Park. The Olsen family had many children (I think it may have been ten), and they all excelled in athletics, whatever the sport: basketball, baseball, and yes, football.
My dad grew up just down the street from the Olsens, and he told of how one day, probably when he was eleven or twelve years old, he and some friends were playing football in the park. My dad happened to get the ball and was heading for the end zone... with only one player in the way: Merlin. Merlin (who would have been 13 or 14 at the time), rather than trying to tackle him or strip the ball away from him, picked my father completely up, ball and all, threw him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, and ran to the other side of the makeshift field in an attempt to score a touchdown. Yeah, Merlin was quite strong even as a kid.
Merlin was the star of the Logan High School football team, an All-American with Utah State University (leading USU to their first bowl game ever), and was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Rams. In his fifteen seasons with the Rams, he was All-Pro fourteen times: a record that still stands.
When I first started watching football was towards the end of Merlin's career, but I always idolized #74, and became a lifetime fan of the Rams, even though I never lived in Los Angeles (or St. Louis).
Merlin was larger than life, and in death, he remains Logan Utah's eternal hero. SLC and Provo may be bigger and more famous... but they don't have Merlin Olsen. He's ours, forever.
Sadly, I never got to meet Merlin, although I know several of his relatives, and I met his mother, Merle, many times, as she was a close friend of my late grandmother. But in a way, I don't regret not having met him--that way, reality can never diminish the vision.