Remembering Merlin Olsen

There were plenty of the usual, mundane, sports topics I contemplated writing about Thursday. I’ll get to them eventually. Forgot all about them when I found out Merlin Olsen died earlier that morning losing his battle against a form of lung cancer. He was 69.

If you knew nothing about big number 74 before Thursday, you’ve, by now, probably read all about the NFL hall-of-famer and anchor of the Los Angeles RamsFearsome Foursome” defensive line of the 1960’s. Alongside Olsen was tackle Rosey Grier, who came from the New York Giants via trade for tackle Roger Brown, and defensive ends Lamar Lundy and David “Deacon” Jones, all four causing havoc and mayhem for all opponents.

Olsen played 15 seasons all for the Los Angeles Rams, never missing a game, was all-pro for 14 of those seasons garnering the Most Valuable Player Award in 1974, before retiring in 1976. He’s STILL the franchise leader in tackles with 915.

Olsen never played in a Super Bowl. He always was left one game short. Back then, the Rams could never get by the Minnesota Vikings, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers or Baltimore Colts with the Super Bowl on the line. Didn’t matter. More often than not, the inability of the offense to score at crucial times in championship games was the Rams Achilles Heel.

For many of you, Olsen is better remembered for his role as Jonathan Garvey on TV’s “Little House on the Prairie” and, later, starring in his own show, “Father Murphy”. Quite honestly, I never watched “Little House on the Prairie” or “Father Murphy”. I do remember his TV work as the pitch-man for FTD Florists and as Dick Enberg’s analyst on NBC-NFL broadcasts.

My fondest memories of Merlin Olsen are, as a little kid in the 1970‘s, about going to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday afternoons in the Fall and watching big number 74 stuff opposing running backs forcing teams to pass which enabled him and guys like Jack Youngblood and Fred Dryer to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. That was the era of the second incarnation of the “Fearsome Foursome”. Olsen and  Larry Brooks were the interior defensive tackles with Youngblood and Dryer working either end of the line. Olsen IS the only link to both incarnations.

Back to the 70’s. It was an incredible time to be a Los Angeles Rams fan. Beginning in 1973, the Rams won an NFL-record seven straight NFC Western Division Titles. For the first four titles, Olsen was the leader on a Rams team that, defensively, would beat down opposing teams no matter what offensive super-star any team would challenge the Rams defense with. The Cowboys with Roger Staubach, Drew Pearson and Tony Dorsett. The Bills and O.J. Simpson. The Vikings with Fran Tarkenton and Chuck Foreman, the Cardinals and Jim Hart. The Steelers with Bradshaw, Swann, Stallworth and Harris. I’d always look forward to listening to the Rams Theme Song played by the Rams Band after big plays and wins. Was also fun to watch “Archy”, the ARCO Mascot, dance on the Coliseum scoreboard after big plays and scores. The following Monday morning, it was always a treat to re-live the game reading about it and cutting out the photographs in the L.A. Times and Herald Examiner sports sections.

I remember Merlin Olsen never danced after making a big tackle or quarterback sack never gloating over his victim like today‘s players seem to do as if it‘s part of the game. Many times Olsen would give his victim a helping hand off the turf and a pat on the behind. All the Rams defensive players followed his lead. Win or lose at the end of a game, Olsen was the first at mid-field to shake the opponents hands. Olsen respected the game and those who played it.

Olsen was genuinely a good guy on and off the field. The first TV interview I conducted as a broadcast journalism student was with Merlin Olsen. He was taking part in a celebrity fund-raiser golf event in Buena Park, California. To tell you how long ago that was………Ronald Reagan was President.

Needless to say, I was excited and extremely nervous to be interviewing one of my childhood heroes. Luckily, it wasn’t a live shot. I completely blanked. We turned off the camera excusing myself all the while to Mr. Olsen. He chuckled a bit and in a deep voice said to me, “No problems. We’re just having a nice conversation.” That’s what we had. A nice conversation.

Now, before interviewing anyone, especially kids, I remember looking up at Merlin Olsen, who was wearing a white golf cap that day way back when, and repeat what he said to me, “We’re just having a nice conversation”.

With his passing, I’ve lost another part of my childhood. The one where my father, brother and I would watch Merlin Olsen and the Rams at the Coliseum. What’s amazing to me, in this world of social media networking, I know I’m not the only one who’s lost a member of the family with Olsen’s passing.

On FaceBook, there’s a group called “Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams”.  A group detailing stories of Autumn Sunday afternoons at the Coliseum and Anaheim Stadium when the Rams were thee sports team here…and hope there could be more memories in the future. Will it happen. Who knows.

In the meantime, you can find tributes to Merlin Olsen on that group’s page. That’s what’s sad. Only on that group page can they be found. We can’t go to the West Pico Boulevard Office of the Rams, across the street from the Rancho Park Golf Course. It no longer exists. We can’t go to Rams Park in Fullerton. It no longer exists. I suppose we can go to the Coliseum and put together a “memorial shrine” to Olsen near the Peristyle end of the stadium. Would anyone care.

The Rams left for St. Louis 16 years ago. Had they still called Los Angeles home during that time, Olsen and his “Fearsome Foursome” mates would have been celebrated in front of a packed stadium on one of those glorious L.A. Autumn Sunday afternoons. It never happened and it never will. Olsen and Lamar Lundy are gone. Rosey Grier, “The Deacon”, Jack Youngblood, Fred Dryer, Larry Brooks and Cody Jones are still around. But, we can’t pay tribute to these guys because Autumn Sunday Afternoons at the Coliseum with the Rams and the NFL no longer exist. That’s a disgrace.

But, along with the L.A. natives in the group “Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams”, I’m fortunate enough to have memories of those great times, great Rams teams and great players like Merlin Olsen. The rest of you missed out.

Maybe Roger Goodell and the NFL should think about having a pre-season game at the Coliseum with the Rams, playing in the blue and white throwbacks, taking on the San Francisco 49ers and hold pre-game and halftime ceremonies celebrating Merlin Olsen and the Fearsome Foursome.  Better still, instead of having a regular season game in London, have it in Los Angeles at the Coliseum with the Rams, wearing blue and white throwbacks, taking on the 49ers and hold pre-game and halftime ceremonies celebrating Merlin Olsen, the Fearsome Foursome and the Los Angeles Rams.  One game couldn’t hurt. Bet it’d be a sell-out. It’s a “no-brainer”. Maybe that’s too obvious and RIGHT for the NFL Suits to do.

Rest in Peace, Merlin Olsen. Live long in our hearts and memories along with the Los Angeles Rams and those glorious Autumn Sunday afternoons at the Coliseum.

Los Angeles Can Get Back in the NFL Game, Now!!

Am I the only “Native Los Angeleno” that’s irritated the National Football League has an annual regular season game overseas in London, England….in a foreign country? I remember hearing the NFL made this happen to expose the “NFL Product” to untapped markets. Didn’t know London was in the running or even wanted an NFL Franchise. If I’m not mistaken, didn’t WLAF aka NFL Europe FAIL. Wasn’t “We LAF” a financial blunder by the NFL. Weren’t the London Monarchs in “We LAF”.

Quite honestly, Los Angeles is the untapped market the NFL should be investing its time, effort and “product” to BEGINNING WITH THE UPCOMING 2010 SEASON.  The Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission, along with L.A. County & City Officials, should be on the phone EVERY DAY pestering NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 league owners, until all are tired of hearing it and get the message. BRING THE NFL BACK TO LOS ANGELES, NOW!

Local lobbyists need to drive this point home. An L.A. NFL Team will help boost the currently sagging local economy and expose the game to kids who have missed out on seeing NFL stars, some who played collegiate football at USC and UCLA, live and in person. Oh, and the league will make $$$ too. That’s the name of the game, isn’t it?

Los Angeles needs to make the “NFL Suits” understand LOS ANGELES is the place to have the annual regular season football game, with the short-term goal of having a financially strong NFL franchise with a solid fan base in the greater Los Angeles area.  Not in a foreign country located across the Atlantic Ocean.

AMERICAN FOOTBALL IS OUR GAME. Keep the “NFL dollar” flowing at home. I could care less about the British Pound and Wembley Stadium. If the league wants to have ONE annual regular season game in an old, dumpy, past its prime stadium….have it right here at the Coliseum until L.A.’s new, state-of-the-art stadium is built. Los Angelenos deserve that much. As a matter of fact, instead of heading overseas during the pre-season as well, the NFL should, also, consider having a pre-season game or two right here in Los Angeles or Pasadena.

The NFL is the most popular Sports & Entertainment ticket in the country. With it comes people spending dollars. That stimulates local economic growth for employment opportunities, small & large businesses, the city and the state. People like to be “where the action is”. They’ll spend their hard-earned money where that action is.  The “NFL Action” needs to be right here in Los Angeles.

“Bloop Singles”

*Did you know the NFL NETWORK, owned an operated by THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE, has its MAIN STUDIOS in CULVER CITY…..in LOS ANGELES COUNTY. Yet, it hasn’t had an NFL franchise in Los Angeles since the 1994 season when the Rams and Raiders called L.A. home?

*Did you know the FOX NETWORK’S NFL PRE-GAME & POST-GAME SHOWS are broadcast out of a STUDIO right here in LOS ANGELES. Yet, there hasn’t been an NFL franchise in Los Angles since the 1994 season when the Rams and Raiders called L.A. home?

*So, let me get this straight. LOS ANGELES, THE COUNTRY’S SECOND LARGEST TV MARKET, THE ENTERTAINMENT CAPITAL OF THE WORLD, is a worthy enough place to produce and broadcast studio shows licensed by the National Football League. However, L.A. isn’t good enough to have an NFL Franchise? HYPOCRITE$!!

Los Angeles NEEDS the NFL

Here’s a commentary I wrote to the Downtown News “fish rap” in Los Angeles, California.

Los Angele$ NEED$ the NFL

During the NFL season, all the way through the playoffs and Super Bowl, I write predictions for each game on my blog, onanygivensportsday.com, and end each weeks picks with this line:

BYE WEEK OR MISSED PLAYOFFS: LOS ANGELES*
*15 seasons, 22 weeks and counting……….

The “15 seasons, 22 weeks” reflects the time passed since the last game the Rams and Raiders played locally, to the just completed Super Bowl XLIV (44).

Look at those numbers again. That’s 15 SEASONS and 22 WEEKS since the NUMBER TWO MARKET in the country, in terms of population, has reaped the financial benefits of having a National Football League franchise to call its own. Considering the greater Los Angeles area is known as “THE ENTERTAINMENT CAPITAL OF THE WORLD”, going 15 seasons and 22 weeks without the NFL is a COMPLETE DISGRACE.

From the 1973 season at the Coliseum as a kid to the final home game of the Los Angeles Rams at Anaheim Stadium on Christmas Eve 1994 as an adult, I had season tickets to Rams games. It’s absolutely pathetic to think that now two generations of L.A. kids have never been able to see an NFL game in person. Los Angeles kids have missed out on seeing the greatness of players like Brett Favre, Jerry Rice, Tom Brady and the like because L.A. isn’t part of the NFL. Driving to San Diego isn’t the same thing.

A huge THANK YOU to L.A. Sports & Entertainment Commission President Kathryn S. Schloessman for reminding us, in the February 8th edition of the DownTown News, what Los Angeles has been missing since two NFL franchises bolted the area at the end of the 1994 season; The added, huge, financial pay-out to the local economy for hosting the Super Bowl and the festivities during “Super Bowl Week” leading up to the championship game.

After calculating the numbers L.A.‘s missing out on without a National Football League franchise, President Schloessman wrote:

To be sure, we don’t need the NFL to be a world-class city. We don’t need an NFL team here for community identity. Los Angeles hasn’t and won’t suffer without an NFL team.

Schloessman’s right. Los Angeles doesn’t need the NFL to be a world-class city. Los Angeles doesn’t need the NFL for community identity. However, IT IS APPARENT THAT LOS ANGELES HAS SUFFERED, AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO, WITHOUT AN NFL TEAM, OR TWO. The financial calculations in her article connected with having a Super Bowl in L.A. are proof of that.

Let’s consider the current economic climate Los Angelenos find themselves in:

  • Unemployment in double-digits.
  • Vacant stores and lofts Downtown.
  • How about Los Angeles City Officials trying to find money to pay bills the only way they know how, by cutting jobs.

Wouldn’t building or renovating a stadium, surrounding it with an entertainment center including theatres, shops and restaurants a la “Staples Center & L.A. Live” and a Los Angeles NFL franchise create jobs and stimulate the local economy? YES! Not to mention what a secure spot in the Super Bowl rotation would mean financially as well.

A decade ago, Houston was awarded the NFL franchise that should’ve gone to the City of Angels. L.A. lost out because several local groups couldn’t work together, instead, competing to lure the NFL.  The huge thorn was the Los Angeles Coliseum Commission, which argued its old venue was the only viable site because it represented the home of NFL franchises in L.A. for half a century. Legal action was threatened against other suitors and the NFL if another site were picked to house L.A.’s team. The last thing the NFL wanted were legal hassles requiring time and money in court. Buh-Bye Los Angeles Stars…..Hello Houston Texans.

So, the Archaic Coliseum stands empty and adding cracks on Sundays. Meanwhile, Houston’s had pro football since 2002 in state-of-the-art Reliant Stadium which hosted Super Bowl 38 garnering Houston, what Schloessman estimated, $400 million to its local economy.

After all this, last May, Governor Schwarzeneggar, among other state properties, proposed selling the Coliseum to raise cash to help alleviate California’s growing fiscal issues.  COME ON! That idea comes a decade too late. Majestic Realty’s Ed Roski, who was then and is now, looking to build a stadium in the City of Industry…on his own dime….should have been offered the Coliseum to renovate back then and, by now, Los Angeles would have been back in the NFL game and having hosted not one but, most likely, two Super Bowls. Wouldn’t that have helped the local and state economy if it had happened. Maybe the governor can borrow money from Houston.

Within a 50 mile radius, the Los Angeles-Orange County metropolitan area houses two NBA franchises, two MLB franchises, two NHL franchises, even two MLS franchises in a brand new 35 thousand seat stadium in Carson. That begs the question, “why didn’t they build a second deck on the Home Depot Center doubling its capacity for the NFL?” Bottom line is this, based on these figures Los Angeles NEEDS to be home to TWO NFL FRANCHISES.

Full support by State and Local Government should be given to Mr. Roski and Majestic Realty to build that proposed $800 million stadium and entertainment center in the City of Industry returning the NFL to Los Angeles. That would instantly create construction jobs and, later, revenue for local business owners, the city and the state. The blue-print’s downtown in the form of L.A. Live. This needs to happen NOW.

One last issue. For those who don’t want a team, would rather watch football on television or go to the beach on a Sunday afternoon in Fall, more power to you. I’m sure there are 70 to 80 thousand fans who would love to watch the game in person for eight, or maybe even 16, of those Autumn Sundays…..and a Super Bowl every four years.

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