Brandt: Remembering a gentle giant

Click on the photo above to take a look back at the Hall of Fame career of Merlin Olsen. (National Football League)

Merlin Olsen, who passed away Wednesday night, was a great player and a great person.

I first met the Hall of Famer in September of 1960 when I was visiting with Utah State coach John Ralston. Ralston always made a point to do nice things for his players, and my visit coincided with a birthday celebration for one of his best players, Olsen.

At the time, it was clear that Olsen was both a great football player and a great person. Over the next 50 years, Olsen did nothing to dispel that notion.

As a player, Olsen was a man among boys. He was big, fast, and strong. He never took a play off. For many years, the Cowboys and Rams would scrimmage against each other in training camp, and Olsen was always going 100 percent.

The amazing thing is that Olsen was really ahead of his time in terms of the kind of football player he was. Remember, in those days there was no such thing as weight training programs. These days, it is not unusual to see a 6-foot-5, 270-pound player with a combination of outstanding strength and athleticism. But back then, Olsen was a rarity.

I spent a good deal of time with Olsen in the summer of 1962. Even though he had been drafted by the Rams earlier that year, he was one of the player’s I was assigned to “babysit” (and keep away from the rival AFL) during the college all-star game in Evanston, Ill. We had been friends ever since.

The last time I saw Olsen was a couple of years ago at the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement weekend in Canton, Ohio. Olsen was always active in getting fellow Hall of Famers to return to Canton. And when he called, people listened. Olsen was a gentle giant who was very even-keeled and very bright. I’m not sure anyone who knew him didn’t like him.

He will be missed.

– Gil Brandt

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