Field named after Olsen: Utah State honors Aggie legend in halftime ceremony
Merlin Olsen waves to the crowd at the Spectrum during halftime of the Utah State-St. Mary's basketball game Friday December 5, 2009 in Logan Utah. It was announced at the game that the football field in Romney stadium will be named in his honor. (AP Photo/The Herald Journal, Eli Lucero) Click here to view more photos from the game.

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Romney Stadium’s field now has a name.

In a ceremony during halftime of the Utah State-Saint Mary’s men’s basketball game Saturday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, one of the greatest Aggie alums was honored. The playing field inside Romney Stadium will now be know as Merlin Olsen Field.

“In the words of Stew Morrill, this is a ‘no brainer,’” Aggie Athletics Director Scott Barnes said. “There is no one more deserving. When you talk about honor and dignity, Merlin Olsen carries that banner.”

USU President Stan Albrecht echoed those comments.

“I can’t think of anyone that has carried the Utah State banner so proudly and with such distinction over the course of a lifetime than has Merln Olsen,” Albrecht said. “He has touched and influenced millions of people, not just through his success in the athletic and entertainment fields, but through the personal generosity and humanitarian service that have been so much a part of his life, and that of his wife and partner, Susan.”

With snow falling outside as fans arrived for the basketball game, the lights at Romney Stadium were a beacon. Before the halftime ceremony Olsen, his family and many friends had a dinner at the Stan Laub Athletics Facility at Romney Stadium with Albrecht and Barnes to celebrate his life and contributions to his alma-mater.

The halftime presentation started with the Aggie students chanting “Merlin Olsen” and ended with them chanting “Aggie Legend.” A highlight film of Olsen’s playing days at USU and the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL was shown, then Olsen and his wife of 47 years Susan and their three children and four grandchildren were escorted to center court by current Aggie athletes.

“Thank-you, this is truly a special event,” Albrecht told the crowd after a long standing ovation.

“Tonight we bestow the highest form of honor we can to a former student-athlete,” Barnes said. “When the football team walks onto the field, from now on it will be known as Merlin Olsen Field.”

Barnes and Albrecht then hugged Olsen, who did not address the crowd, but did wave throughout a standing ovation and several chants by the students. Olsen is battling Mesothelioma in one of his lungs.

“Susan and I and the entire Olsen family are pleased and excited at the announcement this week that the playing field in Romney Stadium is being renamed Merlin Olsen Field,” said Olsen in a statement released to the media. “I share this special honor with great coaches and teammates. Remembering those days brings to mind some of the happiest and most productive days of my life.”

Six of his eight brothers and sisters were on hand Saturday. Like one of his siblings predicted, “he will be smiling as usual, because he is a good actor.” Olsen has gone through three chemo treatments for the cancer he is fighting, but walked out under his own power.

“Merlin is a distinguished alumni who has given back generously of his time and financial resources over many years,” Barnes said. “He has carried the flag for our great university with dignity and honor, and we are grateful to recognize him in his special way.”

Plans have been underway for several months. It was decided to have the ceremony now due to the health of Olsen.

“What better way to honor Merlin than with 10,270 crazy Aggie fans,” Barnes said.

A dedication ceremony will be held next fall during the 2010 Aggie football season in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of USU’s 1960 Sun Bowl team, which was led by Olsen. There will also be a larger-than-life statue unveiled on the southeast corner of Romney Stadium, as renowned sculpture Ken Buswell is working on it now.

Olsen, a Logan native was a three-year lettermen — freshmen were not allowed to play varsity then — on the defensive line for USU from 1959-61, earning All-American honors during both his junior and senior seasons. At the conclusion of his senior season, he won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s outstanding interior lineman.

Olsen was also a three-time academic All-American at USU and graduated Summa Cum Laude and Phi Kappa Phi in 1962 with a degree in finance.

During his senior season, Olsen anchored an Aggie defense that yielded an average of just 50.8 rushing yards per game to lead the nation. USU also allowed 88.6 passing yards and 139.4 total yards per game in 1961. All three of those averages still rank as the best single-season efforts in school history.

During Olsen’s junior and senior seasons, the Aggies were a combined 18-3-1 under head coach John Ralston and were Skyline Conference co-Champions each year. USU played in back-to-back bowl games against New Mexico State (Sun Bowl, 1960) and Baylor (Gotham Bowl, 1961). The Aggies finished the season ranked 10th in both the Associated Press and United Press International polls, the highest-ever final ranking for a USU team.

Olsen is a member of the State of Utah’s Sports Hall of Fame, the Utah State University Sports Hall of Fame and USU’s All-Century Football Team. In 2000, he was selected by Sports Illustrated as one of the State of Utah’s Top 50 Athletes of the Century.

Following his collegiate career, Olsen was the second overall pick in the 1962 NFL Draft and became a charter member of the Los Angeles Rams and the famed “Fearsome Foursome.” In 15 professional seasons, he was named to an NFL-record 14 Pro Bowls and did not miss a single game during his career. Along with earning All-Pro honors nine times during his career, Olsen was named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1962 and the league’s Most Valuable Lineman in 1973.

Olsen, who retired from professional football in 1976, was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982 and in 1999 was ranked No. 25 on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. He was voted to the Academic All-America Hall of Fame in 1988.

After his football playing days, Olsen worked for NBC and ABC as a broadcaster. He went on to have a role on the television series Little House on the Prairie and then starred in Father Murphy as the main role. He was a spokesman for several companies, appearing in many TV advertisements over the years.

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