Even opponents liked Merlin Olsen

Merlin Olsen Dead At Age 69 (0:49)

Adam Schefter on the death of Pro Football hall-of-famer Merlin Olsen (0:49)

The Rams and 49ers were playing an exhibition game at the L.A. Coliseum one year when a fight broke out near the 49ers' bench.

"I turn around and I start forward," former 49ers guard Howard Mudd said Thursday, "and there is 'Oly' standing there."

"Oly" was Merlin Olsen, the Rams' huge defensive tackle, one of the first truly athletic big men in the NFL. Olsen stood 6-foot-5 and weighed 270 pounds in an era before players loaded up on dietary supplements or lifted weights as seriously.

"I looked at him and he looked at me," Mudd recalled, "and he said, 'You want to just stand here and watch it?' "

Olsen, who died from cancer Wednesday at age 69, proved great players could be nice guys, too. He was a 14-time Pro Bowl choice and member of the Fearsome Foursome line featuring Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy and Rosey Grier.

"He belonged in the Hall of Fame not because he went to 14 Pro Bowls, but because he was a great player and could affect a game that he played in," Mudd said. "If you didn't take care of him, he was going to make big plays on you and change your offense. That is what a Hall of Famer should be."

While some players cast football as warfare for the sake of gaining a psychological edge, Olsen could disarm an opponent with his politeness. Mudd recalled knocking down Olsen once with a peel-back block, then bracing for trouble when Olsen ran toward him after the play.

"I'm laying on the ground and this big guy runs right at me, puts his hand on my head and says, 'Nice block,' " Mudd said. "I thought he was going to kick my ass or something."

Olsen played from 1962 to 1976 and earned 14 consecutive Pro Bowl berths. He reached another generation of football fans through his work as Dick Enberg's broadcast partner during NBC's coverage of the AFC during the 1980s. Olsen also played Jonathan Garvey on Little House on the Prairie, which ran opposite "Monday Night Football" during the late 1970s.

News of Olsen's passing was only beginning to spread Thursday. I reached out to Mudd, who said he had been thinking of Olsen lately and had wondered what had become of him.

"I pictured him as this devout Mormon guy who had ridden off into the sunset and found a nice place and a great life," Mudd said.