Logan, UT—In a halftime ceremony during a recent basketball game at Utah State, one of the university’s most famous alumni was honored with a field named in his honor. The field inside Romney Stadium will now be known as Merlin Olsen Field. Olsen, who went on to play professional football for the Los Angeles Rams, was an All-American player two years running during his time at Utah State. Later he earned a number of awards and honors, including being named the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1962, and the league’s Most Valuable Lineman in 1973. He was named to 14 Pro Bowls during his 15 years in the NFL, a record, and did not miss a single game during his career. After his retirement from the world of professional sports, Olsen embarked on a successful second career as an actor. He appeared in the acclaimed television series Little House on the Prairie, and then played the eponymous role on the series Father Murphy. Additionally, he appeared in many television advertisements as a spokesperson.
Olsen was recently diagnosed with the rare asbestos cancer mesothelioma in one lung, making the honor bestowed upon him even more poignant. Usually linked to asbestos exposure, mesothelioma is an aggressive form of cancer which occurs in the lining of the lung or stomach. It currently is incurable, although it can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Approximately 3,000 new diagnoses of mesothelioma are made in the United States each year. It carries a grim prognosis, with only 10 percent of patients surviving two years or longer past diagnosis. Despite the fact that Olsen has been undergoing chemotherapy to help treat his mesothelioma, he walked onto the basketball court during the ceremony in his honor and waved to his fans. He was accompanied by his wife of 47 years, Susan, and by their three children and four grandchildren.