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Category: football

Andy Robustelli, Hall of Fame defensive end with Rams and Giants, dies at 85

Andy Robustelli, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who was a standout defensive end for the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants in the 1950s and '60s, has died in Stamford, Conn. He was 85.

Robustelli, an end from Arnold College, was selected by the then-Los Angeles Rams in the 19th round of the 1951 draft. Undersized for his position at 6-foot-1 and 230 pounds, Robustelli was considered a long shot to make the team, according to his online biography on the website of the Hall of Fame, located in Canton, Ohio. He went on to earn seven Pro Bowl selections in 14 seasons with the Rams and Giants.

Those seasons included NFL championships with the Rams in 1951 and the Giants in 1956. In 1962, the Maxwell Club named Robustelli the NFL's outstanding player.

Robustelli eventually played nine seasons with the Giants, the last three as a player coach. He missed one game his entire career and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971.

More later at

-- Bloomberg News

One year ago: Merlin Olsen, Ram who jumped to TV

New olsenOlsen murphyMerlin Olsen wasn't just a football player, although he was a very good one.

After 15 seasons as a member of the Los Angeles Rams' famed "Fearsome Foursome" defensive line, Olsen became a familiar face on television as an actor, broadcaster and commercial spokesman. His ability to excel in more than one field didn't surprise people who played and worked with him.

"I was amazed by his size (6 feet 5 and 275 pounds) just like everybody else, but more than that at his great intelligence," former CBS analyst Irv Cross, who played three years with Olsen on the Rams, told The Times in 1982. "His ability to analyze the game was something everybody on the team recognized. It was just unbelievable that any one person would be gifted in so many ways."

He was a three-time academic All-American at Utah State University, graduating with a bachelor's degree in finance in 1962 and a master's in economics in 1970.

Olsen, who died a year ago at age 69, was the NFL's most valuable player in 1974 and appeared 14 times in the Pro Bowl. He then spent 15 seasons as an analyst for NBC and CBS and acted in such television shows as "Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy."

"Merlin's own character was such that you adapted it to his [television] character," said Kent McCray, producer of "Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy," a 1981-83 series that starred Olsen as a frontiersman disguised as a priest who was trying to help a group of orphans. "In many instances, it was difficult for him to get mad. ... It's impossible to think of him as one of the Fearsome Foursome."


Merlin Olsen dies at 69

Olsen helped make the Rams fun to watch on defense

Sam Farmer column: Olsen made quite a first impression on Rams

Photos: A look at Olsen's careers in sports, acting and broadcasting

-- Keith Thursby

Photos: (top) Merlin Olsen grabs quarterback Archie Manning in a 1972 game. Credit: Associated Press

(bottom) Olsen acts in "Father Murphy" in 1981. Credit: Associated Press

One year ago: Cullen Bryant


Cullen Bryant was a mainstay of the Los Angeles Rams for 11 seasons and a running back on their 1980 Super Bowl team. Listed at 6 feet 1 and 234 pounds, Bryant was stronger than most tailbacks and he was the biggest player of his era to regularly return punts and kickoffs.

In his 13-season career (two of which were with the Seattle Seahawks), Bryant scored a total of 23 rushing and receiving touchdowns. He ran for 3,264 yards in 849 carries and caught 148 passes for 1,176 yards. He also returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. Bryant died a year ago at age 58.

 Cullen-bryant-3"I guess some of the ends coming down on punts or kickoffs are surprised to see a guy of my size," Bryant told The Times in 1976. "They're used to tackling smaller people and might slow up or hesitate. This gives our blockers time to set up a return." 

Bryant was born in Oklahoma, spent his high school years in Colorado Springs, Colo., and played college football at the University of Colorado.

For more on the intimidating tailback and the legal fight that almost landed him on the Detroit Lions, read Cullen Bryant's obituary by The Times.

--Michael Farr

Photos, from top: Cullen Bryant in 1974 breaks away from Detroit Lions players toward the sidelines for a big gain on a kickoff return. (Credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times); Cullen Bryant (Credit: Los Angeles Rams)

Dave Dixon, who fought for NFL in New Orleans, dies at 87

Dixon Dave Dixon, who fought to bring an NFL team to New Orleans and was the catalyst behind construction of the Louisiana Superdome, died Sunday. He was 87.

Dixon had been ill since January, said his son, Frank.

Dixon persuaded New Orleans officials to pursue a football franchise rather than baseball in the 1960s. In his autobiography, "The Saints, the Superdome and the Scandal," Dixon wrote that there were strong reasons for the NFL to consider New Orleans, including its mild winter weather, a great football tradition and 80,000-seat Tulane Stadium. Dixon was a Tulane University graduate.

Dixon staged an NFL doubleheader at Tulane Stadium, which drew a near-capacity crowd. New Orleans was awarded the Saints in 1966.

"I think as soon as Tulane agreed to let us use their stadium for an NFL team, I started planning the Superdome," he told the Associated Press in 2002. "I knew having 80,000 people in those neighborhoods 10 times a year was not going to work for long."

The Superdome opened in 1975. But it wasn't until last season that the Saints, a perennial loser, brought home a Super Bowl victory to the city that is still recovering from 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

Dixon "was a distinguished civic leader with a unique vision and he was widely admired around our region as a leader who was dedicated to the development of the Louisiana Superdome," Saints owner Tom Benson said in a statement.

Katrina ripped off part of the Superdome's roof. It also failed miserably as a shelter of last resort when the devastating storm flooded the city. Thousands of people who had nowhere else to go flocked to the stadium. Within days, the building was tattered, and filthy inside from mold, debris and raw sewage.

Over the next year, the Superdome was rebuilt.

-- Associated Press

Photo: David Dixon. Credit: Associated Press

Former Raider Jack Tatum dies at 61


Jack Tatum, a ferocious defensive back for Ohio State University and the Oakland Raiders, died Tuesday of a heart attack at age 61, Tatum's former Ohio State teammate John Hicks told Ohio television station 10TV News.

Tatum was perhaps best known for the hit he made on New England Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley during an exhibition game in 1978 that left Stingley paralyzed.

Tatum played nine years in the NFL and was on the Raiders team that won the Super Bowl after the 1976 season.

Stingley, who later said he forgave Tatum, died in 2007.

A full obituary will follow at

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Sammy White loses his helmet in Super Bowl XI at the Rose Bowl as Jack Tatum (32) and Skip Thomas of the Oakland Raiders hit him. Credit: Richard Drew / Associated Press

One year ago: Steve McNair

Steve-mcnair Steve McNair, an NFL quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, was called "the face of our team" by former teammate Brad Hopkins. McNair, who retired from football in March 2009, died one year ago today after being shot by a girlfriend who later turned the gun on herself.

The circumstances of his death were tragic and violent, but  also scandalous as McNair was at the time married with two children.

McNair played 13 seasons in the NFL, making four Pro Bowls and in 2003 sharing league co-MVP honors with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Although he had some off-field blemishes to his record, by most accounts he was an outstanding and dedicated teammate.

Former Titans running back Eddie George recalled a routine he and McNair would go through before every game:

"The one thing that I do remember most about Steve was that we would both be together before every game inside the tunnel shaking everybody's hand, every player, every coach, every trainer, everybody that was a part of the Titans family."

For more on the quarterback, his life and untimely death, read Steve McNair's obituary in The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Steve McNair

Credit: Stefan Zaklin / European Pressphoto Agency

One year ago: George Belotti

George Belotti's professional football career was brief but memorable.

Belotti, who died a year ago today at 74, was a center on the 1960 Houston Oilers team that won the first American Football League championship. The Oilers defeated the then-Los Angeles Chargers.

The following season, he played for the Oilers and the Chargers, who had moved from Los Angeles to San Diego.

Belotti lettered three seasons at USC as a tackle.

You can find the obituary that appeared June 17, 2009, here.

--Keith Thursby

Rams Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen dead at 69 [Updated]


Merlin Olsen, a Hall of Fame defensive lineman with the Los Angeles Rams who was a charter member of the team’s famed Fearsome Foursome, then made a remarkably smooth transition into careers in broadcasting and acting, has died. He was 69.

[Updated at 10:06 a.m.: Olsen died early Thursday at City of Hope hospital in Duarte after battling cancer, according to a statement from Utah State University, where he played college football.]

In December, Olsen sued NBC Studios and several other companies claiming that his exposure to asbestos since he was about 10 resulted in mesothelioma.

Olsen, played 15 seasons in the NFL from 1962 to 1976, all with the Rams. He was the league’s most valuable player in 1974 and appeared 14 times in the Pro Bowl. After retiring as a player, he spent another 15 seasons in broadcast booths as an analyst for NBC and CBS and acted in such television shows as "Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy."

With the Rams, Olsen helped popularize the star power of defensive linemen sacking the quarterback. The Fearsome Foursome of Olsen, David "Deacon" Jones, Rosey Grier and Lamar Lundy, a rare bright spot on mediocre teams from 1963 to 1966, used size, speed and skill to terrorize offenses.

Read the complete obituary here.

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: Merlin Olsen while a member of the Los Angeles Rams in the 1960s. Credit: Vic Stein

Mosi Tatupu's role in USC's victory over Notre Dame in 1974


Many USC football fans remember tailback Anthony Davis' impressive performance against Notre Dame in the Trojans' 55-24 comeback victory over the Irish at the Coliseum on Nov. 30, 1974. 

On Wednesday, after hearing the news that former USC teammate Mosi Tatupu had died at age 54, Davis had only warm memories and kind words for his backfield mate.

"He gave me the key block, one that really sprung me on the 102-yard kick return," Davis told Times sportswriter Gary Klein. 

As Klein wrote in a 2004 story looking back at the game and Davis' role in it, starting with the second-half kickoff that ignited the Coliseum crowd:

"I went to my kickoff-return guys and said, 'Look, I think they're going to kick to me. If I can get one block, we're going to get good field position or I'm going to bring it all the way back,' " Davis said.

Davis fielded the kick two yards deep in the end zone, got a block from Tatupu and others in the wedge, broke toward the left and was on his way to the end zone.

"You could hear the fans go berserk," Tatupu said. "I don't think anyone sat down after that. Nobody wanted to miss anything."

Read the rest of the story after the jump.

-- Claire Noland

Continue reading »

Mosi Tatupu: Coke machine, refrigerator, beast

Mosi Tatupu, a former USC fullback who became celebrated for his special-teams play in 13 NFL seasons with the New England Patriots, died Tuesday. He was 54.

The Patriots said Tatupu, a native of American Samoa who grew up in Hawaii, died at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro, Mass., The cause was not announced.

Tatupu played four years at USC beginning in 1974, when USC won a share of the national championship. An eighth-round draft pick of the Patriots in 1978, Tatupu was a mainstay of New England’s special teams lineups and appeared in Super Bowl XX in 1986, which the Chicago Bears won in a 46-10 rout.

With his stocky 6-foot, 225-pound frame and determined attitude, Tatupu played an important role as a blocking fullback in USC’s I-formation offenses of the 1970s, clearing the way for star tailbacks Anthony Davis, Ricky Bell and Charles White.

"He’s the finest blocking back at USC since Sam Cunningham," John Robinson said while he was coach at USC. "He’s built low to the ground, and he just runs right at you, hits you and knocks you on your wallet.

"He’s also an outstanding runner — about as easy to tackle as a Coke machine."

Reminded of Robinson’s quote on Wednesday, Davis called Tatupu "a refrigerator."

"He didn’t say much," Davis told Times reporter Gary Klein, "but, oh my, he was a beast on the field."

Robinson, who also coached Tatupu in the fullback's final NFL season, had more to say about Tatupu on Wednesday in an interview with Klein.

Continue reading »

Feb. 6 memorial planned for longtime USC professor Herb Farmer

A memorial service for longtime USC professor Herb Farmer will be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 6 at the Norris Theater on campus. A reception will follow.

Farmer, whose USC career included filming football games from the roof of the Coliseum press box and overseeing the school's film archives, died Nov. 22 at 89.

A fund has been set up to support the USC archives. Contributions can be sent to the Bea and Herbert E. Farmer Endowed Fund, School of Cinematic Arts, University Park, SCA 465, Los Angeles, 90089-2211.

--Keith Thursby

Photo: Herb Farmer preparing to film a USC football game in 1942. Credit: USC School of Cinematic Arts

Reports of ex-Minnesota Viking Orlando Thomas' death greatly exaggerated

It's every journalist's nightmare: reporting a death that has not actually occurred. Wednesday afternoon the Associated Press distributed a story that said Orlando Thomas, a former defensive back with the Minnesota Vikings, had died of Lou Gehrig's disease at age 37. Then a few hours later came a bulletin issuing a "kill," newspaper-speak for "Don't use that story!" Thomas had not died.

How could this happen? A source at Thomas' alma mater, Louisiana Lafayette, had provided incorrect information to the NFL team, which posted a story on its website. Then AP sent a story with the news of Thomas' passing. Thomas' agent alerted the team that Thomas had not died.

The Vikings, who announced in their first report that they were planning a moment of silence in honor of Thomas before their Nov. 15 game in Minneapolis against  the Detroit Lions, quickly made an apology:

We are thankful that this report was inaccurate and he and his family continue to be in our thoughts. We regret the inaccurate report and send our sincere apologies to Orlando and his family. 

The Minneapolis Star Tribune has more on the story here.

Lesson learned? Confirm the facts before running with the story. Even in the fast-paced world of a 24-hour news cycle, we need to get the story right before getting it first.

-- Claire Noland


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