Sunday, April 11, 2021

Little Gridiron on the Prairie

I didn't watch a whole lot of TV when I was young. There were a handful of contemporary shows I followed, such as Boy Meets World, Full House, and Everwood, along with a few others. My dad was a Northern Exposure fan, and it remains a travesty that they can't get the licensing figured out well enough to add it to streaming services. But there was a lot that I missed.

This remains a challenge, because classic TV is one area where I definitely do not have encyclopedic knowledge. I remember a time when a coworker made a Webster reference about a decade ago and it sailed completely over my head.

Much of what I did watch at a younger age were among my mother's favorite shows, like Gilligan's Island, the occasional episode of The Waltons, and quite a bit of Little House on the Prairie.

So when a pair of 1975 Topps Football cards started navigating their way through the blog community, I knew I could come up with a relevant post, despite knowing less about the 1970s Los Angeles Rams than I do about 1970s TV.

1975 Topps Football #525 Merlin Olsen

That's because Hall of Famer Merlin Olsen, longtime Defensive Tackle for the Rams, had a co-starring role on Little House on the Prairie after his football career ended. He played Charles Ingalls's friend Jonathan Garvey for several seasons, filling the void left by the departure of Victor French's Mr. Edwards character. 

For the most part, his role consisted of normal 19th-century frontier farmer things, but there was the occasional reference to his famed NFL career.

One such reference came in the Season 5 episode, "The Winoka Warriors", in which Olsen, as Jonathan Garvey, coaches a youth football team. The episode's final game ended with a play in which the interpretation of a forward pass rule followed the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law.

Not a bad second act for a 14-time Pro Bowl participant.

I've never been all that interested in football cards, but I have a distinct memory of my dad taking me to a mall card show in the early '90s (remember those?), spotting a Merlin Olsen card in one of the glass cases, and pointing out the connection between Merlin Olsen the player and Merlin Olsen the actor. I never ended up owning one of his cards, but this one is briefly in my possession before I send it on to the next participant in this "Living Blog Bat-Around".

1975 Topps Football #60 Jack Youngblood

Accompanying Olsen on his travels is another 1975 card, this one of Olsen's teammate Jack Youngblood. Both defenders are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and both spent their entire careers with the Rams. Beyond that I don't have much more insight to offer, although it's remarkable how different the 1975 Topps sets were between football and baseball. The 1975 baseball set is far more colorful, but that little helmet in the lower right on the football set is pretty great.

Thanks for reading, and if you're interested in seeing Merlin Olsen's acting career, there are plenty of episodes of Little House on the Prairie available on Peacock Premium.


  1. Victor French was Agent 44, the original guy who hid in all kinds of crazy places, on Get Smart.

  2. Awesome! Glad to see they made it to you safely! I loved Little House on the Prairie growing up. This design is classic, definitely not as colorful as baseball for sure.

  3. My best friend has the Little House on the Prairie collection on DVD. I'll have to ask her to throw in one of her DVD's and see if I can recognize him.

  4. Missing a Webster reference is not good, although it would've been much worse thirty years ago.