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Hall of Fame football player and actor Merlin Olsen, a giant man who friends say had an even larger heart, died Thursday after a long battle with cancer, football and university officials said.

He was 69.

Known as much for his brain as his brawn, the 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive tackle also graduated summa cum laude and Phi Kappa Phi from Utah State University in 1962 and earned a master’s degree in economics in the off-season during his 15-year professional career.

“Merlin Olsen was a coach’s player. Punctual, steady, gifted, a quiet leader, a player you could always count on,” says his biography on the National Football League Hall of Fame Web site. “He was a standout as a rookie and thereafter stood out in every game he played for the Rams in a 15-year career. Every game. Fifteen years.”

There may be no better evidence of Olsen’s strength than his feat of playing in 208 professional games, the last 198 in a row.

At Utah State University from 1959-1961, Olsen earned All-American honors during his junior and senior years. As a senior, he won the 1961 Outland Trophy as the nation’s outstanding interior defensive lineman.

After being drafted by the Rams with a No. 1 pick in 1962, Olsen was voted into the Pro Bowl as a rookie, the first of his 14 Pro Bowl appearances. He also made two All-Decade teams and was a six-time All-Pro.

Olsen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982, his first year of eligibility.

After his professional playing career ended in 1976, Olsen turned to acting, appearing in movies and more than 100 TV episodes. He also worked as a television sports commentator.

On TV, he may best be remembered for portraying the gentle Jonathan Garvey opposite Michael Landon on “Little House on the Prairie” from 1977 to 1981 and the lead role in “Father Murphy” from 1981 to 1983.

In addition, Olsen did voice-overs in commercials for the floral delivery company FTD as well as commercials for syndicated airings of “The X-Files” TV program.

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Article courtesy cnn.com

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