‘Little House on the Prairie’: A Former NFL Player Had Role on the Show

by Madison Miller

While “Little House on the Prairie” was on decades ago, members of the cast are still active in the entertainment world.

People like Melissa Sue Anderson, Melissa Gilbert, and Alison Arngrim are just a few cast members still actively acting. Fans of “Little House on the Prairie” often are excited to see members of the cast that were once children all grown up and playing new roles.

This same level of excitement was probably present when fans of the show witnessed a popular NFL star begin acting regularly on the show. “The Little House on the Prairie” often had other figures make guest appearances.

Merlin Olsen appeared as a guest star. According to History By Day, Olsen played a character named Jonathan Garvey in many episodes of the show. He was on the show after his time in the NFL. He had also appeared in shows like “Father Murphy” and “Aaron’s Way.”

Merlin Olsen Career in Football

Before he decided to take on acting, Olsen was a popular NFL player and announcer.

He played for 15 years in the NFL as a defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams. He was in the Pro Bowl 14 times in a row, a record amount. Olsen is currently tied with Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s quarterback Tom Brady, Bruce Matthews, Tony Gonzalez, and Peyton Manning.

Olsen was famous for being a part of “The Fearsome Foursome,” which included Deacon Jones, Rosey Grier, and Lamar Lundy. He and his brothers, Phil and Orrin, all played in the NFL.

Olsen is remembered in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his contributions to the game.

Olsen on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and More

After football, Olsen went on to become a commentator. He worked alongside Dick Enberg on NBC. He did this for years before eventually deciding to give acting a shot.

His break came with the role of Little George in “The Undefeated,” a John Wayne movie. He also appeared in “Petticoat Junction” for one episode.

His big break really came when Victor French left “Little House on the Prairie” to pursue his own comedy show. This allowed the former football player to slide in as Michael Landon’s sidekick for years.

In “Little House on the Prairie,” Garvey is a husband and a father. He moved to Walnut Grove and began working at the mill. Jonathan and his wife, Alice, go through a series of roadblocks in their relationship, however always end up back together.

In one episode his son, Andy, says, “My pa doesn’t know anything about football,” which is a fun hint at the actor behind the character.

Some of Olsen’s other roles were in “Mitchell” and “Fathers and Sons,” amongst many others.

Unfortunately, Olsen passed away from peritoneal mesothelioma in 2009. According to ESPN, he had filed a lawsuit against different asbestos companies saying they caused cancer he had at the end of his life. The claim was that exposure at construction sites led to his cancer in the future.