SAN FRANCISCO (CBS / AP) — ― Ollie Matson, a Hall of Fame running back who was once traded for nine players during his 14-year NFL career and won two medals at the 1952 Olympics, has died. He was 80.
Matson died Saturday of respiratory failure surrounded by family at his home in Los Angeles, his nephew Art Thompson III said.
Thompson said Matson had been mostly bedridden for several years due to a form of dementia. He said Matson hadn’t spoken in four years.
As a senior at the University of San Francisco, Matson led the nation in rushing yardage and touchdowns while leading the Dons to an undefeated season. He was the No. 1 pick of the Chicago Cardinals and third overall in the 1952 NFL draft, and went on to share rookie of the year honors with Hugh McElhenny of the 49ers.
Matson played with the Cardinals from 1952-58 before being traded to the Los Angeles Rams for nine players. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1957.
He spent 1959-62 with the Rams, then played a single season for the Detroit Lions before finishing his career with Philadelphia from 1964-66.
Matson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972, and into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1976. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection, winning MVP of the 1956 game. He also made the All-Pro team seven times.
Matson earned a silver medal in the 1,600-meter relay and a bronze in the 400 meters at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
Born May 1, 1930, in Trinity, Texas, Ollie Genoa Matson II moved to San Francisco when he was in high school. After graduation from George Washington High, where he developed into one of the city’s greatest prep athletes, he enrolled at City College of San Francisco. He spent one year there before transferring to USF.
Thompson said before his uncle’s health declined in the past week, he could walk with assistance and his children often took him on outings.
“For those in his family, he was ‘The Man,’” said Thompson, a former sports writer for The Orange County Register. “Whether it was barbecuing, listening to his collection of Dinah Washington and Sam Cooke albums, winning games of skill, giving sage advice to the younger generation or just maintaining a calm steady hand … we all felt his positive influence.”
Matson is survived by his children Lisa, Ollie III, Bruce and Barbara; his twin sister Ocie Thompson; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife, Mary, whom he married in 1954, is deceased.
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