Olson’s legacy will be his toughness — and soft side

It was the night before the biggest game of his life.

It was the night before the biggest game of his life.

On Jan. 30, 2000, the Tennessee Titans were set to play the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV, and Benji Olson placed a phone call to his high school coach, South Kitsap High School legend Ed Fisher.

The conversation began in typical fashion, according to Fisher, who now lives in Spokane. There was talk about the game, but that wasn’t the reason why Olson had called.

“I just wanted to let you know I got it,” Olson told Fisher.

The coach was perplexed. “Got what? Blocking schemes?”

Olson already showed his dominance at South, where he and classmate Tony Coats were recruited nationally before playing at the University of Washington.

Fisher said a Notre Dame assistant, who offered scholarships to both players, called them the two best offensive line recruits in the nation in 1993.

Obviously, it wasn’t about his work on the field. Instead, Olson called to let his coach know that he valued his lesson about giving back to the community.

Fisher is best remembered for starting South’s state-record run of 23 consecutive state-playoff appearances from 1980-2002.

He also led the Wolves to their only state championship (1994) in football and posted a 196-49 record from 1974-96. But Fisher, who still participates in an annual charity golf tournament with Olson in August in Port Orchard, told his players to remember they weren’t better than others off the field.

“You try and do that in education,” Fisher said. “You want to teach kids to be nice, humble and respectful.”

Olson told him he hadn’t forgotten about his childhood friend, Cajun Smith, with whom he played at South. After graduating, Fisher headed to Seattle, and Smith, to Pullman.

Now, Smith had cancer and Olson flew him out for the Super Bowl.

“That’s Benji Olson,” said Fisher, adding that Smith is in remission and now is an assistant coach for his son, Adam, at East Valley in Spokane. “I don’t think he told anyone else. He’s as good as it gets in that direction.”

Fisher describes the 6-foot-4, 320-pound Olson, who retired last week after 10 seasons in the NFL, as “funny” and a “complete pleasure to be around.” But Olson also had a quiet disposition and was serious when he put on the pads — whether at practice or on game day.

He battled the back problems that had plagued him since his days at UW to make 85 consecutive starts in the NFL before missing a game in 2004. Despite thousands of head-on collisions with defensive linemen, Olson made 140 starts, including nine playoff games, more than any Titans player since 1999.

“His physical and mental toughness is truly exceptional,” Fisher said. “He told me if his back was good, he would play another 10 years. His desire to play and his willingness to accept pain is a lot different than most of us.”

He also was dedicated. Fisher said Coats was a gifted athlete who was able to dunk a basketball when he arrived at South. Olson took longer to develop, but his breakthrough came before his junior year.

“As he grew and got more and more competitive, it got to be eye-opening to watch him on the field,” Fisher said.

He hopes youngsters in Port Orchard will strive to follow Olson’s example.

“Benji came from Burley-Glenwood (Elementary),” said Fisher, adding that another South offensive lineman, Andrew Peterson, also played in the NFL for the Carolina Panthers, and that Coats was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. “It’s not like you have to pave new ground,” he said. “Of course, you have to be gifted. But we can show you what they did.”

Chris Chancellor can be reached at (360) 876-4414 or

by e-mail at sports@portorchardindependent.com.