When Benji Olson was a rookie in the NFL in 1998, he saw a locker room at Vanderbilt that had no air conditioning and no locker to house his equipment on game day.
At the time, Olson, who announced his retirement after 10 seasons on Thursday, wondered to himself if he had done the right thing.
“I got here my rookie year and I had left [the University of Washington] my junior year and I remember we were playing at Vanderbilt,” Olson said. “Me and a couple of other rookies would go in there, and there weren’t enough lockers for everybody, so all of our stuff was just thrown in a pile in the middle of the locker room with no air conditioning and I just remember going, ‘Why did I leave early for this? I thought this was the NFL. What’s going on?’”
Ten years and 152 starts later, Olson had no such doubts, as he became the first player to retire from the organization after having spent his entire career in Nashville. His career included a streak of 85 consecutive starts from 1999-2004, and blocking for seven 1,000-yard rushing season from four different running backs _Eddie George, Chris Brown, Travis Henry and LenDale White.
Offensive line coach Mike Munchak recalled Olson giving up a sack and safety against Baltimore during first NFL start as a rookie. But things got decidedly better for Olson, and Munchak had high praise for one of his veteran leaders on Thursday.
“He went on to start over 150 games. I believe at one time, he started 85 consecutive games, which is unbelievable, and during that time, he probably played as well as any offensive guard in football,” Munchak said. “To me, he was probably the most consistent offensive lineman I ever coached.”
Olson’s back was the final decision-maker in his choice to retire. The back had been an issue since his sophomore year of college, and he rarely practiced in his final season with the Titans. He also missed three games this past season with back problems, not counting Tennessee’s playoff loss at San Diego, where did not make the trip.
“I think going through what I did last year as far as the back pain and all that stuff was just hard,” Olson said. “You can ask my wife. It was just hard getting up every day and coming in. I was practicing like once a week because it was so hard and painful. When I think about going through that last year, it’s not really hard to make the decision emotionally because down the road it’s going to hopefully pay off when my back feels better.”
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said he knew Olson was on borrowed time physically when the two had a conversation in Canton, Ohio at Bruce Matthews’ Hall of Fame induction in 2007.
“I think my conversation with him at the Hall of Fame Game after Bruce’s ceremony [was most memorable], where he was really hoping he could get another year in; he didn’t know … I’m glad it worked out the way it did, because he played very well for us this year,” Fisher said.
For Olson, it was a nice bonus to have played 10 seasons, because he knew the back was always a potential issue.
“After my sophomore season in college, I had had back surgery,” said Olson, a fifth-round pick in 1998. “Part of the reason I came out early is that I didn’t know how many years I had left on my back. … There were definitely issues about it. I’m glad they took a chance on me. I’m glad I was able to deliver and had a pretty good career.”
As he exited the Titans, Munchak, his position coach for his entire tenure, called him a true professional.
“A pro is someone who knows what to do and does it,” Munchak said. “Simply put. I’ve been around the league for 25 years as a coach and a player, and Benji is one of the best pros I know. That’s exactly what he did for 10 years. He knew what to do and he did it.”