A sad day in the world of football as former Los Angeles Raider tight end Todd Christensen died from complications during liver transplant surgery. Christensen played 10 seasons in the NFL, and became of the best tight ends of his generation, as he was a key member of two Super Bowl Championship teams while with the Raiders.
Christensen’s career began with the Dallas Cowboys in 1978, after a stellar college career at BYU. While in college, Christensen starred at running back, but was proven to be a terrific receiver from the backfield. During his tenure (1974-77) in Provo, Christensen’s career numbers were 152 receptions for 1,568 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Christensen was drafted in the second round by the Cowboys and led the team in rushing during the preseason. But in the final preseason game, Christensen broke his foot that caused him to miss the season. When he came back to the Cowboys, they wanted to convert him to tight end. Christensen was opposed to the idea, so the Cowboys placed him on waivers.
The New York Giants claimed Christensen off waivers just in time for the 1979 season. However, Christensen appeared in only one game before the Giants released him. It looked like Christensen’s NFL career would last as long as a cup of coffee. Then Al Davis called.
Davis was famous for taking players that were left in the trash heap by other teams. Davis always believed in the motto: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The Cowboys and the Giants saw Christensen being too slow to play regularly as a running back or tight end. The Raiders thought otherwise. It turned out to be a great decision by the Raiders, and Christensen saw his fortunes swing upwards.
Christensen joined the Raiders midway through the 1979 season, becoming a solid contributor on special teams, while lining up as a second tight end on certain formations. He was a member of the 1980 Oakland Raider team that surprised the NFL, by winning the Super Bowl, when most prognosticators had the Raiders last in the AFC West before the season.
Christensen’s breakthrough season was the strike-shortened 1982 campaign, as veteran Raymond Chester retired following the 1981 season. In nine games that season, Christensen registered 42 receptions for 510 yards and 4 touchdowns. But it was 1983 that Christensen established himself as an NFL star.
In that magical 1983 season, Christensen led the NFL with 92 receptions, three more than fellow tight end Ozzie Newsome. Christensen added 1,247 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns as the Raiders captured their third Super Bowl title, while Christensen nabbed his second Super Bowl ring.
Christensen enjoyed another sensational season in 1986, as he grabbed a career high 95 receptions for 1,153 yards and 8 touchdowns. The strike in 1987, followed by nagging injuries in 1988 slowed Christensen down to the point he decided to hang up his cleats, following the 1988 season.
Christensen’s career numbers were pretty solid for the tight end position. 461 receptions for 5,872 yards and 41 touchdowns. Christensen also played in five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1983 to 1987. These numbers should be good enough for the Hall of Fame. But so far, Christensen has been snubbed by the selection committee.
Christensen was more than just a football player. A lover of the fine arts such as live theatre and opera, Christensen was different from his football playing brethren in which he eschewed most of the macho pursuits such as hunting, and was a regular patron at the local theatre centre or concert hall. His off-field interests earned Christensen the nickname “The Renaissance Man” by his teammates. Christensen wasn’t a typical Raider. A devout Mormon, Christensen never touched alcohol in his life. This despite the fact he shared a locker room with wild men such as Ted Hendricks, Phil Villapiano, Lyle Alzado, John Matuszak and Lester Hayes. Instead, Christensen penned three books of poetry he wrote himself. I can’t imagine Ted Hendricks writing a poem in his life.
After football, Christensen joined the broadcasting world, first as a co-host of American Gladiators with former NBC announcer Mike Adamle. Christensen later joined the Peacock network as an analyst, primarily working alongside veteran play-by-play man Charlie Jones. The pair was the announce team that called the legendary Houston vs. Buffalo wildcard game, in which the Bills overcame a 35-3 deficit to win the game in overtime in what is the greatest comeback in NFL history. Christensen later joined ESPN, then switched to the CBS Sports Network this season as a college football analyst.
As a player, Christensen was one of the most reliable receivers of his time. A sure-handed, intelligent player, Christensen could always be counted on to make a key catch for the first down when called upon. His 6-3, 230 pound frame made him an imposing figure for safeties trying to cover him. He may have quoted poetry, but Christensen was tough as nails on the gridiron.
Todd Christensen was 57 years old when he passed away. He his survived by his wife Kathy and four sons. One of his sons, Toby, is currently a wide receiver at BYU, his father’s alma mater.
RIP Todd Christensen.
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