Jim Plunkett knew Todd Christensen as a fun guy who loved catching passes, especially in the end zone and sometimes on plays in which he was supposed to be blocking.
Christensen’s former broadcast partners fondly recall his big personality, too, and the fancy words he used with ease.
Christensen, 57, a five-time Pro Bowl tight end with the Oakland/Los Angeles/during his NFL career (1978-1988), died Wednesday at a hospital near his home in Alpine, Utah, from complications during liver transplant surgery.
Plunkett, the former Raiders quarterback who teamed with Christensen on two Super Bowl championship teams, learned Christensen was ill after seeing him at a Raider reunion in July 2012.
“He had lost of lot of weight. And I didn’t find out until afterwards that he was ill and looking for a transplant” for 10 months, says Plunkett.
Christensen, a devout Mormon, did not drink. Toby, one of his four sons, told the Associated Press the family believed the liver problems began 25 years ago after a “botched” gall bladder operation.
Playing at 6-3, 230 in the NFL, Christensen finished with 461 receptions for 5,872 yards and 41 touchdowns in the regular season, including 92 catches for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1983.
“He brought a lot to table as a person and a personality, and also on the football field he could catch everything thrown his way basically,” says Plunkett. “He was a big, barrel-chested guy at one time, and he had knack for getting between the ball and the defender.”
Christensen came out of BYU as a running back, but late Raiders owner Al Davis saw something else. “He was a hybrid tight end, an H-back before it came a football term,” says former Raiders coach Tom Flores.
Nicknamed The Renaissance Man for his varied interests, Christensen left football for broadcasting, including at NBC Sports, ESPN and the CBS Sports Network.
“I remember Todd always using big words and quotes from famous authors and poets,” Flores says. “He was comical at times because no one knew what he was talking about.”
Plunkett also recalled Christensen’s fancy vocabulary: “Oh yeah, but you know I went to Stanford. I put him in his place a few times.”
James Bates, his broadcast partner for five seasons of Mountain West Conference football telecasts through 2009, says he and Christensen were reunited in the booth for a couple of games last year, including at San Diego State.
“Early in the third quarter, I said, ‘Todd it’s so good to work with you again. It’s been a long time since I’ve been adroit, astute, prescient and salient all in the same broadcast.’ He had used all four of those in the first half,” says Bates.
Former NFL running back Mike Adamle, who co-hosted the syndicated American Gladiators series with Christensen in 1990, says Christensen “didn’t suffer fools very well.”
“Whatever the topic was, you’d better come prepared to talk about it because he knew everything there was to know,” says Adamle, now a sports anchor in Chicago.
Bates knew Christensen had been battling liver problems.
“The last year or so I was with him out West, he lost a good chunk of weight … and he was on a list waiting on a liver,” Bates says.
“It was a true blessing to call him my friend.”
TODD JAY CHRISTENSEN
Born: Aug. 3, 1956, in Bellefonte, Pa., about 10 miles from State College, Pa., but grew up in Eugene, Ore.
Nickname: The Renaissance Man
Education: Degree in social work at BYU, where he was a four-year starter as a running back.
Family: Wife, Kathy, four sons including Toby, who played wide receiver at his father’s alma mater
Hall of Fame: Inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in 2000, into the BYU Hall of Fame in 1992.
Playing career: Won Most Valuable Player honors at the 1978 Blue-Gray All-Star Classic; switched to tight end in the NFL and played from 1979-88; played on the Oakland Raiders’ Super Bowl-winning team for the 1980 season and for the Los Angeles Raiders’ Super Bowl-winning team for the 1983 season; twice caught at least 90 passes in a season, and led the Raiders in receptions from 1982-86; five Pro Bowl selections and twice voted All-Pro; post-NFL he competed in masters track and field events and set age-group record in the heptathlon and was the top decathlete in the world in the 45-and-over category.
TV sports career: Game analyst, field reporter, and pregame contributor at NBC Sports from1990-94 and later was a college football analyst for ESPN.
Author: Three books of self-published poetry
TV series: As Travis James on Married with Children (1994); a host of American Gladiators (1990)
Trivia: His eclectic interests included being a collector of quotes, jokes, game results, anything that could be recorded, and becoming an accomplished operatic tenor.
Quote:“When people think about the Raider image, I don’t come to mind. I’m not a wild guy, a renegade, a macho man. Eugene, Oregon, doesn’t exactly make you a street guy. … I’m tough in a competitive football situation, but I’m not a tough guy. I want to win, and I’m an individual. Does that make sense?” – Christensen, to Sports Illustrated in 1987
Courtesy of USA Today