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Eclectic Christensen fit right in with Raiders cast of characters

Long before he developed into one of the league’s most productive tight ends, Todd Christensen stood out among the colorful characters in the Raiders locker room.

Christensen died Wednesday as a result of complications from surgery. He battled liver disease and other unspecified illnesses in recent years, according to numerous reports. He was 57.

He joined the Raiders in 1979, a year after he entered the league as a second-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys. Christensen played for the Raiders in all but one game during his 10-year career.

From the time he arrived in Oakland, Christensen served notice that he wasn’t like most of his teammates in many ways, even though he blended in well on a team chock full of characters because he boasted the kind of quirkiness that owner Al Davis loved.

Former Raiders great Todd Christensen died at 57 on Wednesday. He was a five-time Pro Bowl tight end and a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Raiders. (Associated Press)

He sported a curly-haired mullet and distinct mustache, quoted big-name authors and read poetry aloud.

“He was an interesting guy,” current Raiders owner Mark Davis said. “He was a very, very smart guy, cerebral guy. He also was a wacky guy, a fun guy and a great receiver. Just a great guy all the way around.”

Christensen was thrown into a locker room littered with Pro Football Hall of Fame-bound players — Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Ted Hendricks and Dave Casper — and big personalities such as John Matuszak, Lester Hayes, Kenny Stabler and Cliff Branch.

Yet, Christensen dared to be different, stayed true to his beliefs and carved out his own niche. He was a devout Mormon who didn’t drink alcohol and excelled at everything he tried.

“Todd was a Raider,” receiver Morris Bradshaw said. “His faith, his look, his eloquence, his vocabulary; you wouldn’t normally think someone that had those characteristics would fit into our team, but he fit in as well as anyone else.

“That was the magic. That you had all these characters, we were perceived as misfits, that we didn’t go together. … Yet we came together as a team.”

The Cowboys had envisioned Christensen playing fullback, but a broken foot in the final exhibition game in 1978 ended his rookie campaign before it began. Then-coach Tom Landry asked Christensen to convert to tight end the following summer, but he resisted was ultimately cut. He was signed by the Giants and played one game before ending up with the Raiders.

Tom Flores was the Raiders coach when Christensen arrived in 1979 and coached him for all but Christensen’s final season.

Flores said Christensen first played only special teams for the Raiders because veteran tight ends Casper and Raymond Chester were entrenched on the depth chart.

As time progressed, Flores used Christensen in a variety of roles — long-snapper, H-back and finally tight end.

“He did everything well,” Flores said. “He was just a talented all-around player.”

Christensen seemed to get just as much enjoyment from a dictionary and Thesaurus as he did from an NFL playbook.

“He always came up with big words,” Flores said. “Most of the time, most people didn’t know what the hell they meant, so they would ignore him.

“He always made his point that, ‘I know big words.’ I never challenged him on, ‘Do you know what it means?’ ”

Well, there was that one time in practice, when Christensen quoted author Henry David Thoreau, one of his favorites.

“So, I gave him a quote from Tennessee Williams and told him to get the (heck) in the huddle,” Flores said. “He said, ‘Touche, coach’ and got back in the huddle. That’s the way you countered him.”

Former NFL running back Mike Adamle got to know Christensen as a co-host of the show American Gladiators in the early 1990s. He told USA Today that Christiansen prided himself on being well versed on all subjects.

“He didn’t suffer fools very well,” Adamle said. ” … Whatever the topic was, you’d better come prepared to talk about it because he knew everything there was to know.”

And there wasn’t much that Christensen didn’t try. He self published three books of poetry, dabbled in acting and tried out for the A’s and California Angels after he retired from football.

He reportedly hit a home run during his workout with the A’s in 1990 and said afterward: “That was pretty exciting. I thought, ‘What’s there to this? It’s easy.’ ”

He failed to make it in the majors, so he tried his hand at track and field. Not surprising, Christensen set age-group world records in several events, including the heptathlon, while competing in masters events.

Christensen caught 461 passes for 5,872 yards and 41 touchdowns during his NFL career. He earned five Pro Bowl selections and was voted All-Pro twice.

In a TV interview several years ago, Christensen said he never took for granted what football provided.

“I realize that this is the dream of millions and yet I was living it out. My father had instructed me many years ago that there was only one sin, and that was the sin of ungratitude. … The son of a University of Oregon professor and a homemaker probably had no business being on this stage.”

Christensen dominated on the NFL stage from 1983-86, when he averaged 87 receptions for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns.

He is survived by his wife and four sons.

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Steve Corkran

  • http://www.cosmicdanceband.com/ SilverandBlack666

    Not true at all.

  • Sir Raider Duck, OMS

    I’m going to do you the favor of assuming this is satire.

  • bcz24

    Could have gotten Geno at 42 I think

  • RTF916

    They used to be on the fringes. Now they’re more mainstream. The reason Michael Moore showed these guys is to show the extremist culture McVeigh and Nichols spawned out of. In 2002, that was still extreme. The right was all about patriotism then, getting Bin Laden, etc. Now the views of these militias are mainstream in the conservative and GOP movement, since the tea party movement began. Quieting down in Obama’s second term? lol. yeah. Listen to Rush Limbaugh, any day.

  • RaidingTexas

    I said AFTER his second term ends, not during.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnnie_Lee_Higgins RaiderRockstar

    just vote down all of my comments & move on. we dont agree on much, Reggie apologist

  • Sir Raider Duck, OMS

    Why would you want to use an early second-round pick to select someone you KNOW would be available in Round 4?

  • http://www.cosmicdanceband.com/ SilverandBlack666

    Whhhaaaaaa cry me a river you are not a victim.

  • RTF916

    Sure, as soon as the black guy’s out of the white house, they’ll calm down. Yeah, that does nothing to disprove my point. If we’re to have a white supremacist response by the mainstream right every time we have a black president, then it obviously means white supremacy still exists to a large degree in this country.

  • RTF916

    About as intelligent of a response as I would expect from you.

  • RaidingTexas

    I am not disagreeing with you on that. That’s exactly why I said they will slip back into the background after he’s out of office. This is all a reaction to having a black President. The initial comment was that it’s “open season” on black people. That is an egregious statement. That’s why I chimed in on it.

  • jumpnjiminy

    What was it you said about hating on TP? The same doesn’t apply to McG?????

  • DutchRaid

    Screw Matt Flynn…looks like someone needs another treatment at the Michelle Bachman clinic.

  • RTF916

    Then what is your point? That it’s not “open season”, but if a black person becomes president, there will be a widespread, racist response? Well, thanks for the information.

  • RaidingTexas

    Sounds like the two points I made. So what are we arguing about again?

  • http://www.cosmicdanceband.com/ SilverandBlack666

    They ran out of meth in his trailer park he is mad because he has to ride his bike to the 7-11 to score.

  • Sir Raider Duck, OMS

    All those Birther speeches, for one. Every tea partier who ever referred to Obama as a “Kenyan” or “Muslim,” for another.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnnie_Lee_Higgins RaiderRockstar

    who??

  • http://www.cosmicdanceband.com/ SilverandBlack666

    Be a victim its your choice but don’t mock me for calling you out on it.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnnie_Lee_Higgins RaiderRockstar

    we knew Barkley would drop to RD4? pretty sure the only board Reggie had knowledge of was his own!

  • http://www.cosmicdanceband.com/ SilverandBlack666

    Have you ever had an original thought in your short pathetic life or do you mimic people because you have the brain of a monkey?

  • Sir Raider Duck, OMS

    You can’t have it both ways. If we didn’t know Barkley and Nassib would drop to Round 4, then we also didn’t know Flynn would bomb out like he did.

  • RaidingTexas

    I don’t think they have 7-11s near trailer parks. It’s probably a Git ‘n’ Scram.

  • bcz24

    We announced the tarping in early February. Palmer was traded in early April… which part wasn’t true?

  • ENGLANDRAIDER

    Terrific article Cork. Really enjoyed that.

  • Que

    Once doesnt make the grade. were talking about a Qb traits

  • Scott Reid

    A great Raider during a time it was great watching the Raiders. My prayers to his family.

  • disqus_yeZNegncsV

    He really did.