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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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  • RTF916

    look at the dislikes. lol. Never knew so many Raider fans were living in the 19th century. How sad. It’s 2013. We have a full time senior care industry now. We’ve had one for over a half century. Suit yourselves.

  • DutchRaid

    Love the fact that John Madden majored in Child Pysch/development at Cal Poly…Love those crazy @$$ Madden stories.

  • Raider O

    You raised them well. That’s my point. Me and my wife take education seriously. There is no reason why our daughters should not be able to get academic scholarships. I’m not wasting my money on a kid that decided fun is more important than education in HS. I watched my cousin attend The OSU for 9 years. 9 years!!!
    I graduated in 3.5 with a family, smoking weed, and I had a full scholarship.

  • DJ Johnny

    Sparano.

  • Raider O

    That’s true. I was lucky to have a great father. GREAT father, and a good friend. I do miss him.

  • Charlie

    O

    SnB says

    “Didn’t we go over this yesterday. The 07 Giants had the best O-line in the league. The Saints had the 11 best pass blocking O and the Pack had the 3rd best pass blocking Oline Colts Oline was rated high also. Only the Steelers had a sub par Oline but their D was awesome and Ben was unique in his play making ability.”
    That means that your theory that an average Oline is all you need to win a championship has worked once in the history of the NFL 2008. (As I recall the Steelers Oline in 2005 made some pretty big holes for Bettis and Ben nearly threw away the 05/06 game.)

    I think SnB and I have the better strategy and fortunately it is one that Reggie seems to embrace.
    More lineman in rounds 1-3 and we will start to win.

    You are welcome to come along for the ride.

  • dplunk

    I don’t know if Pryor gives the Raiders the best shot at winning, but he gives them the best chance of surviving. I’m not sure if Mcgloin will be able to avoid the onslaught of d-linemen coming at him, if the O-Line doesn’t play better.

  • Sir Raider Duck, OMS

    I’m sorry for your loss.

    My grandparents took care of my great-grandmother and great-grandfather until they died. At my great-grandmother’s funeral, they gathered their three children around (this is before I was born) and told them “When we get to be that age, PUT US IN A HOME, PLEASE. We don’t want to be the burden on you that they were on us.”

  • Al_is_theraiders

    truly one of the greats

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

    Okay that’s one player….

  • Charlie

    RR
    I am afraid we could lose Tarver as an HC to an FCS school like Lehigh or an Ivy program like Harvard.
    Many seem to wonder where the next Jon Gruden is lurking among NFL assistants.
    We have him. Tarver.

  • willy91137

    What happens if McGlion starts and we win do we have a quarterback controversy than it will get hot here in the blog Pryor bandwagon and McGloin bandwagon like the Flynn and Pryor it will make the losing go a little easier down the road

  • DJ Johnny

    It’s ok to acknowledge that Reggie has goofed up with the qb situation.
    Even if you’re a big time Reggie supporter you can point to other things he’s done right…but this qb thing is not one of them.
    The best defense for the Flynn debacle I’ve seen is “who else was out there that he should’ve gotten”? It’s a fair point. There wasn’t much available, but you add picking Wilson…a guy you actually dumped (now he’s back) and now relying on the pick made by the guy who left the “dumpster fire” to lead this fresh new regime into the new future of Raider glory? I don’t know.
    It remains to be seen if Pryor rebounds from this nasty funk he’s in but right now? the whole qb thing orchestrated by Reggie does not look good.
    Like I said; he’s done other things to point to as positive to focus on. Some don’t wanna admit the guy has made any mistakes at all.

  • RTF916

    Flawed argument, on so many levels.

    First of all, we’re all selfish to some degree. Do you just take every single homeless person in to your home? Feed them? Bathe them? Give them a bed? Of course you don’t. Well, that is a little selfish, isn’t it? I mean, wouldn’t the moral thing be to help them in some way, instead of just walking right by them, maybe giving them a little pocket change?

    And who says you can’t have a bond with a family member in a nursing home? It’s not a prison. You can pick them up whenever you like. Most people with parents in nursing homes pick them up for holidays, even take them on vacations in some cases.

    A lot of people do send their kids to boarding schools. It’s actually popular amongst military families. A lot of our troops in Afghanistan are products of boarding schools.

    Your wife being sick isn’t grounds for divorce. You couldn’t divorce her on those grounds if you wanted to. So that’s also a moot point.

    Some people do put up children with special needs for adoption. In many cases, they just don’t have the resources to provide the proper care for them. Whether or not they should before they have kids in the first place is an entirely different debate. The real problem here is that the foster care facilities aren’t up to par.

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

    You would think that winning would bring us together….but there are those here who would rather be right than see us win games.

  • SR Raider

    Just win, baby. Don’t care who gets it done!

  • willy91137

    But it makes a difference who wins

  • the invincible dr robert

    Yeah sneaking.

    They aren’t passing stats. We know he can run.

    As a passer, he is putrid.

    He HAS returned to form. And that form is “worst passer in the nfl”.

    Lol. This was ur space god? How embarrassing for u.

  • SR Raider

    As long as it is the Oakland Raiders winning, it’s all good

  • Raider O

    Thx bro. I appreciate that.
    I understand your point. Some parents (using the term loosely) don’t deserve that treatment, and some people have special circumstances that prevent them for doing that.

  • Charlie

    I always have put winning first. Always will.
    Just can not see it happening the way our lines get man handled by good teams.
    Sad seeing a kid like TP running for his life and likely to miss his second game with a bad knee and a concussion.

  • lefty12

    Didn’t realize the NFL didn’t come in to existence until 2000.

  • bcz24

    Sounds crazy but I think the pass rush will lighten up if TP isn’t in the backfield. Teams don’t respect his passing ability so they man up dmo and streater and rush the rest.

  • seymour bush

    “I don’t know what the Oakland Raiders are doing at the quarterback position.” – Jon Gruden, earlier this year on MNF.

  • RTF916

    Reggie dumped Carson Palmer, and drafted 2 quarterbacks. Interesting you’d say he “goofed” when he did what any GM would have done.

  • Charlie

    The best vindication for Reggie is where are all of the Raiders we have cut and at what salary.
    To your point Flynn was a good move AT THE TIME given what we knew about TP and where we were relative to the cap. Given the offset language we have on his contract our guarnatee to him reduces for every penny he makes elsewhere.
    I give him a B+ for what he has done in 22 months with no 2012 picks and our disastrous roster/cap sitiation.

  • bcz24

    Veldheer

  • willy91137

    yes Reggie has made mistakes he worked on the defenses here you have to admit our defense last year was the last in the league as much better this year he was hoping McFadden would have a good year and we can win some games it’s still a work in progress you have to admit Fiynn looked like what we needed a check down artist like they got in KC our defense is not as good as KC but it’s still pretty good then our offense of line started getting hurt and preseason and Flynn got tendinitis and it was obvious that we needed prior he will be here for two more years

  • RaidingTexas

    Ok, which one of you was that on 95.7 just now saying that TP should be Most Improved Player of the Year? RR? Mistic?

  • Mistic1 Tha Supavillain

    pryor started a game last year that is the game I added to make 10 starts…the 10 he started

    you have lama gizz in your eye again

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

    You are almost correct…He forced Palmer out of town to save 3.5 million dollars then sent 2 draft picks to Seattle for a career backup and then drafted (1) QB in the 4th round who ended up on the practice squad.

    Most of us see that as a failure or that he is not good at evaluating the QB position.

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

    I dont think anybody is going to respect the undrafted rookie QB either. They will stack the box to stuff Jennings and take their chances blitzing McGloin on every passing play – wouldn’t you?

  • Charlie

    DJ

    The best vindication for Reggie is where are all of the Raiders we have cut and at what salary.
    To your point, Flynn was a good move AT THE TIME given what we knew about TP and where we were relative to the cap. Given the offset language we have on his contract our guarantee to him reduces for every penny he makes elsewhere.
    I give him a B+ for what he has done in 22 months with no 2012 picks and our disastrous roster/cap sitiation.

  • willy91137

    The Oakland Raiders don’t know what they’re doing with the quarterback situation

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

    I like Tarver too, almost as much as DA

  • Charlie

    That is as far back as O seems to be aware of.

  • RaidingTexas

    Sure they do. They’re trying to find one that can play.

  • RTF916

    Neither is any GM, then. Because I don’t see any GM hanging on to Carson Palmer. Oh, except for that brilliant, sought after GM named Hue Jackson! lol.

  • willy91137

    And we’ll be the first to know when they find one

  • Mistic1 Tha Supavillain

    pryor does more than simply pass, his feet have made many first downs and put points on the board. That is why i used his total production.

    As a passer he very good, we saw this leading up to kc. the o line has been atrocious with 3rd stringers and practice squad rejects i starting roles, and playing out of position. This correlates exactly with pryors recent play.

    The o line gets healthy so will pryors game

    no sneaking required

  • bcz24

    They would respect McGloin more as a passer I think. Maybe not. MM looked pretty good against Philly, although they had already packed it in.

  • willy91137

    Did somebody really say that there’s some real stupid people out there

  • RaidingTexas

    Given that there aren’t even close to 32 good QBs out there, it’s pretty easy to fail on that.

  • Mistic1 Tha Supavillain

    7 not bad through his first 10 nfl starts

  • DJ Johnny

    He “goofed” cuz at the end of the day what has HE done to upgrade the position?
    If we say he didn’t ‘goof” then we can at least say he’s done nothing to make it better thru any acquisition or draft pick.
    If Pryor doesn’t rebound and become real good then we are back to square one with the most important position on the team in year 2 of a rebuild.

  • Mistic1 Tha Supavillain

    oh before i forget

    R.I.P RENISHA MCBRIDE!!!!!!!

    It is open season on us

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

    LOL – you got me!

  • RaidingTexas

    Yeah, someone really said that. Funny stuff.

  • bcz24

    I think it’s pretty clear that Reggie was forced to go with Pryor, and given his druthers would have gone a different route. He has already brought in 4 other QBs and given them all every chance to beat out TP.

  • the invincible dr robert

    Qbs have to pass well. In 2 minute drills and 3rd and long, running won’t do it.

    He’s simply played down to his norm. He’s a horrible passer and we all can see that.

    Excuses excuses.

    Lol. I’m glad when all the OL guys are back, u will feel no sneakiness is required any longer.