Todd Jay Christensen, an American football player who played in the National Football League from 1978 until 1988, was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, to Ned Jay and June Christensen on 3 August 1956. During his career as a professional football player, he spent most of his time playing tight end for the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders. He became well known as “The Renaissance Man” because of his varied interests.

An Athletic Prowess

When Todd was born, his father was pursuing a doctorate degree at Pennsylvania State University. His father taught in West Virginia for a time, and when Todd was 5 years of age, the family relocated to Eugene, Oregon, where his father was offered a job as a professor.

Todd was athletically gifted from a very young age. By the age of 9 he had already set world records in track and field. He had originally hoped to continue excelling in track and field, but Todd Christensen eludes the defense during an NFL football the time he reached puberty and adolescence, he soon discovered that although his mind was set on one goal, his body had other ideas. “Puberty and adolescence helped me realize that I was not as fast as I had thought,” he recalled. “My body went a different direction and that was when I started leaning towards football.” [1]

He graduated from Sheldon High School in Eugene, Oregon, and later attended Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah. While attending BYU, from 1974 to 1977, he was a starter at running back. In 1977, he led the team for three consecutive seasons as a receiver, and was an All-Western Athletic Conference selection. His career numbers at BYU are impressive: 152 receptions, 1,568 yards, and 15 touchdowns. He graduated from BYU in 1978 with a degree in social work and soon embarked on a professional career in football.

Professional Football Career

Todd’s professional football career began when he was chosen as a second-round draft pick, 56 overall, by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1978 NFL Draft. While playing fullback and leading the team in rushing, he broke his foot in the final exhibition game, and was unable to play a down in the season that the Cowboys went on to play in Super Bowl XIII. The following year the Cowboys wanted to switch his position to tight end, however, after working one week in his new position he decided against the move, and at the end of training camp, he was waived to the New York Giants. He lasted two weeks with the Giants, playing only one game.

Todd Christensen catches a pass for the Raiders.

Being signed by the Oakland Raiders in 1979 proved to be the highlight of his professional football career.

After three seasons of unspectacular statistics (including the Raiders’ Super Bowl winning campaign in 1980), Christensen broke out in 1982, catching 42 passes for 510 yards and four touchdowns during the strike-shortened season, helping the Raiders to the best record in the NFL. The next year, Christensen caught 92 passes for a career high 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns and earned the first of his five trips to the Pro Bowl for his efforts. His total catches led the NFL, making him the second tight end to ever do this (Kellen Winslow was the other). The Raiders finished the season with a resounding 38–9 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII. Christensen topped 1,000 yards again in 1984, catching 82 passes in the process. He hit 80 receptions again the following year, missing 1,000 yards by just 13 yards. [1]

Statistically speaking, Todd’s last big season in the NFL was in 1986 when he ended the year with 95 receptions for 1,153 yards and eight touchdowns. During that season he also became the first tight end in NFL history to make 90 catches in each of two consecutive seasons.

The 1987 season was short-lived for Todd, but he still managed to play 12 games and scored 47 catches, and averaged 14.1 yards per reception. In his final year, he missed over half the season because of injuries, and only caught 15 passes with none going for touchdowns. He retired from professional football shortly thereafter.

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. [2]

In eight postseason games, he caught 31 balls for 358 yards and only one touchdown. He led the league in receptions twice, and his 349 receptions from 1983 through 86 (four seasons) was an NFL record. [1]

[He] 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. [2]

Jim Plunkett, the former Raiders quarterback who teamed with Christensen on two Super Bowl championship teams, said of his former teammate, “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. He was a big, barrel-chested guy at one time, and he had knack for getting between the ball and the defender.” [2]

Life after the NFL

After retiring from the NFL, Todd had tryouts with the Oakland Athletics and the Anaheim Angels but “found his niche in Masters Track and Field where he set an age-group World Record in the Heptathlon and was the top decathlete in the world for ages 45-and-over.” [1]

Todd Christensen teaching a young man.He became a commentator for both professional and collegiate football games and worked for NBC Sports, ESPN, and CBS Sports Network. He was also a game analyst, field reporter, a pregame contributor at NBC Sports from 1990-1994, and a college football analyst for ESPN. He was inducted into the BYU Hall of Fame in 1992, and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in 2000. And, in August 2012, he was announced as the new analyst for CBS Sports Network Navy games.

Todd also wrote three books of self-published poetry. He was also a television personality of sorts, having co-hosted the second half of the first season of American Gladiators with Mike Adamle in 1990, and guest-starring as Travis James on an episode of Married with Children titled “Kelly Knows Something” in 1994. His other interests included collecting quotes, jokes, and games results. He also had aspirations of one day becoming an accomplished operatic tenor.

Todd was a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called the “Mormon” Church by the media and others). He was also a devoted family man – a loving husband to his wife, Kathy, and a loving father to his four sons, one of whom, Toby, attend his father’s alma mater. He had been waiting for a liver transplant for the last decade after, according to his son Toby, liver damage the family believes resulted from an unsuccessful gall bladder operation, performed 25 years ago.

Todd passed away at the age of 57 on Wednesday, 13 November 2013, at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, near his home in Alpine, Utah. In a 1987 Sports Illustrated interview, he was quoted as having said,

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? [2]

About Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.

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