Dick Harmon: BYU, Raiders tight end Todd Christensen was a larger than life superstar on and off the field
When you talked to him, you did need a dictionary.
Christensen took that quirk to Oakland, where his coaches and Raider teammates marveled and teased him over his command of the language. The son of a professor at the University of Oregon, that academic and intellectual thirst and delivery was always with him, said Edwards.
"He was a very intellectual sort of person," said Christensen’s quarterback with the Raiders, the legendary Jim Plunkett. "He always seemed to be the smartest person in the room."
His Raider coach, Tom Flores, told the San Jose Mercury News Wednesday that Christensen’s vocabulary certainly was unique in a football setting.
"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?'" Flores said that once in practice, Christensen quoted 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."
When Todd’s son Toby followed in his father’s footsteps at BYU, he immediately became the media’s favorite interview. Like his father, he was smart and knew the game and how to explain its nuances.
I remember at Toby’s BYU practices Todd Christensen was almost always there on the sidelines, watching his son, always in respectful repose, never pushing himself on coaches or other players. He was an icon, but one that revered the moment and respected the space.
When he spoke, it was thoughtful and sometimes really in the prose he loved. When he knew he’d be on a mic, he had a way of speaking that beckoned to be put to music.
Todd Christensen was a workout junkie and a constant figure at the Smith Fieldhouse on BYU’s campus or Gold’s Gym in American Fork, even after he became ill.
“He left quite a legacy,” said Gourley. “He was very determined in everything he did. This, his death is amazing. It is shocking. Last time I talked to him a year ago he was optimistic but told me he wasn’t in the best of circumstances.”
Christensen’s football records are in the books. His statistics will forever speak of his talent, his game and his play. The videos of his work as an analyst, his columns in the Daily Herald in Provo, and his language skills are digitally archived forever.
In a book by BYU associate athletic director Duff Tittle titled, “What It Means To Be A Cougar,” Christensen’s chapter ends with sage advice for us all:
“I have always tried to operate by the belief that men are made or broken in their idle hours. I was encouraged to do things on my own and to be a self-starter. I think that’s a big, big deal.
“Whether it is studying in class or working out, it’s what you do on your own that’s going to set you apart. You have the group dynamic, and that’s a good thing, but it’s the preparation on your own, when nobody is watching, that’s going to set you apart.”
Up to and through the time he waited for the liver transplant he so desperately needed, that was his script.
“If you needed something big,” said Nielsen of a football play, “you always had Todd Christensen. Who wouldn’t want that?”
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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