Todd Christensen is getting a lot of rave reviews in his first season as an NFL analyst for NBC, and he's really impressing himself.

"Kind of like being the best surfer in Alaska, isn't it?"That's just the kind of guy he is.

A five-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders, Christensen is making the transition from the playing field to the broadcast booth.

He's keeping his new line of work in perspective - as only he could.

"I'm now Charlie Jones' 52nd partner in his 25-30 years as a broadcaster," Christensen said. "And that's just football."

Christensen retired from football in 1988 as the the Raiders' third all-time leading pass catcher and with the NFL record for most receptions in a season, 95 in 1986.

In 1989, he served as a contributing commentator for ESPN's "SportsLook" and also was a co-host for the syndicated TV series "American Gladiators."

He joined NBC Sports last June and was paired with Jones.

Until now, Jones' best-remembered TV partner probably was Frank Shorter at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It was this team that misidentified the winner of the men's 800-meter final as Nixon Kiprotich rather than Paul Ereng.

It was an understandable mistake. Both are from from Kenya, and both wore red shorts and white jerseys. Actually, it was Shorter who first made the bad call, but Jones took the blame.

"We have blown this call," Jones said on the air, his voice shaking in horror. "Gentlemen, we were wrong. . . . We made the mistake of the Olympic Games."

Then, he added, "My mistake, nobody else's."

"Now," Christensen said, "if this guy is willing to take the blame for those kinds of mistakes, that's the guy I want to work with."

In his role as analyst, Christensen is well-spoken, well-prepared and generally a plus. He makes a few rookie mistakes, such as calling the Houston Oilers the Raiders twice during an Oilers-Rams game on Nov. 4.

But that's not his biggest problem.

His biggest problem is that he's a funny guy, and it doesn't always come across on TV. He occasionally sounds a little too bookish. He uses words like "antithesis" and "poignant," and admits to a "certain semblance of verbal perspicacity and generic academia."

Try figuring that out without using an electronic chalkboard.

A graduate of Brigham Young, where he was a running back, Christensen's parents were always adamant that he not look like a "dumb jock."

"I always resented the term `jockocracy' coined by Howard Cosell," Christensen said. "Certainly, there have been some unqualified players in the booth, but there just isn't a replacement for playing the game, particularly in understanding the nuances.

"Nothing happens on the field that I haven't seen. That's not arrogance. It's a precursor to being effective in the booth - if you have the other skills, the production skills, the gift of gab.

"The difficulty is in being tempted to use football jargon. There's a group out there that likes it and a group that doesn't. I don't want to sound too pompous."

Pompous? How could a guy who just got done co-hosting American Gladiators sound pompous? Isn't that the studio sport where men and women with names like Nitro and Lace shoot each other with tennis balls, joust with padded sticks and chase each other up walls?

"It's got a cult following," Christensen said. "And unlike those other two cutting-edge sports - wrestling and roller derby - it isn't choreographed."