SALT LAKE CITY — With his penchant for poetry, Todd Christensen never fit the Raiders’ renegade mold. But that didn’t keep him from becoming one of the team’s best all-time tight ends.
A five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time Super Bowl winner, Christensen died from complications during liver transplant surgery Wednesday. He was 57.
Christensen’s son, Toby Christensen, said his father died at Intermountain Medical Center near his home in Alpine, Utah. He had been waiting for 10 months for a donor liver.
After a stellar career at running back for BYU from 1974-77, Christensen was a second-round pick for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1978 NFL draft.
He was waived by the Cowboys after breaking his foot in training camp but landed the next year with the Raiders, where he played for 10 seasons at tight end and won Super Bowls in 1981 and 1984.
In 1983, he had 92 catches, setting the NFL record at the time for tight ends. He finished the season with 1,247 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns.
He broke his own record three seasons later with 95 catches. He finished his pro career with 467 catches for 5,872 yards and 41 touchdowns — a TD record for a Raiders tight end. He surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in three different seasons.
“Todd was an excellent football player and was prolific in the passing game,” said former Raiders coach Tom Flores. “He was a hybrid tight end, an H-back before it became a football term. He started out as a special teamer and was named our special teams captain right away while playing behind Raymond Chester and Dave Casper. He then helped us win Super Bowls.”
Former Raiders teammate James Lofton posted to Twitter on Wednesday: “He was truly great both on and off the field.”
Christensen, at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, was a thoughtful son of a professor. He even read his own poetry at a press conference for the AFC Championship game against Seattle before the Super Bowl in 1984.
“I thought you might be interested in something that I wrote in training camp that I think is apropos here,” Christensen told the assembled media. “This is something I’ve written concerning the Raider organization, and this is entitled, ‘A Destiny to Win.'”
Upon completing the 15-verse poem, many of the reporters gathered burst into applause. It was clear why Christensen’s nickname was Renaissance Man.
“I remember Todd as always using big words and quoting famous authors and poets. He was comical at times because no one knew what he was talking about,” Flores said in a statement released by the Raiders. “I hadn’t seen much of him lately but miss the fun, great times we all shared as a Raider family.”
Christensen played on four Western Athletic Conference championship teams for BYU, catching 152 passes for 1,568 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also had 1,089 yards rushing and seven scores. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1992.
“He had great skill,” BYU football Hall of Fame coach LaVell Edwards told the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. “He ran the ball well and he caught the ball extremely well. He had excellent ability in all areas and those are the things that stand out.”
After his retirement, Christensen went into broadcasting but he also tried to break into baseball — trying out for the Oakland Athletics when he was 33. And he even gave acting a shot, playing a game show host in an episode of TV’s “Married With Children.”
Christensen was a color commentator for the NFL on NBC from 1990-94, and also worked for ESPN and the now-defunct MountainWest Sports Network before handling Navy games for CBS Sports Network in the 2012 season.
Christensen was a devout Mormon who didn’t drink, and his family believes his liver problems started 25 years ago after a “botched” gall bladder operation, his son told The Associated Press.
“I’ve been receiving hundreds of texts, Facebook postings and emails – from everybody with a story about my dad,” Toby Christensen said.
A native of Pennsylvania, Christensen’s family moved to Eugene, Ore., when he was a child and he became a standout at Sheldon High School. He was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
Christensen is survived by his wife, Kathy, and four sons. The family was making plans for a funeral as early as Saturday at a local Mormon church ward house in Alpine.