Editor’s note: Former BYU and NFL star Todd Christensen died Wednesday. This article was published in The Salt Lake Tribune June 12, 2001, under the headline: "Christensen Just Thankful For the Ride."
Provo • There are perceptions about Todd Christensen, some evident, others misleading.
The former tight end who made five Pro Bowls playing for the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders was once written up and — in some simple minds — off, as a "man for all seasons," he says of himself now that he is not all that multidimensional.
He is a lover of sports, a jock, who also happens to call on 10-dollar words as well as quotes from Abraham Maslow and Henry James and Gordon B. Hinckley to converse and make his points.
It’s left to others to keep up and understand, or be left behind.
Christensen, a 45-year-old husband and father who quietly resides with his family in Alpine in northern Utah County, hates being defined or even described in those terms, hates being boxed into a confining space with walls of linguistic pretension and polysyllabic pomposity. He is concurrently cursed and blessed with a vast vernacular, with a storage bin of what others, as he puts it, "have said better than I ever could have" in his brain and on his tongue. He does not want to sound or seem arrogant. On the other hand, he does not want to succumb to dumbing down or suppressing what he knows.
So, inside of a two-plus-hour interview at a Mexican restaurant in Provo, an appointment he keeps accompanied by a customary yellow note pad, a journal, scriptures and his latest read — at this particular juncture, Dan Rather’s "Deadlines and Datelines" under arm, Christensen runs through his own chronology, using the vocabulary he has taught himself and the quotations he has memorized from others. All of which is not only fun to hear, but intriguing, too.
Especially coming from — How you say? — a two-time Super Bowl champion who made his name and fortune catching balls for a team full of renegades and knocking defenders on their keesters.
Beginning with his early years, growing up the son of a professor of audiology and speech pathology (Ned) at the University of Oregon and a nurturing and athletic mother (June), Christensen was smitten by sports. He and his brothers played every sport, "although I was the one with the genetic endowment," Christensen says.
"The gods of DNA were kind to me."
They eventually grew him to be 6-3 and 240 pounds.
And they made him fast, too.
School was important in the Christensen home — oldest brother Merrill graduated Summa Cum Laude at MIT, and younger brother Kelly flourished in law school, subsequently passing the bar in several states — but Todd stumbled his way through his classes.
"I consider myself our family’s academic black sheep," he says. "My passion was elsewhere."
It was in football.
"Todd always had the drive," says Ned. "When he was 12, and even earlier, he ran sprints, lifted weights and did step exercises. He worked at it. And he had a great interest in every sport."
Still, he was taught by his parents to learn just as hard, and express himself well, which he did, almost to a fault. Years after he retired from pro football, while working for NBC as a color commentator with Jim Lampley during an NFL game, Christensen drove home a point by quoting a little ditty — the one that ends with "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" from Emerson.
"Emerson Fittipaldi?" Lampley joked.
"Emerson Boozer," laughed Christensen.
The network executives, enamored with John Madden’s grilled-bratwurst-and-boom-bam-ughhh-blue-collar style didn’t think Christensen’s foray into parroting Ralph Waldo’s poetry was so funny. He was summarily chastised.Next Page >
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