Todd Christensen Belongs in The Hall of Fame

When Shannon Sharpe was inducted into “The Hall” back in 2011, pundits began to voice which of the new breed would be the next TE to get into Canton. Would it be Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, or Antonio Gates?? There is even outside talk of former Patriot Ben Coates as these were the dominant men at the position over the last 25 years. Uhhh… wait a minute… How did we get this far without mention of former  Oakland/L.A. Raider Todd Christensen??

A man once cut by the Dallas Cowboys found a home in Oakland and became one of the main targets in the heyday of the AFC West. The question that arises is how did we forget Christensen?? Was it the fact he was a specials teams player who didn’t start until his 4th year?? Or is this more bias against the late Al Davis’ Raiders??

In 1980 the NFL was marveling at the performance of future Hall of Fame TE Kellen Winslow in San Diego. When he burst onto the scene with 89 receptions, a record for Tight Ends at the time, for 1,290 and 9TDs. He became the measuring stick for all who would play his position especially with this only his 2nd season.

When he completed the ’81 season with 88 receptions only future Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome was anywhere near Winslow on the marquee. Or so pundits thought.

In 1981 after becoming the 1st defending Super Bowl champion to finish with a losing record (7-9) the following season, the Raiders had to make changes. The 1st is they moved to L.A. then drafted super back Marcus Allen then following an old Raider tradition, converted a former running back into a Tight End…. Todd Christensen. If you went back 2 decades before, the Raiders converted former Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon from RB to TE and sparked their run to Super Bowl II.

The ’82 Raiders had the NFL’s best record in a strike shortened season at 8-1, and Christensen finished 5th in receiving among TEs with 42 receptions for 510 yds and 4 TDs. Although the Raiders were upset 17-14 by the NY Jets in the AFC playoffs, a star was born.  The next year saw the Raiders cement the notion they had supplanted the Air Coryell Chargers as the best of the AFC West.

Every great player needs a signature game and in the 14th week of 1983 the Chargers were hosting the Raiders in a special Thursday Night telecast. To add to the excitement both Christensen and Winslow were on pace to tie or break Kellen’s TE record of ’89 receptions set in 1980. In front of a nationwide audience Todd proved his worth.

 

 

Buoyed by this great performance the Raiders propelled themselves to the AFC’s best record at 12-4. Not only did the Raiders go on to win Super Bowl XVIII, Christensen unseated Winslow as the game’s premiere tight end as the loss also ended the reign of “Air Coryell”. His 8 receptions 140 yards and 3 TDs completely outshone his Charger counterpart’s 4 catches for 30 yards. This was the difference between Todd’s record of 92 receptions to Winslow’s 88 to conclude ’83.

Los Angeles Raiders tight end Todd Christensen (46) blocks New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks (58) during a 14-9 Giants victory on September 21, 1986, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

As injuries slowed Winslow it was Christensen who went on to maintain Pro Bowl level of play through 1987 when he went to his 5th straight. One aspect of a Tight End is to remember the primary role is to be a blocker. In the ’85 campaign he helped pave the way for NFL rushing champion Marcus Allen who ran for 1,759 yards. The following season he broke his previous NFL record for TEs as he nabbed 95 balls for 1,153 yards and 8 scores.

He led the NFL in receptions in 1983 and 1986 for all receivers not just Tight Ends.

In an era with 2 other Hall of Fame TEs Christensen had the best peak years.

  • Christensen ’83-’86: 349 rec. 4,394 yards 33 TDs *5 Pro Bowls*
  • Winslow ’80-’83: 319 rec. 4,258 yards 33 TDs *4 Pro Bowls*
  • Ozzie Newsome ’81-’84: 296 rec. 3,626 yards 20 TDs *3 Pro Bowls*
  • *Career Pro Bowls listed*

Now to be fair, Winslow and Newsome’s years include the strike shortened ’82 stanza which only had 9 regular season games. However keep in mind Todd was on special teams as a long snapper, set 2 receiving records at TE and blocked for 1985’s MVP and rushing champion Marcus Allen. Then don’t forget one of those record setting season was for a world champion when they won Super Bowl XVIII 38-9 over Washington.

Keep in mind his record for receptions in a season at TE was tied once in 1994 by Ben Coates, yet stood for 18 years until Tony Gonzalez broke it in 2004. His record stood as long as Dan Marino’s TD record when you think of how long he held it.

This isn’t to take away from the 2 gentlemen in “The Hall” from the same position, but how can Winslow (inducted in 1995) and Newsome (inducted in 1999) be in and we don’t even hear Christensen mentioned?? Is it because he was a late bloomer who went on to star on the 3rd team he played for?? Is this more of the media bias against Al Davis’ Raiders who seem to come up on the short end when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration??

A part of this has to do with the Raiders moving from Oakland to Los Angeles and then back to Oakland in 1995. Those Los Angeles sportswriters didn’t honor the team and campaign for those players once the team went back up north. Many sportswriters campaign for players whom they lobbied for their team to draft originally and usually in the 1st round. His rocky path to Oakland through Dallas and New York is why he didn’t have that.

Yet they have/had a responsibility and shouldn’t have taken it out on those player’s legacies. I see these men all the time on talk shows over on ESPN when they have an obligation as history’s gatekeepers with their fellow writers and they have failed. They are why Todd, Head Coach Tom FloresLester Hayes, and Cliff Branch are on the outside looking in. It’s time to right these injustices.

Christensen deserves to be enshrined in Canton. Although we lost Todd, who passed in 2013, his family and Raider teammates should be able to share in that final honor.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you, Todd Christensen.

Dedicated in his memory: Todd Christensen (August 3, 1956 – November 13, 2013)

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SUPER BOWL XVIII CHAMPION 1983 LOS ANGELES RAIDERS

When Marcus Allen broke out with that famous run for LA in Super Bowl XVIII, you knew Al Davis was going to go with something similar to the past two rings…anyway Raiders 38-9 over the Redskins. Tom Flores became a great coach with not only his second Super Bowl win in 4 years. He knocked off a defending champion that was 1 game away from being labeled a dynasty.

sbxviiiHow did the Raiders kill the defending Redskins like that?  Beating the Redskins yes but dismantling them like that?  It’s still baffling some 31 years later.  The highest scoring team in history only scoring 9 points?  NFL Films shows you and tells the story. Raiders defense, Raiders defense, Raiders defense!  John Madden called the game, what more could a Raider fan want?

What most fans don’t remember was going into the ’83 AFC Championship Game, the Raiders had been swept by their division rival Seahawks during the year.  So Seattle was a formidable foe.  The game had a weird feel to it because it was drizzly and grey.  I remember Marcus Allen playing with a black eye, swollen like a boxer.  They ran over Seattle 30-14 and rewrote history.

sbxviii32Had Lyle Alzado controlled himself, the Raiders could have won that game in the 1982 playoffs (loss to Jets 17-14) and could have won Super Bowl XVII.  How do we know this?  The Redskins (who won XVII) was exceedingly stronger in 83 and that beating the Raiders gave them was epic.

Easily the strongest team in Raiders history with a mixture of old pros and young players that made up the core of this team.  Two Heisman winners on offense with Jim Plunkett and Marcus Allen.  Old pros like Cliff Branch and Todd Christensen.  Greg Pruitt was brought in to return kicks and set a league record for punt return yards.

sbxviii3Really solid defense…Reggie Kinlaw dominated from nose tackle with Hall of Famer Howie Long, the late Lyle Alzado, Greg Townsend on the defensive line were hard to move on the point.  They had the heaviest set of inside linebackers in Bob Nelson and Matt Millen. At 250lbs. each could take on and shed guards if they had too.  Rod Martin and Ted Hendricks ( the U) were the outside ‘backers with a lot of range.  Mike Davis and Vann McElroy were really solid safeties.

This defense had no real holes and then we get to Lester Hayes and Hall of Famer Mike Haynes.  One on one coverage at its finest that culminated in this performance against the Redskins receivers.

Charlie Brown and Art Monk combined for 125 receptions for 1,971 yards and 13 TDs during the season. Hayes and Haynes held them to 4 rec. for 119 yards…60 came on one play. It reduced the highest scoring team in NFL history to 1 scoring drive in the 3rd quarter. The next year in 1984 they started to give up some passing yards.  Yet Super Bowl XVIII they were at their zenith.

sbxviii5Remember that whole NFC 13 straight Super Bowl wins (19-31) and NFC dominance talk back when?  It was really worse than that.  After Pittsburgh’s win in XIV, only the Raiders won for the AFC in XV and XVIII. So it was really (16-31) that the NFC dominated but could not beat the Raiders winning 15 of 17.  Talk about carrying the torch for the conference…

 

It was also the last championship won by the Raiders under Al Davis. An original AFL pioneer who remained a separatist at heart and on all of the Raider’s Super Bowl winning rings, used the AFL “A” and not the AFC “A”.

 

Long live the American Football League, as we lost a pioneer back in 2011 when Al Davis passed.  In 2010 I attended a game in the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum and the ghosts of all those great Raider moments played out as I looked around that stadium. I met many former Raiders at the game and just missed Coach Flores but definitely would have loved to have met Al Davis.

bdavisThis is dedicated to the memories of Al Davis, along with Al LoCasale, Todd Christensen, Lyle Alzado, Earl Leggett, John Facenda, and Charlie Sumner.

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Legends of The Fall: Marcus Allen

Did you know that only once in NFL history has the single season rushing leader wore silver and black??  It was Marcus Allen in 1985 when he played for the Los Angeles Raiders. Yet when you think of Allen, you think of receiving out of the backfield more than you think of him as a pure runner.

Marcus Allen on a first half gallop in Super Bowl XVIII.

Marcus Allen on a first half gallop in Super Bowl XVIII.

However in 1985, Jim Plunkett was lost for the season and Marc Wilson just wasn’t a top flight quarterback. Super Bowl XVIII was a distant memory as the team hadn’t improved from a personnel standpoint. They started to age. Recent drafts didn’t help when the team brought in receivers Jesse Hester and Dokie Williams, who weren’t quite the caliber of past Raiders and Allen was the only offensive weapon that was in his prime.

Where the team followed up their Super Bowl championship with a wild card loss to Seattle, team brass decided to lean on Marcus and ball control to stay competitive in 1985. Why not?? Marc Wilson only completed 49.7% of his passes that year in 12 games…

For the year Lionel James led the NFL with a record setting 2,536 all purpose yards but it was Marcus that set the yardage from scrimmage record with 2,314. He led the NFL with 1,759 yards rushing as the Raiders only real offensive weapon. Don’t forget Eric Dickerson held out and missed the first four games of the season and finished with 1,234 yards for 1985. Dickerson’s 1,808 in ’83 and 1,821 in 1986 were on a par with Allen’s ’85 total.

Allen had one of college football's greatest seasons when he won the Heisman in 1981.

Allen had one of college football’s greatest seasons when he won the Heisman in 1981.

Everyone forgets Marcus was the first running back in college football history to rush for 2,000 yards when he went for 2.342 in 1981. He had gone to USC where he was converted from defensive back and had been a blocking back for previous Heisman winner Charles White. Once White graduated, it was Allen’s show. It should have happened that way in the NFL as well.

Yet starting with a fumble forced by Seth Joyner in an overtime 33-27 loss to the Eagles, the rift between Al Davis and Marcus started to widen. The Raiders subsequently finished 1986 with 4 straight losses to miss the playoffs for only the 5th time since 1967. This ended a 20 year era in which the Raiders were among the league’s elite. This is where the feud affected Allen’s play on the field and had Davis draft Bo Jackson in the 1987. They started phasing Allen out as he only carried 9, 13, and 10 times in the final three games of 1986.

He became a prisoner of Davis who wouldn’t showcase him and mandated he not be given the ball. So the only running back in history with a Heisman, Super Bowl MVP, and NFL MVP, and first to rush for 2,000 yards in college had to become a blocking back for Bo Jackson. He endured that for six years until the advent of free agency freed him in 1993.

In Kansas City, Marcus was able to be a feature back again.

In Kansas City, Marcus was able to be a feature back again.

In his first year in Kansas City, it was he not Joe Montana, who was voted the most valuable player. Allen was also the NFL’s comeback player of the year as he led the league with 13 TDs in his first season with the Chiefs.

Yet we’re left with what if again.

After that great 1985 season, Allen wouldn’t rush for 1,000 yards again. He finished with 12,243 yards rushing and 123 touchdowns. From the backfield he caught 587 balls for another 5,411 yards and 21 scores. What would those numbers balloon to if he wasn’t exiled in Los Angeles?? Would he have played 15 years had he stayed the feature back?? Ultimately, what were we football fans cheated out of thanks to the Davis / Allen feud??

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Marcus Allen – A Football Life

Super Bowl XVIII - AOne thing I always said about Marcus Allen, no one had a better trophy case. Think about what he amassed in a three year period from 1981 through the 1983 seasons. He runs for 2,342 yards and 22 TDs and wins the Heisman Trophy. He then wins NFL Rookie of the Year in his debut with the Raiders and what does he do for an encore?? Has a 1,000 yard season and wins Super Bowl MVP for his 191 yard performance against Washington. The only guy that comes close to that is Tony Dorsett, but he only ran for 66 yards in Super Bowl XII…yet I digress.

Then in 1985 when the Raiders passing game fell flat on it’s ass with an aging Jim Plunkett giving way to Mark Wilson, the Raiders turned to Allen. What did he do?? He ran for 1,759 yards and led the NFL in rushing while winning league MVP. This was the only time in NFL history that a Raider led the league in rushing by the way. Allen’s performance saved their season leading the Raiders to a 12-4 record.
Then came the personal vendetta against Allen by Al Davis. Now I’m not sure the real issue will be revealed in this episode but something happened off-field that had to involve a woman. Had to…it became way too personal. When Ice Cube interviewed Al Davis for the 30 for 30 “Straight Outta LA” he alluded to the fact that it was something off the field he took a personal disliking to. You could see it in his face. Back in 1993 when he was finally freed by free agency and waiting to sign with a new team, Allen said in an interview that Al Davis told him he would “get him” and try to ruin his career.

This is such a travesty because the NFL fan and history were robbed of what he possibly could have become. He was imprisoned for 7 years and still rushed for 12,243 yards after he finished as a Kansas City Chief. The Bo Jackson signing always puzzled The Chancellor. If it was about passing and not running the football, this signing doesn’t make sense. Why not trade Marcus Allen for a quarterback or future draft considerations??

https://videopress.com/embed/GrNy0QSm?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=0&loop=0https://v0.wordpress.com/js/next/videopress-iframe.js?m=1435166243

This is when The Chancellor stopped thinking of Davis as one of the top minds in the game. It kept the Raiders stuck in neutral for many years and I hope this episode sheds some light on what went on behind the scenes. Should be a good one…
Marcus Allen – A Football Life

They Call It Pro Football - Official Blog of NFL Films

On December 12, “A Football Life” launches its twelfth episode of the season, featuring Hall of Fame running back Marcus Allen.  Don’t miss an all-new episode this Wednesday at 8 p.m. EST only on NFL Network.

Here’s a sneak peek segment from “Marcus Allen: A Football Life.”  Be sure to check back to TCIPF throughout the week for more exclusive content from the show.

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