Former Cougar Toby Christensen wants to get his father in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
AP Photo/Lennox McLendon
As of the Class of 2023, there are 371 former players, coaches and contributors enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Former BYU wide receiver Toby Christensen is passionately working to add one more.
Christensen’s father, Todd, played running back at BYU in the mid-’70s before becoming a five-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Oakland Raiders from 1979 to 1988, accumulating 461 receptions for 5,872 yards and 41 touchdowns.
The elder Christensen also created a second career as a sports broadcaster, a larger-than-life personality for hundreds of NFL and college football games. Todd Christensen is a member of sports Halls of Fame in Oregon, California and Utah. He has been inducted into the Nike Hall of Fame and the BYU Sports Hall of Fame. While was a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame several times, he was never inducted and passed away in 2013 at the age of 57.
Toby Christensen spoke about his efforts to bring attention to his father’s stellar NFL career this week during a radio interview with Cougar Sports on ESPN.
“My father said to me one time, ‘I’m not in the Hall of Fame I really want to be in,’ and that stuck with me,” Toby Christensen said. “For a while I didn’t push the idea because there are quite a few former Raiders that have been overlooked. But you have to understand how the voters work. There are voters on the senior committee who go into those meetings with their own agendas. The Cowboys writer has some guys he’s pushing and the Eagles writers is doing the same. There really isn’t anyone pushing for the Oakland Raiders.”
Former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler (2016) and punter Ray Guy (2014) made it into the Hall through the senior committee, and two years ago wide receiver Cliff Branch was given his bronze bust.
“Once Cliff Branch got in, I thought that at this moment, there is no one in the Raiders organization that is part of that old-timers group that is more deserving than my father,” Toby Christensen said.
There are three tight ends who played in the same era as Todd Christensen that are in the Hall of Fame: Kellen Winslow, Dave Casper and Ozzie Newsome. When Toby Christensen started comparing his father’s numbers to those three players, he came up with some interesting data.
“Kellen Winslow is really the standard of the tight ends of the 1970s and 1980s,” Toby Christensen said. “You would just assume there is an oceanwide gap between his statistics and my father’s, but you would be wrong.”
The difference between Winlsow and Christensen is 80 catches for just over 800 yards and four touchdowns, the equivalent of one average season. Both players have five Pro Bowls but Winslow never got to the Super Bowl (Christensen earned two Super Bowl rings). Todd Christensen had a 90-catch season, Winlsow never did. Christensen had four 80-catch seasons, Winlsow had three. Christensen had four 1,000-yard seasons, Winslow three.
In addition, Winslow played in a pass-happy San Diego Chargers offense dubbed “Air Coryell” (named after head coach Don Coryell) which threw the ball nearly 1,700 more times than the Raiders in the ten years Winslow and Christensen were contemporaries. Winslow caught most of his passes from first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts. Christensen’s quarterbacks included a couple of years with Stabler, then Jim Plunkett, Dan Pastorini, former BYU Cougar Marc Wilson and Jay Schroeder.
“No disrespect to Winslow, but by using the comparison, I don’t understand why one guy is sure-fire Hall of Famer and the other isn’t,” Toby Christensen said.
He started by contacting several Hall of Fame voters — “They couldn’t have been nicer” — and has appeared on podcasts of two of those voters to push his father’s candidacy.
Toby Christensen said he also had a nice chat with the Raiders representative. But he didn’t feel that voter was passionate about the Oakland Raiders.
“The Raiders moved from Oakland, to Los Angeles, back to Oakland and now they are in Las Vegas,” Toby Christensen said. “Maybe that’s part of the problem. This voter just happens to cover the Raiders and lives in Las Vegas. I want him to go into the meeting with the data I gave him, stand in front of that committee and say, ‘We’ve got to get Todd Christensen into the Hall of Fame.'”
Of the 40 writers who vote for the Hall of Fame, there are 14 on the senior committee. It’s very difficult to make it into the Hall as a player, coach or contributor in that pool because there are literally thousands of candidates and only a few are voted in every year.
Toby Christensen lives in South Jordan and works in the health care industry. He daughter just graduated from high school (she’s going to be an Aggie at Utah State) and he has young three sons who play tennis, basketball and football. Toby Christensen coaches multiple flag football teams and also tutors young wide receivers on the side.
There is a NFL Films production of the 1983 Super Bowl champion Raiders team of which Todd Christensen was a member. In it, defensive lineman Howie Long (voted into the Hall of Fame in 2000) was asked about his former teammate.
“He said, ‘You know, athletically on a scale of 1 to 10, Todd Christensen was a five,” Toby Christensen recalled. “Then he said, ‘But what he got out of his talent was a nine and a half.'”
Toby Christensen said there is an address where BYU fans can send a letter of recommendation to the Hall of Fame voters on behalf of his father and invited anyone interested to find him on Facebook for more information.
After appearing on the radio, Toby Christensen’s efforts got an endorsement from another former Cougar who was a pretty fair multiple-sport athlete: Utah Jazz CEO of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge. Both Ainge and Todd Christensen played high school sports in Eugene, Ore., in the 1970s.
“I had a chance to watch Todd play baseball, basketball and football in high school,” Ainge posted on Twitter. “He was such a gifted all-around athlete. I loved watching him as a running back at BYU and then as the best tight end in football on the Raiders. Great hands! Yes #HallOfFamer.”
“It would definitely mean a lot to us,” Toby Christensen said. “I mean, there are more important things in life than making the Hall. The fact that he was a Hall of Fame father is more important to me that him being a Hall of Fame player.
“But just knowing how hard he taught us to work, how hard he worked and how dedicated he was to his craft, to see him honored like that would be a great lesson I could pass along to my kids and my grandkids.”
The three players who made the Pro Football Hall of Fame from the senior committee for 2023 were Chuck Howley, Joe Klecko and Ken Riley. Toby Christensen noted that none of those three players had ever been a finalist in the voting but had a champion in their corner during the committee meetings.
“If that’s what it takes,” Toby Christensen said, “I would like to do the same thing for my old man.”