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Christensen Is Released by Raiders

August 30, 1989|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

Our guest on today's Raider Celebrity Drop-off is the one, the only . . .

Todd Christensen!

As expected, the great tight end was cut Tuesday, a day later than everyone's expectations including his own.

After not playing Saturday in Oakland, he took his helmet home for safe keeping, in case he wasn't going to need it any more. When no call came telling him to stay home Monday morning, he forgot to bring it with him and attended his last Raider practice wearing a borrowed hardhat and Vance Mueller's No. 42 jersey.

Will future generations believe there was ever a man who could make a name for himself as a special-teams kamikaze, and go on to catch 90 passes a season while quoting everyone from Anthony A. Aardvark of Mad Magazine to Zoroaster?

Christensen went out as philosophically as circumstances permitted. But seeing as how he was never allowed into an exhibition and lost his job to the untested Mike Dyal, real life intruded.

"I'm disappointed I wasn't given a chance to compete," Christensen said. "I'm disappointed that Mike (Shanahan, Raider coach) didn't tell me that would be the case, when everyone was writing about this prospect, Mike Dyal, and not insult my intelligence by having me line up six deep in practice.

"It's one thing if you get beaten out, where you say, 'Oh, Keith Jackson. This guy can really block and he's faster than me.' But this doesn't wash well.

"It would have been one thing if Mike Dyal was a better football player. Then it's, 'Oh, well, OK.'

"But I'm a big boy. I understand the game. I've been around a long time. Matt and I were talking--ironically. (Millen is also on the endangered list.) We asked, how many people of their own volition get out? It's probably 10%"

Christensen, 33, paid $750,000 a season, coming off two down seasons and two operations last off-season, succumbed finally to Shanahan's preference for bigger, better blocking tight ends.

"I think Todd can still play," Shanahan said. "Todd has been an over-achiever. That's one reason he's had so much success. He's a competitor on and off the football field.

"I know Todd thinks he can still play. . . . It's just one of the decisions you have to make. We will miss him and we wish him the best.

"In relationship to competing, in the conversations I had with Todd and (tight end coach) Terry Robiskie had with Todd, we told him we didn't need to see him in games. We know what he can do. His competition was going to be in practice. We needed to take a look at the younger players."

Could they have cut him at the start of camp?

"When Mr. (Al) Davis first talked to Todd, he told him it was going to take a couple of weeks for us to look at him after he got in shape," Shanahan said. "We told him we would let him know before the cut-down to 60. We would not wait until the last week."

Goodby Raiders, hello . . . what?

Announcing?

The sports lore-happy Christensen once sat in for ESPN's Roy Firestone as host of an interview show.

Show business?

Handsome, well-spoken and a hotdog of the first rank, he was one of the team leaders in commercial appearances.

The Seahawks or Chargers?

"Al (Davis) told me, 'I watch you on the films, you can still run and catch. But I can't fight the coaches,' " Christensen said.

Christensen saw Davis Monday and got the word that he was no more. They chatted about past glories and present concerns. They parted.

"We talked about that, we talked about Ken Stabler, we talked about steroids," Christensen said. "Al asked me, 'I'm so ignorant about this, is that (steroids) the reason you couldn't get your weight back?'

"I said, 'I have a major organ (his gallbladder) somewhere in the toilet.' We had a few laughs.

"My first reaction is positive. The things I have to look at are 11 seasons in the NFL, five years in the Pro Bowl, twice led the league in receiving, the Super Bowl championships, the players, the plays. That more than outweighs the rest.

"The thing I'm proudest of--I'm lying there in bed (after the gallbladder operation in May), a pathetic, yellowed human being. I really busted my . . . coming back to play professional football. I have no doubt I can. If you talk to the other players, they'll tell you I still can. I'm really proud of that."

Christensen and the other players.

Once he was resented by some teammates because he was so erudite, so starved for attention, so rarely one of the boys.

In the end, though, he was one of them--Todd, an original--and he met the fate they all face. It was another somber day in El Segundo.

"I've got one for you," said Christensen. "I didn't tell the others. It's because (dropping into his Al Davis imitation) Ah love yah: 'Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.'

"Every year at this time, it seems that line comes to mind. I think of the guys who are secure now, who have the team made, who'll say, 'Oh, isn't it terrible about so-and-so?' I always used to say that. If there's anybody prepared for it, it's the kid.

"Hey, there's 8 million stories in the Naked City. Don't weep for me, Argentina."

He exited as he had lived, quoting an English poet, a TV detective show and a Broadway play without inhaling twice.

They took his No. 46 down from his locker in the sure knowledge that they might find a better blocker. But it's never going to be the same.

Raider Notes

Matt Millen survives. With Jerry Robinson still questionable because of a groin pull and a history of getting nicked up, the veteran linebacker could even make it to the regular season and the starting lineup. Check Saturday's lineup, and the Bears' rushing totals. . . . The Raiders cut to 60, moving guard Dale Hellestrae and cornerback Rex Brown to injured reserve, where, according to the new rule, they must spend the entire season, cutting Plan B linebacker Joe Costello, rookie punter Keith English, and ex-Seahawk running back Randall Morris. . . . Hellestrae started camp the No. 1 left guard but broke a leg and is now not expected back until November.

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