My neighbor, a retired counselor at Pleasant Grove High, approached me as I got to my driveway this evening after work and shared conversations he’d had with Christensen when he visited the school and remarked how impressed he was with his candor and his approachability.
Before Christiansen made it big in the NFL, one of his professors at BYU remembers an incident with Christensen in his class. I share these thoughts from Dr. W.T. Walton, PhD, here:
Mr. Harmon I am sending this to you since it was too large for letters to the editor.
My experience with Todd Christensen taught my how great a person he was and the whole story is necessary to give the full picture.
I was deeply saddened to hear of Todd Christensen’s passing. Todd was a great and caring individual. Many years ago as a Professor in the Educational Psychology department at Brigham Young University, I was teaching a class on lower campus in one of the old buildings that no longer exist. Todd was one of the students in that class. Some of the other students had classes on the upper campus and found it difficult to make it to class on time.
As the class progressed one young lady in the class was very concerned about being late and came to me with her concerns. We developed a plan that would help her obtain the information she would miss. In the next class I had planned on discussing the emotional and educational effects of inappropriate behavior by teachers on students. I got what I thought was a great teaching idea and asked this student the next time she came in late to class to help me with a role playing. She would come in late and I would start yelling at her for being late. She would then go to her desk and lay her had down on the desk and act like she was crying and I would continue to yell at her. She played her part too well and begin to laugh quietly causing her body to shake making other students in the class think she was sobbing. Todd Christensen who was sitting near her came out of his seat angrily telling me in no uncertain terms to leave her alone. He began to walk toward me and I could see he was really upset. Fortunately for me the young lady who was helping me got out of her seat and told him that we were just role playing. After explaining what I was trying to teach we had a lively discussion of the effects of such outbursts by teachers on their students. We ended the class with more success than I had anticipated.
After class Todd came up to me to apologize. I told him he did not need to apologize since his behavior was just what it should have been if the situation had been real. He was not only genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of another person but was willing do something about it. From then on I have followed Todd’s career with deep interest and respect for him. I am proud to have known Todd and had him in my class.
When tracking down former teammates for comment on Christensen for my column Thursday, Gifford Nielsen returned my call. He’d been touring an LDS mission in Vermont and was in Sharon, Vt., birthplace of Joseph Smith. Nielsen, who threw plenty of passes to Christensen at BYU did not know details of Christensen’s passing. He mentioned how small the world is when back in 1996 he and Todd were in the same backfield, toiling as student athletes, trying to find their way in the world. More than 25 years later, his son Giff and Christensen’s son Toby found themselves missionary companions half a world away in Barcelona, Spain. “What are the odds of that,” said Nielsen.
“Todd got drafted by the Cowboys and while we used him as a fullback at BYU, they had no use for him at that position and let him go,” said Nielsen. “How many people would have given up the game right then and there because they didn’t get their way, get their chance, or have an opportunity to prove himself? He did just the opposite. He redefined himself as a tight end and when he went to Oakland, he quickly helped redefine how the tight end is used in the league at a time any offenses were just beginning to include the tight end as a weapon.”