May 8, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Peyton Manning, others tell favorite Clyde Christensen stories

Some of the favorite NFL memories of longtime NFL offensive guru Clyde Christensen, currently quarterbacks coach in Tampa Bay, and his players:

Thirty minutes or less

Christensen’s favorite restaurant in Indianapolis was a nondescript pizza joint called Puccini’s. He’d go there every Friday night, without fail, and order the Ultimate Warrior, their version of the deluxe.

“He’d tell us, ‘Going to Puccini’s today. Coach Clyde’s paying,’ ” quarterback Peyton Manning recalled. “He’d call himself Coach Clyde, using the third person. He was always offering to buy us pizza.”

Well, that’s not exactly how Christensen remembers it.

“Here’s the real story,” he said. “I’d be sitting there at Puccini’s and Peyton would call. He’d say, ‘Hey, you at Puccini’s?’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, I am as a matter of fact.’ And he’d say, `Any chance you’d drop me by a little medium cheese on your way home?’ I’d tell him he was in the opposite direction and he’d say, ‘Can’t you just swing by?’ He still owes me about 40 bucks. Not to mention no tips.”

Buried lies

Manning loves playing golf, and so does Christensen. They’d get a foursome together and play whenever they could. Often, Christensen would team with Colts receiver Brandon Stokley and challenge Manning and another teammate.

“If I missed a putt on No. 18, by the time we got to the weight room the next morning, the entire building knew about it,” Manning said. “Stokley would tell everyone about it, and Clyde loved that. Clyde just loved confirming it. He certainly wasn’t going to stop Stokley from spreading the word.”

Again, the quarterback and coach had vastly different recollections of how that would unfold.

“If they beat us, I’d come in to the office and the guard who lets you in at the gate would say, ‘Hey, I heard Peyton got you yesterday,’ ” Christensen said. “But if we won, and if one person were to say something, Peyton would come by and say, ‘Yeah, you win one match and you have to blab about it to everybody?’ He’d tell everybody if he won, but if you won and you told one person that you took him down, he’d say you were blabbing.”

Seeing red

During Manning’s years with the Colts, Christensen didn’t oversee the quarterbacks but instead coached the receivers and later was offensive coordinator.

“He’s one of my favorite coaches of all time,” Manning said. “Clyde was in charge of our third down and red zone. Those were Clyde’s plays, and in football that’s what it’s really all about. First and second down, you can kind of get that done. But can you convert on third-and-10, and when you get down in the red zone?

“He’s one of my favorite coaches of all time.”

Peyton Manning

“At one point in Indy, we were down in the red zone more than any other team in the league. Clyde’s the one that kind of brought up, ‘Hey, we’re down here so much, yet we’re only practicing the red zone on Thursday and Friday. Why are we not spending every practice with red zone as part of our emphasis?’ So we started practicing it every day.

“It was just a point of emphasis that, hey, when we get down in the red zone it’s touchdowns, touchdowns, touchdowns. We don’t want to settle for field goals. It just became our mentality, and that’s something that Clyde brought to us.”

Fun is not a four-letter word

Christensen was a quarterback himself, and he likes to have fun and compete with his players in a post-practice carnival of contests.

“He’s as competitive as they come,” said Trent Dilfer, coached by him in Tampa Bay. “He keeps his arm in shape and every day he wants to compete throwing. Every day you’re playing 21, hitting the goalpost, throwing into trash cans, whatever. But you’re always competing with him, and he can throw it.”

Former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said there’s a playful side to Christensen that makes practices enjoyable.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, left, looks over a play chart with QB coach Clyde Christensen and backup Drew Stanton on Aug. 19, 2012.

(Mark Duncan / Associated Press)

“He’ll needle you,” Luck said. “He knows how to push your buttons in a very childlike way — and I say childlike with the positive connotation — in almost a schoolyard or backyard type of banter. I imagine working with Peyton for so long, you sharpen that skill quite well.

“I remember individual drills being fun and challenging, and you were certainly working on it. There was a purpose to everything that you did.

“In one of our last conversations at practice, I asked him, ‘Clyde, is there much difference between being an NFL quarterbacks coach and a PE teacher for third graders?’ He laughed and said, ‘Nope.’ ”

Somebody to lean on

As much fun as he can be, Christensen is also a mentor and confidant to his players. He’s far more than an Xs and O’s coach to them. He’s someone who rides the emotional highs and lows with them.

“He was without a doubt the most influential person in my time in Tampa,” said Dilfer, who had Christensen as his quarterbacks coach with the Buccaneers. “He was the one who had to break hard news to me, I celebrated with, we cried together, we laughed together, we talked endlessly when I left and he left.”

For Dilfer, one situation stood out. He was struggling during the 1999 season, so much so that he was benched for backup Eric Zeier after a 6-3 win over Chicago. That snapped Dilfer’s string of 70 consecutive starts, then second in the NFL to Green Bay’s Brett Favre.

“He was without a doubt the most influential person in my time in Tampa.”

Trent Dilfer

“I took a lot of pride in not how I played, but that I showed up in those dark years in Tampa,” Dilfer said. “When I got benched, Clyde asked to be the one to tell me. He knew how much the availability meant to me. Regardless of circumstance, I always showed up, worked my ass off, took a beating, and rinsed and repeated.”

Then, Christensen broke the news to him.

“We literally cried together,” Dilfer said. “He was so devastated by the decision. But he wanted to be the one to tell me. We sat in his office and bawled. Two grown men just cried their eyes out for a half-hour. He said, ‘I’m going to walk with you through this. I know it hurts. Neither of us are happy. You’re devastated. But let’s walk together through this and something good’s going to come out of it.”

Dilfer ended up sitting for one week, then returned as the starter and directed his team to four wins in a row before suffering a season-ending broken collarbone. The team made it to the NFC championship game before losing to the St. Louis Rams.

Clyde Christensen and others pose with the Rev. Billy Graham.

Top row, from left: Wake Forest coach Kevin Higgins, Clyde Christensen, former Green Bay defensive coordinator Bob Sanders. Bottom row: Indianapolis defensive secondary coach Alan Williams, Rev. Billy Graham, minister RV Brown.

(Courtesy of Clyde Christensen)

A higher calling

Christensen and his wife, Debbie, have three daughters and are devout Christians. Clyde played quarterback at North Carolina and, as a college student, developed a close and lasting friendship with the son-in-law and daughter of Rev. Billy Graham.

“I flew out there in January, I don’t know anybody, and this family from Raleigh, a dentist who had played basketball at North Carolina, calls and says, ‘Hey, I hear that you’re a Christian kid and you’re a long ways from home, how about if we pick you up for church and take you out to lunch?’ ” Christensen said of Graham’s daughter, Anne, and her husband, Danny Lotz.

“I ended up being like a stray dog,” Christensen said. “I’d vacation with them, and they took me in, and they modeled out what it looked like, a home and a marriage, work and ministry, and just became best of friends.”

Decades later, Christensen and Tony Dungy — who coached together at Tampa Bay and Indianapolis — helped form All Pro Dad, a program of Family First, a nonprofit research and communications organization aimed at strengthening families.

Hey, roomie, LT!

While at North Carolina, Christensen shared a dormitory suite for two years with Lawrence Taylor, who would go on to become one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history.

“He was a blast,” Christensen said. “He was just an ol’ country kid who absolutely loved football, loved to have fun, loyal as the day is long. One of the most loyal guys I’ve ever been around to this day. I was two years older than him, and he always had my back.”

On the football field, it was obvious: Taylor was different.

“He was kind of the freelance guy,” Christensen said. “He was the guy on the look team, the scout team, who would always do what he wanted to do. You’re not supposed to touch the quarterback, and he might body-slam you. Everyone would yell at him, and he’d just do it again the next play. He’s always been an absolute pedal-to-the-metal football player and just spectacular.

“He was kind of like your little brother who could beat you up, but he didn’t let anyone else mess with me. He might mess with me, but no one else was.”