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Larry Csonka

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Larry Csonka
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Personal Information
Position(s)
Fullback
Jersey #(s)
39
Born December 25 1946 (1946-12-25) (age 67) in Stow, Ohio, U.S.
Height: 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m)Weight: 237 lb (108 kg)
Career information
Year(s) 19681979
NFL Draft 1968 / Round: 1 / Pick: 8
College Syracuse
Professional teams
Career stats
Rushing Yards 8,081
Average 4.3
Touchdowns 64
Stats at NFL.com
Career highlights and awards

Larry Richard Csonka (born December 25, 1946) is a former collegiate and professional American football fullback and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

ChildhoodEdit

One of six children, Csonka was born in Stow, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb, where he was raised on a farm by his Hungarian family. He weighed almost ten pounds at birth,[1] 150 pounds at the age of 12,[2] and 220 pounds at the age of 16.[1]

High School careerEdit

Larry began his football career at Stow High School as the starting tailback on the 1963 Stow Bulldogs squad that won the Metropolitan League of the Akron, Ohio, area championship under coach Dick Fortner. He played for Stow from 1960–1963.

Csonka became a running back by accident. Because of his size, he played defensive end on the varsity team as a sophomore. In the last game that year, he was sent in as a substitute on the kickoff return team. The ball just happened to go to him and he took off running with it. Wrote Csonka,

I ran over two tacklers before I realized what I was doing. I didn't score or save the game, but I got a tremendous feeling carrying the ball. I was thrashing around, trying to run six ways at once. I loved it. I knew then that I wanted to run with the ball.[3]

Even so, the next year Csonka had a tough time before the start of the season convincing his teammates and coaches that he could play running back. They said he was too big and too slow. But he did well in the first game of the season, and from then on no one doubted him.

College careerEdit

Csonka was recruited by Clemson, Iowa, Vanderbilt, and Syracuse. He chose Syracuse, where he played fullback from 1965–67 and was named an All-American. He established many of the school's rushing records, including some previously held by Ernie Davis, Jim Nance, Floyd Little, and Jim Brown.

In his three seasons at Syracuse, Csonka rushed for a school record 2,934 yards, rushed for 100 yards in 14 different games, and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. From 1965 to 1967, he ranked 19th, ninth and fifth in the nation in rushing. He was the Most Valuable Player in the East–West Shrine Game, the Hula Bowl, and the College All-Star Game. In 1989, he was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Professional careerEdit

Miami and the Super Bowl yearsEdit

Csonka was the #1 pick by the American Football League's Miami Dolphins in the 1968 Common Draft, the eighth player and first running back drafted in the first round. He signed a three-year contract for $20,000 the first year, $25,000 the second, $30,000 the third, plus a $34,000 bonus, including a car.[4]


Csonka's pro career got off to a shaky start. In the fifth game of the 1968 season, versus Buffalo, he was knocked out and suffered a concussion when his head hit the ground during a tackle. He spent two days in the hospital. Three weeks later, versus San Diego, he suffered another concussion, plus a cracked eardrum and a broken nose.[5] There was talk he might have to give up football. He missed three games in 1968 and three more in 1969. Writes his teammate Nick Buoniconti,

There was some question [after the 1969 season] whether Csonka would ever play fullback again—not just because of injuries but because he didn't play well...When Shula came in [in 1970] he literally had to teach Csonka how to run with the football. He used to run straight up and down and Shula impressed upon him that he had to lead with his forearm rather than his head. Shula and his backfield coach Carl Taseff basically reengineered Csonka to where he became the Hall of Fame player. Csonka emerged as the offensive leader of the Dolphins....[6]

Over the next four seasons, Csonka never missed a game, and he led the Dolphins in rushing the next five seasons. Writes teammate Jim Langer, "Csonka had the utmost respect of every player on the team, offense and defense."[7] By the 1970s he was one of the most feared runners in professional football. Standing 6 ft 3 in (191 cm) and 235 lb (107 kg), he was one of the biggest running backs of his day and pounded through the middle of the field with relative ease, often dragging tacklers 5–10 yards.

He was described as a bulldozer or battering ram. His running style reminded people of a legendary power runner from the 1930s, Bronko Nagurski. Said Minnesota Vikings linebacker Jeff Siemon after Super Bowl VIII, "It's not the collision that gets you. It's what happens after you tackle him. His legs are just so strong he keeps moving. He carries you. He's a movable weight."[8] He rarely fumbled the ball or dropped a pass. He was also an excellent blocker.

Move to WFLEdit

In March 1974, Csonka, Kiick and Dolphin wide receiver Paul Warfield, announced they had signed contracts to play in the fledgling World Football League starting in 1975. Csonka signed a three-year guaranteed contract for a salary of $1.4 million. While their signings are credited with giving the WFL credibility, the league was plagued by financial problems right from the start. The three played for the Memphis Southmen, but Csonka and the others had minimal success and the league folded midway through its second season. Csonka carried the ball 99 times for 421 yards for 1 touchdown for Memphis in 1975.[9]

Giants and return to NFLEdit

A free agent again, he joined the New York Giants in 1976, along with Memphis coach John McVay. (The Giants' head coach at the time was Bill Arnsparger, who had previously been the Dolphins' defensive coordinator.) While hopes among fans were high that he could reverse the team's fortunes, these did not bear out. He tore ligaments in his knee, prematurely ending his first season there. He blamed the injury in part on Giants Stadium's artificial turf, and has been a vocal critic of the surface and its injury potential ever since (The Giants currently use a newer, more flexible Fieldturf). When the Giants started the season 0–7, Arnsparger was fired and replaced by McVay.

Two seasons later, he was on the field for The Miracle at the Meadowlands, the play that for years epitomized Giants' fans exasperation with the franchise's long-term mediocrity. On November 19, 1978, New York had apparently secured a 17–12 victory over the favored Philadelphia Eagles. However, with 31 seconds left to play and the Eagles out of timeouts, offensive coordinator Bob Gibson overruled quarterback Joe Pisarcik and called for the ball to be handed off to Csonka for a run up the middle, as Gibson felt Pisarcik was risking too much injury falling on the ball in an era before the quarterback kneel to run out the clock was allowed. However, Pisarcik botched the handoff and Eagles cornerback Herman Edwards returned the fumbled ball 29 yards for the winning touchdown. The Giants went into a tailspin afterwards, and finished 6–10 after a hopeful start.

The Giants let McVay go after the season ended. Csonka's contract was up, too, and he returned to Miami the next year. He ran for over 800 yards, his best since their Super Bowl days, and scored 13 touchdowns. On that high note, and unable to come to terms with the Dolphins on a new contract, he retired after the year was over.

In his 11 NFL seasons, Csonka carried the ball 1,891 times for 8,081 yards and 64 touchdowns. He also caught 106 passes for 820 yards and four touchdowns. He was among the NFL's top 10 ranked players in rushing yards four times, in rushing touchdowns five times, total touchdowns three times and yards from the line of scrimmage once. He earned All-AFC honors four times and was named All-Pro in 1971, 1972, and 1973. He was also selected to play in 5 Pro Bowls.

ReferencesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Csonka's website accessed on 10–22–07
  2. Underwood, John, "The Blood and Thunder Boys," Sports Illustrated, August 7, 1972
  3. Csonka, Larry, Jim Kiick, with Dave Anderson, Always on the Run, p.101. Random House, 1973 ISBN 0-394-48589-0
  4. Always on the Run, p.187
  5. Hyde, Dave, Still Perfect! The Untold Story of the 1972 Miami Dolphins, p90. Dolphins/Curtis Publishing, 2002 ISBN 0-9702677-1-1
  6. Danny Peary, ed., Super Bowl: The Game of Their Lives, pp.100–101. Macmillan, 1997 ISBN 0-02-860841-0
  7. Peary, Super Bowl: The Game of Their Lives, p. 116
  8. Herskowitz, Mickey, "Purple People Eaten by Dolphins," The Super Bowl: Celebrating a Quarter-Century of America's Greatest Game. Simon and Schuster, 1990 ISBN 0-671-72798-2
  9. WFL.org

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