- Larry Csonka
Running back/ Fullback
birthdate=birth date and age|1946|12|25
New York Giants(1976–1978)
* Miami Dolphins (1979)
Pro Bowlselection (1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974)
Super Bowlchampion (VII, VIII)
Super Bowl VIIIMVP
* Miami Dolphins #39 retired
Lawrence Richard Csonka (born
December 25, 1946) is an American former collegiate and professional running backin American footballwho played in the late 1960s and 1970s.
One of six children, Csonka was born in Stow,
Ohio. He was raised on a farm in a Hungarian family in Stow, learning out of necessity to stoically endure injuries and pain. He weighed almost ten pounds at birth, [http://www.larrycsonka.com Csonka's website] accessed on 10–22–07] 150 pounds at the age of 12, [Underwood, John, "The Blood and Thunder Boys," "Sports Illustrated", August 7, 1972] 237 pounds at the age of 16. He began his football career at Stow-Munroe Falls High Schoolas 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. [Csonka, Larry, Jim Kiick, with Dave Anderson, "Always on the Run", p.101. Random House, 1973 ISBN 0-394-48589-0]
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.
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 broke 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, 9th and 5th 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.
Miami and the Super Bowl years
Csonka was the #1 pick by the
American Football League's Miami Dolphinsin 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. ["Always on the Run", p.187]
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
concussionwhen 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. [Hyde, Dave, "Still Perfect! The Untold Story of the 1972 Miami Dolphins", p90. Dolphins/Curtis Publishing, 2002 ISBN 0-9702677-1-1] 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 Taseffbasically reengineered Csonka to where he became the Hall of Fame player. Csonka emerged as the offensive leader of the Dolphins.... [Danny Peary, ed., "Super Bowl: The Game of Their Lives", pp.100–101. Macmillan, 1997 ISBN 0-02-860841-0] 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." [Peary, "Super Bowl: The Game of Their Lives," p. 116]
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 Vikingslinebacker Jeff Siemonafter 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." [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] He rarely fumbled the ball or dropped a pass. He was also an excellent blocker.
Stories abound about Csonka's toughness. He broke his nose about ten times playing football in high school, college, and the pros, causing it to be permanently deformed, and he would remain in the game with blood pouring out of it. He may be the only running back to receive a personal foul for unnecessary roughness while running the ball, when, in a game against the
Buffalo Billsin 1970, he knocked out Safety John Pitts with a forearm shot that was more like a right cross. [Hyde, "Still Perfect!," pp.89–90.] In a close game against the Minnesota Vikings in the perfect season of 1972, Csonka was hit in the back by linebacker Roy Winstonin a tackle so grotesque it was shown on "The Tonight Show". Csonka thought his back was broken and he actually crawled off the field. Once on the sideline, he "walked it off" and in a few minutes was back in the game. His return to the game was crucial, as the winning touchdown pass to tight end Jim Mandichwas set up by a fake to Csonka. He was named the 10th toughest football player of all time in the 1996 NFL Films production "The NFL's 100 Toughest Players". Dolphins' offensive line coach Monte Clarkwas asked about Csonka's bruising running style, and he responded, "When Csonka goes on safari, the lions roll up "their" windows."
The Dolphins had one of professional football's best rushing attacks in the early 1970s. The Dolphins led the NFL in rushing in 1971 and 1972, setting a new rushing record in 1972 at 2,960 yards. Csonka's 1,117 yards that season combined with
Mercury Morriscontributing exactly 1,000 yards made them the first 1,000 yard rushing duo in NFL history. That rushing attack led the Dolphins to Super Bowls VI, VII, and VIII, with victories in the last two. Csonka's powerful running style set the tone for the ball-control Dolphins. He chose to run through defenders instead of around them, leading to three straight 1,000-yard seasons (1971–1973) and two seasons (1971–1972) in which he averaged more than 5 yards per carry, amazing for a fullback. His 5.4 yards per carry average in 1971 led the NFL. [cite web|title=Pro-Football-Reference Larry Csonka|url=http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/C/CsonLa00.htm|accessdate=2007-07-20] Teammate Bob Kuechenbergsaid that Csonka was the best back he ever saw for turning a 2-yard gain into a 5-yard gain. "The line got him the start, he got the finish and it added up to 4 or 5 yards every time," said Kuechenberg. [Hyde, "Still Perfect!," p.96.]
During the 1972 season, the Dolphins became the only team since the
AFL-NFL Mergerto go undefeated, and Csonka was an instrumental part of the success, rushing for a career best 1,117 yards. Csonka led all rushers in Super Bowl VII with 112 yards on only 15 carries. Late in the third quarter, Csonka had a run that epitomized his style. After breaking several tackles near the line of scrimmage, he rumbled for 49 yards. Near the end of that run, Washington Redskinscornerback Pat Fischer, who was known as a fearless and gritty tackler, came up to try to tackle Csonka. Instead of trying to avoid Fischer, Csonka actually turned toward him and threw a forearm at him, brushing the 175-pound Fischer aside.
In 1973, Csonka was voted Super Athlete of the Year by the
Professional Football Writers Association. That season, the Dolphins won a second straight title and "Zonk", as he was known, was the Super Bowl VIIIMVP. Exploiting brilliant blocking by his offensive line, he rushed 33 times for two touchdowns and a then-record 145 yards.
Csonka and his friend, Dolphins
running back Jim Kiick, were known as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The August 7, 1972issue of " Sports Illustrated" featured a profile of Csonka and Kiick. This issue has become a collector's item because of the cover photograph of Csonka and Kiick by famed "Sports Illustrated" photographer Walter Iooss, with Csonka making an obscene gesture with the middle finger of his right hand. In 1973, Csonka and Kiick, in collaboration with sportswriter Dave Anderson, wrote a book, "Always on the Run". (A second edition, with an additional chapter covering the 1973 season, Super Bowl VIII, and their signing with the World Football Leaguewas published in 1974.) Csonka and Kiick discuss their childhoods, their college football careers, their sometimes stormy relationship with Don Shula, their experiences as pro football players, and the sometimes outrageous behavior of their teammates. The book provides insight into the history of the Dolphins and the state of pro football in the late 1960s and early and mid-1970s.
Move to WFL
In March 1974, Csonka, Kiick and Dolphin wide receiver
Paul Warfield, announced they had signed contracts to play in the fledgling World Football Leaguestarting 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.
Giants and return to NFL
A free agent again, he joined the
New York Giantsin 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 coordinatorBob Gibson overruled quarterback Joe Pisarcikand 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 kneelto run out the clock was allowed. However, Pisarcik botched the handoff and Eagles cornerback Herman Edwardsreturned 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
Since his retirement, he has become a
motivational speakerand has hosted several huntingand fishingshows for OLN. He worked for the United States Football League(USFL) Jacksonville Bullsin the mid-1980s, first as director of scouting and then as General Manager. Csonka was also an analyst on the syndicated show "American Gladiators" from 1990–1993.
Csonka was inducted into the
Pro Football Hall of Famein 1987 and his #39 was retired by the Miami Dolphins in 2002. Csonka was named a member of the Super Bowl Dream Teamin an NFL Filmsproduction.
Between 1985 and 1990 Csonka started spending time in
Alaska, eventually spending most of the year in Anchorage. While observing the 1,161-mile (1,962-km) 2005 Iditaroddog sled race he said, "when I was playing and practicing in that heat in July and August in Miami with shoulder pads on, it just vaporized me". [Wilstein, Steve. [http://web.archive.org/web/20050312151221/http://www.sgvtribune.com/Stories/0,1413,205~29579~2751903,00.html Csonka feels right at Nome at Iditarod] , Associated Press, SVGTribune.com, 8 March 2005. (archived link)]
In early September 2005, Csonka and five others were returning by boat to the village of Nikolski on Umnak Island in Alaska's Aleutian's after filming a reindeer hunt on the island for Csonka's TV show, "North to Alaska". The boat was caught in a severe storm and nearly capsized. They rode out the storm for 10 hours before a Coast Guard helicopter could reach them and rescue them one-by-one in a basket. [ [http://www.larrycsonka.com/RescueNews.htm Rescue profile on Csonka's website] , accessed on 24 October 2006.]
In 2006, Csonka pled guilty and paid a small fine for filming on
National Forestland in Alaska and failing to obtain the required special use permit for production of his cable show. [ [http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=2414238 Csonka fined $5K for filming without permit] , Associated Press, ESPN.com, 19 April 2006.]
Csonka currently resides in Anchorage. He also maintains a farm in
Lisbon, Ohioand operates Goodrich Seafood House in Oak Hill, Florida. Csonka currently appears in television commercials for the Alaska Spine Institute, an Anchorage-based physical rehabilitation center.
Media references and film appearances
Csonka had a non-credited role as "Cmdr. Delaney" in the 1976 film Midway. He also made periodic guest appearances on episodes of various TV series. [ [http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0190760/ Csonka's IMDB page] ]
Csonka is referenced frequently in Episode 910 ("The Final Sacrifice") of the cult TV show "
Mystery Science Theater 3000" (since a character resembles him).
Csonka is also mentioned in
MC Ren's "Same Ol'..." track.
* [http://www.larrycsonka.com/ Official website]
* [http://www.profootballhof.com/hof/member.jsp?player_id=50 Pro Football Hall of Fame biography]
* [http://pro-football-reference.com/players/CsonLa00.htm Pro-Football-Reference.com stats]
* [http://collegefootball.org/famersearch.php?id=60028 College Football Hall of Fame biography]
* [http://www.mst3kinfo.com/aceg/9/910/ep910.html MST3k Episode Guide: The Final Sacrifice]
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