Colorado State football’s forgotten star: Jack Christiansen

Ethan Lee

This holiday season, our beloved Colorado State Rams football team has given us little to be thankful for.
 
Thanksgiving break has come and gone, allowing us all to suppress our disappointment following two rivalry game losses to Air Force and the University of Wyoming with forkfuls of turkey and pumpkin pie. Hopefully, this food coma carried over to Friday to numb the pain of one final defeat at the hands of Boise State.

Surprisingly enough, however, things were not always this glum in Ram land. Colorado State football has a storied past filled with prior successes that should give current Rams fans reason to hope for a brighter future. Perhaps one of the brightest stars of CSU football lore is Jack Christiansen, a collegiate football phenom of the early 1950s.

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Jack Christiansen on the track in 1950. (Photo via CSU Athletics)
 

Christiansen, a three-sport athlete during his time at CSU, excelled in football and track. He played defensive back while also serving as a return specialist from 1948-50. His explosive playmaking ability earned him all-conference honors in his final two seasons at CSU. 

After graduating in the spring of 1951, Christiansen was selected with the 69th overall pick in the NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. As a pro, Christiansen racked up 46 career interceptions along with eight touchdowns. He was a five-time pro bowler and a six-time all-pro during his career. Christiansen also captured three NFL championships while playing for the Lions. 

After his playing career ended, he began coaching, and he initially served as an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers. Amid a losing season, the franchise decided to promote Christiansen to head coach. Christiansen served as the 49ers’ head coach for five seasons before being let go, finishing with an overall record of 26-38-3. 

After his release, he began working as an assistant coach for Stanford University. Much like in San Francisco, it did not take Christiansen long to rise in ranks until he was eventually named the head coach in 1972. During his five-year tenure as Stanford’s head coach, Christiansen amassed an overall record of 30-22-3. After his time ended at Stanford, Christiansen went on to serve for a handful of professional teams until his health forced him to walk away from the game. 

Although the resume outlined above resembles the dreams of many NFL hopefuls in today’s game, Christiansen’s greatest achievement overshadows it all. In 1970, Christiansen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, something that no other Colorado State Ram has ever accomplished. Sadly, 16 short years later, Christiansen passed away at the age of 57 after a long battle with cancer. 

Remember that just because things seem down for the CSU football team right now, better days could be just around the corner. 

Ethan Lee can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @EthanLee_99.