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Csonka grew up in Stow and started his football career at Stow-Munroe Falls High School. He was the starting tailback on the famous 1963 Stow Bulldogs squad that won the state championship under former Bulldogs coach Dick Fortner. He played for Stow from 1960–1963, and attended the school from 1959–1963, because at that time, freshmen were not allowed to participate in varsity sports.
He went on to Syracuse University, where he became an All-American playing fullback. He broke many of the school's rushing records, including some previously held by the great Jim Brown. In 1968, he was a #1 draft pick by the American Football League's Miami Dolphins, and by the 1970s he became 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 runners of his day and pounded through the middle of field with relative ease. He was also incredibly sure-handed, rarely fumbling the ball or dropping a pass. But, by far his proudest moment at college was his victory in the annual 'grow your mo' competition.
In his 3 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. In 1989, he was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Miami and the Super Bowl years
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. 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 Tasseff basically reengineered Csonka to where he became the Hall of Fame player. Csonka emerged as the offensive leader of the Dolphins..." Over the next four seasons, Csonka never missed a game, and he led the Dolphins in rushing the next five seasons.
Larry formed a great relationship with running back Jim Kiick and the two were referred to as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Together with Eugene "Mercury" Morris, the Dolphins had one of football's best rushing attacks. It led the Dolphins to three consecutive Super Bowls in the early '70s, with two victories. Csonka rushed for over a thousand yards in each of those years. Csonka's powerful running style set the tone for the ball-control Dolphins. He chose to run through players instead of dancing around them, leading to three straight 1,000-yard seasons in which he averaged more than 5 yards per carry. Teammate Bob Kuechenberg said 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. During the 1972 season, the Dolphins became the only team since the AFL-NFL Merger to go undefeated, and Csonka was an instrumental part of the success, rushing for a career best 1,117 yards. The following season, the Dolphins won a second straight title and "Zonk", as he was known, was the Super Bowl MVP.
Move to WFL
After 1974, he had a contract dispute with the Dolphins and became one of three Dolphins, along with Kiick and Paul Warfield, to jump to the fledgling World Football League for the 1975 season. 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 Giants in 1976, along with Memphis coach John McVay. 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 have since returned to natural grass for home games).
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 instead of the expected quarterback kneel to run out the clock.
Csonka pleaded with Pisarcik to change the play, and as they left the huddle said he would not take the ball. 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, 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 4 touchdowns. He was among the NFL's top 10 ranked players in rushing yards 4 times, in rushing touchdowns 5 times, total touchdowns 3 times and yards from the line of scrimmage once. He was selected to play in 5 Pro Bowls.
Csonka was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987 and his #39 was retired by the Miami Dolphins in 2002. Since his retirement, he has become a motivational speaker and has hosted several hunting and fishing shows for OLN. Csonka was also an analyst on the popular syndicated show American Gladiators from 1990-1993.
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 Iditarod dog 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"..
Most people believe that 1979 was Larry Csonka's best year, as he ran for 837 yards and ran in 12 TDs.
|2 year AFL career||22||269||1106||4.1||8||0|
|9 year NFL career||124||1622||6975||4.3||56||0|
|2 year AFL career||22||32||301||9.4||2||0|
|9 year NFL career||124||74||519||7||2||0|
Fumble Recovery Stats
|2 year AFL career||22||4||1||0||0||0|
|9 year NFL career||124||17||1||0||0||0|
- Won the Super Bowl MVP in 1973
- Won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1979