By Tolly Taylor
Bob Christian and his parents were huddled in his Sargent Hall dorm room at Northwestern when he finally got the call. The Atlanta Falcons had picked the fullback in the 12th and final round of the 1991 NFL Draft.
“My day wasn’t what I thought it would be,” said Christian, who had been projected by draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. to go in the middle rounds. “Late in the day, I started to lose hope.”
Twenty-five years later, as the NFL prepares for this year’s draft Thursday through Saturday in Chicago, Christian says he is proud of his career. The only Falcon drafted that year who lasted longer in the league was a second-round pick named Brett Favre, who took the Green Bay Packers to two Super Bowls, winning one.
Christian lasted 11 years in the NFL, helped the 1998 Falcons reach the Super Bowl and was named the league’s best fullback that year by Sports Illustrated.
“I was totally honored (by SI’s award),” Christian said by phone recently, “because so many people never gave me the benefit of the doubt.”
The first time the Falcons had him, they cut him in training camp. The San Diego Chargers did the same in 1992, before Christian caught on that year with the Chicago Bears.
Christian likes telling people he was drafted a second time — by the Carolina Panthers, in their 1995 expansion draft. He scored the first touchdown in franchise history, but missed the 1996 season with a torn pectoral muscle.
His next and final stop was back in Atlanta for six seasons. He helped Jamal Anderson rush for an NFC-leading 1,846 yards in 1998, but a knee injury in the 14th game sidelined Christian for the rest of the season and the playoffs. The Falcons finished 14-2 in the regular season, but lost to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.
“That team was the best team I ever played on,” said Christian. “We won a lot of games, but we were also so close with one another.”
Christian retired after the 2002 season and joined his brother, Tommy, as a trainer at TCBOOST Sports Performance in Northbrook. He then moved to Owasso, Oklahoma, where he recently earned his certified flight instructor rating. He plans to be a corporate pilot.
Christian says that after the Falcons first drafted him in 1991, on his flight to rookie mini-camp, he thought about what he wanted from his career in the NFL.
“I just wanted to earn a starting role, play six years and retire,” Christian said. Not bad for a 12th-round pick.