Way Back Wednesday: Tony Cristiani Miami Hurricanes

When learning about the size of some consensus All American players from around 50 years ago, a football fan realizes how much the game has changed.

Miami’s two time All American and consensus All American Defensive Lineman in 1973, Tony Cristiani, was all of 5-9, 215. That’s not even big for a Safety these days, and some players at that position are even bigger than that. Josh Harvey-Clemons, the Louisville star Safety is about 6-5, 230.

But, in his day and time, Cristiani was a great player.

Tony Cristiani also had an unusual childhood and not the kind that you hear about very often.

Back in my day, kids used to joke around about running away from home and joining maybe the French Foreign Legion. Or, they may have said they were running away and joining the circus.

If Tony Cristiani had mentioned joining the circus, he just would have been talking about going home to his own family. Cristiani’s family were circus performers and he learned how to walk the tightrope as a youngster and all of the circus activities.  His family even had their own circus in Sarasota, Florida named after Tony’s father and uncles. It was the Cristiani Brothers Circus, but that part of the world is home to other circus acts like Ringling Brothers.


As a high school football player at Brandon, Florida Tony Cristiani earned All State honors and was noticed by the Miami Hurricanes where he signed to play his college football.

Not only were the players a lot smaller, college football was different in other ways as well. Offenses weren’t wide open back then. But, maybe the biggest difference was that freshmen weren’t eligible to play on the varsity.

Schools had their own freshman teams and guys like Tony Cristiani had to play on thos freshman teams before competing for a starting position on the varsity.

Back when Cristiani signed with the Miami Hurricanes, they were a far cry from what they were later on when they were packed full of talent and competing for national titles. About the only famous Hurricane football player from those years was Ted ‘the Mad Stork’ Hendricks who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Hurricanes were 4-6 in 1969 when Cristiani was playing high school football at Brandon, Florida. Other than South beach and warmer weather, there weren’t a lot of reasons to play for the Hurricanes back then. During his freshman season, the Hurricanes finished with a less than admirable 3-8 record. After starting with a 4-2 record in 1971, Miami lost their last 5 games and finished with a rather poor 4-7 record.

Cristiani’s junior and senior seasons weren’t a lot better for the Hurricanes with identical 5-6 records. The Miami Hurricanes were yet a few years away from head coach Howard Schnellenberger and

Quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar and their first national championship.

There were not a lot of teams better than the Miami Hurricanes from 1983 until around 2002.

But, Tony Cristiani was an All American in 1972 on the Defensive Line after he had 15 Quarterback sacks. During his senior season and the consensus All American honors bestowed upon him, he had 102 total tackles whicis pretty incredible for a Defensive Lineman in any era. Despite that already mentioned lack of size, Cristiani could reportedly bench press over 400 pounds.

As you can imagine, there was not a lot of interest in Tony Cristiani by the NFL. He may have been really quick and an excellent pass rusher, but he was just too small. He did play a little Professional football in the World Football League and then with the Canadian Football league.

His Pro football career was really short, but if you need a guy to walk a tight rope for you, Tony Cristiani just may be your guy.

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