Syracuse Football Top 25 Players of All-Time: No. 5 Larry Csonka

Syracuse football, Larry Csonka (Photo by Ross Lewis/Getty Images)
Syracuse football, Larry Csonka (Photo by Ross Lewis/Getty Images) /

Syracuse Football has had a long history of success. We look back at some of the best players to play at Syracuse University. Up next, No. 5. Larry Csonka.

Syracuse Football has had a long list of outstanding players run through its’ program. Now that we have reached the Top Five on our list, we have truly have reached some of the greatest athletes ever to play the game of football, let alone at Syracuse University. For those who have followed Syracuse football through the years, you’ll know that most of the final five will be running backs. Syracuse University used to hold the title of Running Backs University (RB-U) for a reason, and in the next few days as we reveal the final five players and dive into their amazing Syracuse journeys you’ll see why. Starting us off at No. 5 is running back/fullback Larry Csonka.

Larry Csonka was not like the rest of the running backs on this list or the ones to come. He wasn’t fast per se, and he wasn’t the most agile player either. What he did possess was the ability to run the ball with power.

Now when I say power, I’m talking about an athlete that could burst through the line, bowling over defenders, and leave them in his wake. What’s worse is not only was he bruising back if he ran into you, he had the ability to brush off tackle after tackle, even if you had him around the ankles. He was the definition of a power back, one that could will his way to big yards and scores. Both at Syracuse and after in the NFL, Csonka was one of a kind and to this day is considered one of the best fullbacks to ever play the game of football.

Though Csonka is probably more known for being a major part of why the Miami Dolphins were contenders year-in and year-out in the 1970s, let alone undefeated in 1972, (the only team in NFL history to do so in both the regular season and postseason) he also had a tremendous career at Syracuse University first. During his time at Syracuse from 1965-1967, Csonka made a huge impact: one that Orange fans should not soon forget.

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In that era of Syracuse Football, the Orangemen liked to run the ball over and over again. Passing, sadly, was sort of an afterthought. As previously mentioned, players like Art Monk and John Mackey, both previously on this list, helped change that offensive philosophy for Syracuse later, but in the 1960’s the Orange were still adamant about running the ball more than passing. They had good reason to do so as they had the talent on the roster to do so effectively and to great success.

Syracuse legend Floyd Little was on the roster (1964-1966) when Csonka was there (1965-1967), and was used at running back for speedy runs, while Csonka was used as Syracuse’s change of pace/power back to bully through defenders for chunk yards they needed to pick up. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Csonka once said:

"“My role is to make the power running game work. A lot of plays I run are momentum plays. They are not designed for long gains. If you make four or five yards, everyone is happy. It’s not a spectacular strategy but I’ve lived and breathed it and I know it works.” -Larry Csonka"

Csonka lived by this motto and did so to great success. In his freshman year at Syracuse in 1965 he rushed 136 times for 795 yards (5.8-yard average), and four touchdowns, according to In comparison, he only had two catches for 13 yards that year. In other words, he mostly only ran the ball.

His next two years would be even more impressive. In his sophomore year in 1966, he would split carries with Floyd Little, but would still run the ball 197 times to the tune of 1,012 yards (5.1-yard average) and seven touchdowns. He also caught seven receptions for 48 yards. At the end of the year, he earned All-American honors, according to

In his third and final year in Orange in 1967, Csonka saved his best for last. Without Floyd Little on the team, he would rush the ball a whopping 261 times for 1,127 yards and eight touchdowns. He would also have 11 receptions for 125 yards and two touchdowns as well. He was also named an All-American for a second consecutive year as well. It’s no wonder the NFL came knocking after that!

From a statistical standpoint, Csonka sits highly on many of Syracuse Football’s all-time record books:

  • 261 carries in a season– 1967 (T-1st with Joe Morris)
  • 43 carries in a game against Maryland– 1967 (1st)
  • 15 career 100-yard rushing games (2nd)
  • 104.8 yards career rushing yards per game (2nd)
  • 112.7 rushing yards per game- 1967 (2nd)
  • Six 100-yard rushing games in 1966 and 1967 (Both seasons T-3rd)
  • 2,934 career rushing yards (4th)
  • 594 career carries (5th)
  • 35 carries against California- 1967 (6th)
  • 216 yards in a game against West Virginia- 1965 (T-6th- but was a school record for 14 years until Joe Morris broke it with a 252 yard rushing day against Kansas in 1979- a school record to this day)
  • 101.2 rushing yards per game- 1966 (7th)
  • 99.4 rushing yards per game- 1965 (9th)
  • 33 carries against Penn State- 1967 (9th)
  • 204 yards against California- 1967 (9th)
  • 1,127 yards rushing- 1967 (9th)

In his career at Syracuse, Csonka would finish with 594 rushes for 2,934 yards (4.9-yard avg.) and 19 rushing touchdowns to pair with 20 receptions for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t you’re traditional running back!

After his time at Syracuse, he was drafted eighth overall by the Miami Dolphins in the first round of the 1968 NFL draft, according to He would go on to have a spectacular career with the Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, and for one season, the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League (WFL)

HOUSTON, TX – JANUARY 13: Larry Csonka #39 of the Miami Dolphins carries the ball against the Minnesota Vikings during Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium January 13, 1974 in Houston, Texas. The Dolphins won the Super Bowl 24-7. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX – JANUARY 13: Larry Csonka #39 of the Miami Dolphins carries the ball against the Minnesota Vikings during Super Bowl VIII at Rice Stadium January 13, 1974 in Houston, Texas. The Dolphins won the Super Bowl 24-7. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

As previously mentioned, Csonka was a huge reason why the Miami Dolphins won multiple Super Bowls in the 1970s and went undefeated in 1972. In 1971, 1972, and 1973 the Dolphins went to the Super Bowl, winning two of them (VII, and VIII) and Csonka rushed for over 1,000 yards each season, according to the Pro-Football (1051 yards in 1971, 1117 yards in 1972, and 1003 yards in 1973. Unsurprisingly Csonka’s best season of those three, and his career, was 1972 when the Dolphins had a perfect season.

One of his best performances was when he helped the Dolphins win Super Bowl VIII at the end of the 1973 season. In that game he was named Most Valuable Player after rushing 33 times for a then Super Bowl record of 145 yards (now ranks 6th all-time) and two touchdowns.

Csonka would play with the Dolphins until 1964, but would opt to leave the NFL in a shocking move, and join the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League (WFL). In that 1965 season with them, the team would go 7-4 and Csonka would rush the ball 99 times for 421 yards (4.3-yard avg.) and one touchdown, according to He also caught five receptions for 54 yards and one touchdown as well. In other words, it was not his best season by any stretch, but luckily was good enough to keep NFL teams interested.

When the WFL folded the next year, he joined the New York Giants as a free agent and would play three seasons with them. Unfortunately, his time there was full of issues with injuries, lack of talent on the roster, and the organization as a whole. Despite that, in three years he recorded 385 carries for 1,344 yards (3.5-yard avg.) and 11 touchdowns to pair with 15 receptions for 132 yards.

After those three miserable seasons in New York, he would end up rejoining the Dolphins in 1979, winning Comeback Player of the Year before retiring the next year in 1980. In that final year, he rushed 220 times for 837 yards and 12 touchdowns to pair with 16 receptions for 75 yards and one touchdown.

In his 11-year NFL career, he rushed the ball 1,891 times for 8,081 yards (4.3-yard avg.) and 64 touchdowns. He also had 106 receptions for 820 yards and four touchdowns. He was named an All-Pro twice and selected to the Pro Bowl five times in his career. Csonka was later given the ultimate honor of being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987 and later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989, according to

In 1999, Syracuse Football selected Csonka to the Syracuse University All-Century Team. They would also retire his No. 39 Jersey as well in 2007, one of only a privileged few to do so at Syracuse.

Next. Syracuse football will always maintain ‘RB-U’ crown. dark

Csonka played during some of the glory days of Syracuse Football, and it would have been great to see him bully through defenders all game long as a fullback for the Orange. Even on tape, it’s still amazing what he was able to accomplish. His NFL career, especially with the Miami Dolphins is among the best of all-time. Csonka may not be as well known as Ernie Davis, Floyd Little or even Jim Brown, but he should be. He had a successful career both in college and in the pros that most would envy. There should be no doubt that he is in the conversation for being one of the best backs to ever play for Football, let alone at Syracuse, and that’s a legacy no one can ever take away from him.