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Monday, June 18, 2012


Today, LaDainian Tomlinson will sign a ceremonial one day contract with the San Diego Chargers, the team that drafted him in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. Then he will immediately announce his retirement from the NFL. Tomlinson, with little reasonable argument to the contrary available, was the greatest running back of his time.


In the year 2000, a close friend of mine, with whom I attended LSU as an undergraduate, moved away to attend graduate school at Texas Christian University. Trying to fit in with the spirit of his new school, he dove into TCU football head first, long before the Horned Frogs were moving to the Big XII, qualifying for BCS Bowl Games and were, instead, competing for the top spot in the mid-major Western Athletic Conference.

Being the good friend that I am, I reminded him of all of the “real” college football action he was missing in Baton Rouge, with a revitalized LSU program under new head coach Nick Saban. My buddy mentioned that TCU had a star of its own, LaDainian Tomlinson. In a condescending, “isn’t that cute,” tone of voice, I chuckled and then said, “La-what to WHO?”

If you don't know, you'd better ask somebody! 1


In the words of the late Notorious B.I.G., “If you don’t know, now you know!” Tomlinson was relatively unknown at the start of his senior season, though on the radars of scouts and college football die-hards following a near-2,000 rushing yard junior season. On track to a 2,158 rushing yard senior year, he went from “relatively unknown” to “known” to “headliner” to “Heisman contender” very quickly. Tomlinson would finish the season as a Heisman finalist. He would be the fifth player chosen in the draft.

Fifth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft 3

There is always one person who insists upon arguing with the obvious in sports. So for those of you who disagree that Tomlinson was not the best running back of his time, let me rattle off a few facts.

  • Five time Pro Bowler (2002, 2004-2007)
  • Three time First Team Associated Press All-Pro (2004, 2006-2007)
  • Two time NFL rushing champion (2006-2007)
  • Associated Press MVP in 2006
  • NFL record 28 rushing touchdowns in 2006
  • NFL’s second all-time leader in career rushing touchdowns with 145 (Emmitt Smith: 164)
  • NFL’s fifth all-time leading rusher with 13,684 yards (Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin)
There were great backs in the league at the same time as L.T., such as Edgerrin James and Shaun Alexander. Nobody, however, strung together the consistency, dominance, and longevity like Tomlinson. He was a threat to score every time he touched the ball and was very difficult to tackle after he hit a hole, almost impossible to stop in the open field. If you disagree with my opinion, I invite your reply.

L.T. would do this a few (dozen) times in his career. 4

Running back years are like dog years. And even the great ones begin to slow down substantially around the eighth year of their careers, give or take a year. Tomlinson was no exception, though he continued to be a contributor to his last team, the New York Jets, in his thirties, averaging over four yards per carry and totaling over 2,000 yards from scrimmage during his two seasons in New York.

Regardless, his explosiveness as a runner had completely eroded by the end of the 2011 NFL season. At age 32, I think L.T. retired at the correct time, on his own terms and coming off of a season with a respectable amount of productivity, given his role.

Tomlinson’s ticket to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2017 induction is already punched. Today, Tomlinson returns to where is all started in the NFL, then rides off into the sunset. Thanks for the thrills and the memories, L.T..

Tomlinson with the Jets in 2010, age 31. 5
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