Monday, June 18, 2012

LaDainian Tomlinson: Sometimes a Jet, Always a Charger

The Chargers should actually thank Ryan Leaf, but I'm guessing they probably won't.

For all of his meltdowns and his abysmal record, he actually left them with an incredible parting gift.

LaDanian Tomlinson. (And consequently Drew Brees, who had a lot to do with Tomlinson's stellar career.)

After a miserable 1-15 2000 season, the failed Leaf Experiment (he went 1-8 on the season) led to the starting of now 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, who fared no better (0-5) as the end of his career was drawing near.

Obviously the no. 1 pick in the 2001 NFL Draft went to San Diego, but the Atlanta Falcons, who finished the season a paltry 4-12, held the highly coveted no. 5 pick.

 Atlanta, hungry for the electrifying skills of Michael Vick, offered a mountain to the Chargers, who were more than certain they could land Tomlinson with the 5th pick in the draft.

The Falcons easily obliged, trading their no. 5 pick and no. 67 pick in the 2001 Draft, their second round choice in the 2002 draft and slot WR and KR specialist Tim Dwight for the no. 1 pick in the draft.

Atlanta fooled no one, drafting Michael Vick with the first pick of the draft, while LT, coming out of TCU, became a Bolt. With the no.33 pick in the same draft, the Chargers picked up Drew Brees, the hard-throwing Boilermaker from Purdue, and the two would form the most formidable 1-2 punch for the early part of both of their stellar careers.

LT's rookie campaign was stunning as he rushed for 1,236 yards on 339 carries and had 59 catches for 367 yards, hitting paydirt 10 times on the season.

And the fun was just beginning.

When Drew Brees finally hit the backfield, the two were unstoppable as "Martyball" (Marty Schottenheimer's offense) went into full effect. Tomlinson became just the second back in NFL history to eclipse 100 catches on the season in 2003. Just three years later, Tomlinson would break the rushing touchdown season record held previously by Shaun Alexander, rushing for over 1,800 yards and 28 touchdowns, garnering his first and only NFL MVP season.

From 2002 through 2007, he averaged 1,569 yards and 17.5 touchdowns on 338 carries per season, something that may never again be seen in the NFL as the league paradigm starts shifting away from the trenches and more towards the air show.

For as elusive and all-around as LT was, the biggest game always eluded him as he never won a championship game or Super Bowl in his career, but that never kept him from being successful.

His 18,456 all-purpose yards ranks 7th all-time, while his 162 touchdowns ranks only behind Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith on the career list.

Today he retires after 11 years, two as a Jet and nine as a Charger, but he also retires as one of the greatest to ever play the game. He kept his head down, his mouth shut and his eyes on the endzone. He knew nothing of off the field issues and he didn't linger past his prime. He should be a shoo-in at the 2017 NFL Hall of Fame induction, his first year of eligibility. Anything else would be crimes against humanity.

He will definitely be missed, but he'll never be forgotten.

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