On Monday, June 18th, LaDainian Tomlinson announced his retirement after signing a one-day contract with the San Diego Chargers, the team and city he called home for 9 seasons. Those years in San Diego were nothing short of magical as LT led the Chargers to an unprecedented level of success for the organization, with the team capturing the AFC West 5 separate occasions.
Going into the 2001 draft, the Chargers held the 1st overall selection but traded it to the Atlanta Falcons for the 5th overall, the team’s 3rd round selection and WR/KR Tim Dwight. The Chargers front office built the future of the franchise by drafting Tomlinson in the 1st round then selecting Purdue QB Drew Brees in the 2nd. While the team dwelled in mediocrity for several seasons, the young running back from Rosebud, TX shined as he garnered league wide recognition as he rushed for over 1,200 yards as a rookie while adding 8 rushing touchdowns and 59 receptions. He furthered himself in his second season as he upped his yardage & touchdowns to 1,683 & 14, while still recording 79 receptions.
The 2004 season would prove to be a breakthrough for not only LT, but also for the Chargers as they finally reached the playoffs behind the stellar play of their running back and the improved play of Brees as the team finished 12-4 and won the division. Thru just his first 5 seasons in San Diego, Tomlinson rushed for 7,361 while adding another 2,292 receiving yards off of 342 receptions, not to mention his 70 total touchdowns (he also threw for 4 in that timespan). He missed just one game during this 5 year run as well. However, these seemed to be a warmup as LT continued to stamp his name in the NFL record books with his 2006 campaign.
In that season, LT put up “videogame” numbers as he ran for over 1,800 yards, caught over 500 yards, and scored a combined 31 touchdowns, setting an all-time record. He finished the season with 2,323 yards from scrimmage as he led the Chargers to a franchise best 14-2 finish. While the season ended with LT visually and verbally upset by the actions of the New England Patriots after the Chargers loss in the divisional playoffs, most fans will remember that season as LT solely winning fantasy football leagues world wide.
It proved difficult for LT to live up to his record 2006 campaign as his numbers dropped in both 2007 & 2008, although he still rushed for over 1,000 yards in both seasons while leading his team to the playoffs. However, the bottom fell out on LT in 2009 as he averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and for the first time in his career rushed under the century mark, although he was severly hobbled by an ankle injury sustained opening day of that season. The team still went 13-3, but were upset by the New York Jets.
It was time for a change for Tomlinson, as he was released by his organization at the beginning of the 2010 offseason. However, he soon found a home as he signed a 2 year, 5.2 million dollar contract with the Jets. He sighted the team’s philosophy and personnel, as well as their recent success as to why he would leave for the East Coast.
While LT had limited success in New York (almost gained 1,000 yards in his first season on a timeshare with young RB Shonn Greene), LT will forever be remembered as his days as a Charger. It’s fitting that the organization leaked that they would retire his jersey even before he signed with the Jets. LT was a major reason why the Chargers were brought out of mediocrity, and although they never won the Superbowl (although many years they were considered to be the most talented team on paper), I don’t believe LT should be blamed for their lack of ultimate success. Here are just a few of the records & awards that LT holds or shares:
- NFL record for single season touchdowns (31)
- NFL record for most points scored in a single season (186)
- Most games with 2+ Rushing touchdowns (38)
- Most games with 3+ Rushing touchdowns (12)
- NFL Record for most games with 200+ yards from scrimmage in a season (5, 2003)
- Most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown (18, 2004-2005)
- Most consecutive games with 2+ rushing touchdowns (8, 2006)
- Most consecutive seasons with 1,200+ yards rushing (7)
- Most consecutive seasons with 1,300+ yards rushing (6)
- NFL record for most seasons with 10+ rushing touchdowns (9)
- Share NFL record for most seasons with 11+ rushing touchdowns (8, tied with Emmitt Smith)
- 5x Pro Bowl (2002, 04-07)
- 4x First Team All Pro (2004-07)
- 2x Second Team All-Pro (2002-03)
- AP & PFWA NFL MVP (2006), Walter Payton Man of the Year
I recently had a debate with a coworker or whether LT is a top-5 running back of all time. He had some of the most dominating individual seasons which resulted in team success, but how much would a lack of a superbowl ring change our long-term outlook of the former Charger? Here’s my quick list of the top 10 greatest running backs.
The Running Back Gods – the top 5 of the position, these guys changed the way the game was played and inspired legions of young kids to emulate their idols. In no particular order:
- Walter Payton, Bears – the former all-time leading rusher, Sweatness was the definition of consistency while playing for the Bears. To me, LT was the modern Payton.
- Barry Sanders, Lions – Retired at such a young age, he would have easily passed Sweatness for the league’s all-time rusher. Although he never won a superbowl, he was easily the most elusive back of all time with highlight run after highlight run.
- Jim Brown, Browns – The first real unstoppable player in the NFL, Brown was an absolute beast, routinely demoloshing opponents. If you want to see some insane clips, look no further than here
- Gale Sayers, Bears – Revolutionizing the game with his speed and his explosivity, made his impact as a runner, receiver and returner.
- Emmitt Smith, Cowboys – Cowboys would be fairly upset if Smith wasn’t in the top 5, he is the league’s all time leading rusher (18,355) and a 3x superbowl champion.
Interesting fact of the prior group, only 2 superbowl winners.
The Running Back Immortals – While not everyone can be considered a god, these 5 will live on forever. Again in no particular order:
- Ladanian Tomlinson, Chargers – Please read above
- Earl Campbell, Oilers among others – The Animal, nearly impossible to bring down. He was bigger, stronger, and faster than the defenses he played in. His first few brutal, punishing seasons limited him later in his career, but still one of the best running backs ever.
- Marshall Faulk, Colts & rams – Maybe the most multi-impactful running backs ever, whether he was rushing for 1,300 yards in a season, or snagging 87 balls for the “Greatest Show on Turf”, Faulk is the only player in history to reach 12,000 yards rushing and 6,000 receiving.
- Erick Dickerson, Rams & Colts primarily – Dickerson holds the record for most yards in a season, was also the fastest to reach 10,000. Think Chris Johnson minus the grill & hair but add the 80′s style and goggles.
-John Riggins, ‘Skins & Jets – The Diesel, Riggins rumbled through the NFL in two successful stints (following a contract dispute), 10,000 yard rusher and former superbowl MVP. Check out his records