June 18, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers former running back LaDainian Tomlinson speaks during his retirement press conference at Charger Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

LaDainian Tomlinson: Greatest Running Back Ever?

It’s not really going out on a limb by pronouncing that recent retiree, LaDainian Tomlinson, is the greatest player ever to don a Charger’s uniform. You would have had to live under a rock for the last eleven years not to know that. Many players have worn the powder blue and lightning yellow jersey of the Chargers over their inglorious fifty two year history, but none had been as prolific and dominant as LaDainian Tomlinson. The greatest Charger of all time discussion is not even debatable. It’s LT and then everyone else.

This man single handily put the team on his back year after year as he captured five AFC West titles (the Chargers only have ten in their entire history). The more appropriate question: Is LaDainian Tomlinson among one of the greatest running backs of all time? I might be a bit biased because I grew up watching Tomlinson and was awestruck by his impressive 2006 campaign where he nearly broke every offensive NFL record. But I will put my opinions to the side for now and compare him with other great running backs over the years.

By The Numbers

Player Rushing Yards Rushing Touchdowns Total Touchdowns Super Bowl Victories Years
LaDainian Tomlinson 13,684 145 162 0 2001-2011
Emmitt Smith 18,355 164 175 3 1990-2004
Walter Payton 16,726 110 125 1 1975-1987
Barry Sanders 15,269 99 109 0 1989-1998
Jim Brown 12,312 106 126 1 1957-1965

            To start off my argument championships and Super Bowl victories are not as crucial in cementing ones legacy in football in comparison to a sport like basketball. For example, Lebron James’s entire legacy rides on  how many championships he wins over his career because one player can create a much larger impact on the entire game. No matter how many record he breaks and MVP awards he garners it will make no difference to his critics if he doesn’t win numerous championships. In football, however, there are so many other factors that go into the game that star players, such as running backs and wide receivers, can’t control. Nonetheless, we must still tip our cap to Emmitt Smith who was a large factor for his team winning three championships in the 90’s. Of course as we well know, Tomlinson did not lead us to a Super Bowl or even an appearance for that matter. In spite of the fact, LT still had a remarkable career here in San Diego.

June 18, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers former running back LaDainian Tomlinson (left) and Chargers president Dean Spanos hold up a Tomlinson jersey during his retirement press conference at Charger Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-US PRESSWIRE

Looking at the chart, LT’s career rushing yards do not stack up as well against Smith, Payton, and Sanders. Also, we must consider that Brown only played nine years in the NFL, but still has nearly as many rushing yards gained as Tomlinson. On the other hand, where LT lacks in yards he makes up for in touchdowns, which in reality is the main premise of football. Getting the ball into the end zone and Tomlinson is one of the best at doing that. He holds and shares nearly every scoring, rushing touchdown, and total touchdown record. To be exact he holds or shares 37 NFL records! In 2006, Tomlinson had one of the greatest seasons ever not only by a running back, but from an offensive player too as he easily snagged the AP NFL MVP. He broke both the single season rushing (28) and total touchdown record (31) along with the most points ever scored in a single season (186).

LT had many facets to his game. Besides being a tremendous running back, Tomlinson was one of the best receiving halfbacks to ever play the game. Teams had to be aware of the elusive 5’9″ LT as he was always a major threat in the open field during his entire career. In 2003, he became the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and record 100 receptions in the same season. We also can’t go without mentioning that LT was quite a remarkable passer. In only twelve passing attempts he has seven passing touchdowns! Tomlinson’s ability to beat his opponent in so many ways made him a unique player to watch. You never knew what he was going to do next.

Nov 29, 2009; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson (21) reacts after scoring on a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers defeated the Chiefs 43-14. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

Despite, his many records and glamorous career we cannot quite crown LT as the greatest running back of all-time. Earlier, I wrote that championships do not define a player’s career in the NFL, but there is no way we can place LT ahead of Emmitt Smith or even Barry Sanders for that matter. Regardless of his outstanding eleven year run in the NFL, the first image that will always pop into my head is that of an injured LT that sat on the sidelines during the 2008 AFC Championship game with his jacket and helmet on sulking as his quarterback was out on the field playing through a torn ACL. This may sound harsh, but like Deion Sanders’s said in 2008 after the game, “You’re a big-time player, and big-time players must play big-time games”. This is not the kind of iconic moment that you would like to associate with the greatest running back ever.

Nevertheless, I would like to take this moment to thank you Mr. Tomlinson for giving San Diego the best nine years of football in the entire franchise’s history. Along the way you have given us lasting memories and at the same time cemented yourself as one of the greatest figures in San Diego sports history. You not only ran through holes on the field, but into our hearts as well.

Tags: "New York Jets" "San Diego Chargers" Barry Sanders Emmitt Smith Jim Brown LaDainian Tomlinson Walter Payton

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