Before Tuesday night, I hadn’t thought about LaDainian Tomlinson in a while. The former Chargers star last made a Pro Bowl in 2007 and last played in the NFL in 2011, and he hasn’t had a particularly visible post-playing career.
Then Tomlinson was named one of 15 finalists for the NFL Hall of Fame, and I remembered: That guy was the best.
Tomlinson’s incredible career is evident in the statistics: He ranks fifth all-time in rushing yards, second in rushing touchdowns and third in overall touchdowns. And it’s evident in the accolades: He reached five Pro Bowls was named First-Team All-Pro three times and won the NFL MVP award in 2006.
But more than anything, LT’s greatness is evident in the highlights. Tomlinson was quick enough to beat a defender to the outside but strong enough to break tackle after tackle. His stiff arm was unbreakable and his jukes were unpredictable. Tomlinson shimmying past defenders in his gorgeous powder-blue Chargers uniform is one of the defining images of the NFL in the first decade of the 21st century.
I was a preteen kid during Tomlinson’s career in San Diego, and even though I lived on the other side of the country, I asked for a Tomlinson jersey for my birthday and always played as the Chargers in Madden. I’d call endless outside runs and see if I could get Tomlinson to 400 yards rushing.
During Tomlinson’s career, he was often mentioned among the historically great backs, right alongside Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and the other all-timers. Then Tomlinson petered out early, Adrian Peterson came along, and we seemed to forget about LT.
Of course, Tomlinson should go into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, which should remind everyone just how awesome he was. In the meantime, treat yourself to some highlights.