There he goes, scampering into the end zone and cementing his legacy into the record books. Running to the left, escaping a would-be tackler making it to his destination for what would be one of three touchdowns that day. That touchdown marked his 28th rushing touchdown of the year, enough to give him the record of most rushing touchdowns in a single season. He wasn’t done though. He ended the 2006 season totaling 31 touchdowns as well as leading the league in rushing. LaDainian Tomlinson, one of the most prolific players in Chargers history, ran away with the MVP award.
Tomlinson wasn’t the talk of the town as he was leaving high school. There were teams out there for him but not many viewed him as a starting running back. He hadn’t started a single game at running back until his senior year. With all the doubts swirling around him, Tomlinson went on to Texas Christian University. His freshman and sophomore year, he was forced to share the load with fellow running back Basil Mitchell. Despite his shared load, he helped the Horned Frogs win their first bowl game in 41 long years. His junior season was his time to shine. What Tomlinson had done that year had never been done before. He set an NCAA FBS record for the most rushing yards in a single game with 406 against UTEP. That record still stands today. He finished that season with 1,850 yards and 18 touchdowns. His senior season, he finished as a unanimous first-team All-American by running for 2,158 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also won the Doak Walker Award, being named the best running back in the nation. Tomlinson may have fallen short of the Heisman, but he left college football as the sixth ranked rusher in NCAA Division-I history, leaving his mark. His jersey was eventually retired in 2005.
In the 2001 NFL Draft, Tomlinson heard his name called by the Commissioner at the podium, being drafted by the San Diego Chargers with the fifth overall pick. He had made it. 5,263 yards and 54 touchdowns later, his NFL dream was granted.
He was the focal point of the Chargers offense, and soon to be, one of the best players in the teams’ history. Tomlinson became an immediate success in the NFL rushing for 1,236 yards on a bad Chargers team his rookie season. He reached his first Pro Bowl in his second season and in his third, he was the first player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards and record 100 receptions in the same season. By his fourth season, Tomlinson had reached 50 career touchdowns. In 2005, Tomlinson became only the seventh player in NFL history to catch, run, and throw for a touchdown in the same game. He had also broken his ribs that season, but ultimately, played through the pain and finished the season with 1,462 yards, 370 receiving yards, and a career high 20 touchdowns. The 2006 season came with many broken records. Tomlinson set records by scoring 14 touchdowns in a span of 4 games, 16 touchdowns in 5 games, and 19 touchdowns in 6 games. That season, he had also scored a franchise record four touchdowns in three different games. Tomlinson became the fastest player in NFL history to score 100 touchdowns, surpassing the likes of Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith. On December 3, 2006 Tomlinson became the first running back ever to rush for at least 1,236 yards in his first six seasons, in which he carried that over to his seventh season. He finished that season with a record-breaking 28 rushing touchdowns and 31 total touchdowns, capping the 2006 season off as the MVP.
Tomlinson’s career with the Chargers came to an abrupt end after the 2009 season had ended when he was released by the team after struggling to remain the same player he had been in his first seven seasons. After an emotional press conference, Tomlinson eventually signed on with the New York Jets, a team that the Chargers had lost to in the divisional round of the playoffs months prior. Being let go by the Chargers did not stop him. He has been in the position of doubt before. All he had to do was let his work do the talking. He strived to show that he was not washed up, that he still had lots left in the tank. All he needed was a chance, in which the Jets had given him.
In his first season with the Jets, Tomlinson shared the load with fellow teammate, Shonn Greene. Just like in his first two seasons of college, he wasn’t going to let sharing the load hold him down. He finished the season with 914 yards and only six touchdowns, helping lead the Jets back to the playoffs and eventually, to a playoff win against than Peyton Manning’s led Colts.
The following season, Tomlinson’s play took a major downturn finishing the season with only 280 yards and one touchdown. After his contract with the Jets expired at the season’s end, Tomlinson was mulling over whether he wanted to play another down again in the NFL. Ultimately, his decision was to retire leading him to sign a ceremonial contract with the San Diego Chargers to retire as a Charger and end his career where he had started. Another emotional press conference, but this time it was for something that was good, heartwarming.
Now, just three seasons after ending his storied NFL career, and 14 years after his storied college career, Tomlinson will be getting inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He will be one of 16 coaches and players that will be inducted in on December 9, 2014.
Tomlinson left the NFL atop all-time lists being second in rushing touchdowns with 145, third in total touchdowns with 162, and the fifth best rusher in NFL history with 13,684. Tomlinson followed in the footsteps of his mentors, the guys he looked up to as a kid. Players such as, Emmitt Smith, Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, and Marshall Faulk. Today, Tomlinson is one of the best running backs in NFL history having his name thrown around with the likes of those such legends. He has done many great things in his career, breaking records is just one of them. As he prepares to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, there is only one place he’d like to break into as well. Canton, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Two years and Tomlinson could be a first ballot HOF. Two more years and his legacy may finally be cemented into NFL history, permanently.