LT 2.0 Retires: The End of a Legendary Career

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Updated: June 21, 2012

He may not have been as dominant as the original LT, but his career was just as legendary.

LaDainian Tomlinson retired Monday, June 18th, at the age of 32 after 11 years in the NFL. One of the greatest running backs of our generation, LT was responsible for innovating his position, making his name not only as one of the league’s premier running threats, but also a force out of the backfield as a receiving option and occasionally even serving as a passing option. Yes, you read that correctly. LT had seven touchdown passes in his career. Seven. I could be wrong, but that might be more than JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf had in their careers combined. That stat displays exactly how talented this guy was; he could literally do it all.

LT was the fifth overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, but his story does not begin there. He had a legendary college career, helping put TCU on the collegiate football map and paving the way for future Horned Frogs such as Andy Dalton, Jeremy Kerley, and Jerry Hughes. Arguably the most famous “Horned Frog” in school history, LT played out all four years of his eligibility for TCU and helped turn the program around. During his tenure he led the team to its first bowl game victory in 41 years, set an NCAA record for most rushing yards in a single game with 406, led the country in rushing yards his junior and senior years, and won the Doak Walker award his senior year, becoming the first Horned Frog ever to win the prestigious award. He also finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 2000. Chris Weinke may have won the Heisman that year, but LT is most likely fine with the way things turned out for him.

In the Draft the next year, the Chargers traded down from the 1st pick to the 5th pick and selected Tomlinson while the Atlanta Falcons selected Michael Vick first overall. After that, as they say, the rest is history. LT quickly established himself as a premier back after winning the starting job in his rookie season, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns in his first year in the league. The one blemish on his rookie-year stat line is the 8 fumbles he coughed up, which would be the most in a single year for his career. The highest since then was 6 in 2004, but by then he had already become a pro-bowler so fans and critics alike could deal with that stat.

You cannot talk about LaDainian Tomlinson’s career without mentioning his career year in 2006, when he set the NFL record for most touchdowns in a single season with 36; 31 on the ground, 3 receiving and 2 more passing. In addition, he rushed for a league-leading 1,815 yards, and was rewarded for his spectacular year by winning the 2006 NFL MVP Award. Shockingly, this would be the only time in his outstanding career that he won the award. In one of the most productive and astounding seasons in history, LT solidified himself not only as the best running back in the NFL, but as one of the greatest players in the league. He didn’t just turn heads on the field either. That same year he won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which is given to a player who not only performs on the field, but recognizes the importance of volunteer and charity work in his team’s community off the field.

In his first 8 years in the league, he played and started in all but one game. His work ethic and his leadership qualities were truly what separated him from the rest. Not only was he the best player on his team year in and year out in San Diego, he was the guy who worked the hardest as well as the one that kept the ship above water for his team when it was necessary. When Philip Rivers came under fire, LT defended him. When Mark Sanchez was criticized for his poor play, LT had his back. I think the one quality that a lot of people don’t necessarily associate with LT is that he truly was a great teammate. When the New York Jets signed him before the 2010 season, it was probably out of necessity for a guy who had the intangibles to lead a team with a young, inexperienced quarterback to a playoff berth. Despite never winning a championship, LT had the heart of a winner and it is a shame that a player of his caliber never had the opportunity to taste true victory. That may sound corny, but if there was ever a guy who deserved to win a championship, it’s LT.

It’s always upsetting when a legend retires, even if he’s no longer in his prime. The fact of the matter is, however, that Tomlinson is just another primary example of a running back whose production drastically dropped after reaching 30 years of age. Shaun Alexander, Priest Holmes, Marshall Faulk, and Edgerrin James are just a few more ‘recent’ RB’s who, despite being as talented as they were, were all victims of the 30 and older barrier that seems to exist throughout the NFL. It’s somewhat similar to being a catcher in Major League Baseball; all the wear and tear that a catcher endures throughout a season can unfortunately augment the chances of shortening a career.

LT always said he would retire while he was on top of his game. While that may not have been the case, as it stands today he will still go out as one of the greatest running backs in the league’s history. He’s the NFL’s fifth leading rusher of all time, behind Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, and Emmitt Smith. In my mind there’s no doubt that he is a first ballot Hall of Famer, and he will be sorely missed by fans everywhere. It was truly was a treat to watch him play, and in a game that is slowly evolving into a pass-first approach, we may not see a running back as talented as he was for a long time. So my advice to everyone is simple: enjoy watching Adrian Peterson and the like now, because in terms of skill set, they’re the closest to a LaDainian Tomlinson that we may ever see again.

LaDainian, thank you for some truly amazing years and highlights, and congratulations on a fantastic career.

References:
www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/rush_yds_career.htm
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LaDainian_Tomlinson
www.pro-football-reference.com/players/T/TomlLa00.htm

Joe Gallucci is a contributor on the Yahoo! Contributor Network and is Journalism Major at the University of Maryland. 

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