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LaDainian Tomlinson - One of the Greatest
One of the most prolific running backs in NFL history
The Chargers’ first-round pick in the 2001 NFL Draft (fifth overall), LaDainian Tomlinson and his disarming smile were the face of the Chargers’ franchise during nine seasons in San Diego (2001-09). He set or tied a total of 28 team records, including marks for career rushing yards, rushing touchdowns in a season and total touchdowns.
Tomlinson is one of the most decorated Chargers in history. Among the more than 100 team and NFL awards that he captured during his career, Tomlinson was named the Associated Press’ NFL Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year in 2006. That same year, he was named the Walter Payton co-NFL Man of the Year and the runner-up as the AP’s Male Athlete of the Year. Tomlinson was a five-time Pro Bowl selection, three-time first-team All-Pro, two-time second-team All-Pro and runner up for the AP’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2001. Tomlinson was named by his teammates as the Chargers Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year five times.
Tomlinson assembled his most outstanding individual campaign in 2006 when he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player by the Associated Press. It was the team’s first-ever league MVP award as Tomlinson garnered 44 of a possible 50 MVP votes. He also finished second to golfer Tiger Woods in voting for AP’s Male Athlete of the Year Award. Tomlinson helped the Chargers win a franchise-record 14 games during the regular season, while shattering a host of NFL records. He set new NFL marks for rushing touchdowns (28), total touchdowns (31) and points scored (186) in a season. His scoring average of 11.6 points per game was the most since Paul Hornung’s 12.2 average for the Green Bay Packers in 1961. Tomlinson won his and the team’s first NFL rushing title with 1,815 yards and just missed out on the title for yards from scrimmage by 11 yards. He became only the fifth player in league history to score 20 or more touchdowns in consecutive seasons and he set 10 other NFL records, including touchdowns in a five (15) and six-game stretch (19); touchdowns through the first 10 (22) and 12 (26) games of a season; games with two or more touchdowns (8); games with four touchdowns (3), games with three rushing touchdowns (5), consecutive games with three rushing touchdowns (3), consecutive games with three or more total touchdowns (4), and consecutive multi-touchdown games (8). He shared the league’s mark for consecutive four-touchdown games (2). Tomlinson also became the NFL’s fastest player to both 100 rushing touchdowns and 100 total touchdowns.
Tomlinson’s accolades in 2006 extended beyond the playing field, as he was also crowned with the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. One of LT’s childhood idols, Payton was the only other man to win MVP and Man of the Year honors in the same season.
From his very first game in a Chargers uniform, Tomlinson appeared destined for greatness. He ran for 113 yards in his NFL debut against the Washington Redskins in 2001, becoming only the 20th player in the NFL since 1970 to eclipse 100 yards in his first game. As a rookie, he went on to rack up a team-record 1,603 total yards from scrimmage, while setting team rookie records for rushing yards (1,236) and rushing touchdowns (10).
In 2002, Tomlinson shattered previous team records when he tallied 1,683 rushing yards and 2,172 total yards from scrimmage. He ranked second in the NFL in rushing and third in yards from scrimmage. His 15 total touchdowns ranked sixth in the league.
In 2003, Tomlinson caught a team-record 100 passes and he became the first player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 100 passes in the same season. “LT” racked up 2,370 total yards from scrimmage in 2003, second-most in NFL history (Marshall Faulk – 2,429 yards in 1999). Tomlinson became just the eighth player to post consecutive seasons with 2,000 or more scrimmage yards.
In 2004, Tomlinson carried the Chargers to their first AFC West title in 10 years as he led the NFL in rushing touchdowns (17) for the first time in his career. A year later (2005), Tomlinson tied Lenny Moore’s NFL record by scoring a touchdown in 18 straight games and he set a new NFL record by scoring a rushing touchdown in 14 straight games. In San Diego’s 2005 season finale against Denver, Tomlinson scored his 20th touchdown of the season, breaking Chuck Muncie’s team record of 19, set in 1981. Tomlinson also moved past Alworth to become the team’s all-time leader in career yards from scrimmage.
In 2007, Tomlinson captured NFL titles for rushing yards (1,474) and rushing touchdowns (15), while tying Emmitt Smith as the fourth-fastest player to rack up 10,000 total scrimmage yards (106 games). Tomlinson became the first player since Edgerrin James (1999-00) to win consecutive league rushing titles and the first player ever to score 15 or more touchdowns in six consecutive seasons.
Tomlinson’s final two seasons in San Diego saw him achieve even more milestones. In 2008 he reached 15,000 career scrimmage yards, doing so faster than any other player in league history and he reached 11,000 career rushing yards faster (117 games) than every back except Eric Dickerson (103), Jim Brown (107) and Barry Sanders (115). In 2009, LT scored his 150th career touchdown, reaching that mark in fewer games than any player in NFL history. At the conclusion of the 2009 season, Tomlinson had set NFL marks for a decade (2001-09) for rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns.
Tomlinson played his final two NFL seasons (2010-11) with the New York Jets.
Tomlinson was just the fifth player in NFL history to rush for more than 10,000 yards and catch 500 career passes. He became the first player to score 10 or more touchdowns in each of his first eight NFL seasons. And he became just the third player in league history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first eight seasons.
“You know what sticks out to me? It’s the overtime run in Oakland because that was our breakthrough. That was our breakthrough. Even though it was in ’02 it sticks out to me like it was yesterday. I remember the guys were so excited. In fact, that day, we probably ran that same play at least 40 times and they couldn’t stop us.” - LaDainian Tomlinson his on his favorite memory
In 2009, Tomlinson and former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner were selected as Most Caring Athletes by USA Weekend Magazine. He and his wife, LaTorsha, started the Tomlinson Touching Lives Foundation, which has hosted many events over the years. They included youth football camps, golf tournaments, fishing trips for kids and at-risk teens, a Thanksgiving program that provided complete holiday dinners to more than 2,100 San Diego families, and a Christmas program in which they gave away more than 1,500 holiday gifts to the patients at San Diego’s Children’s Hospital and Health Center.
In October 2007, the Tomlinsons were forced to flee their home in the middle of the night when flames from a wildfire roared perilously close to their home. Area firefighters waged a heroic battle and stopped the fire literally at the Tomlinson’s back fence, preserving their home and all of its contents, including LT’s vast memorabilia collection. That December, Tomlinson hosted an event to support the first responders and volunteers who helped fight the fires and personally donated 300 flat-screen televisions to families that lost their homes in the fires.
At each Chargers’ home game, Tomlinson hosted “The 21 Club,” invited 21 kids from San Diego youth groups and non-profit organizations to attend games. After the game, he invited the youngsters onto the field where they enjoyed a one-on-one visit with their football hero and received a special gift.
The Foundation also created the “School is Cool Scholarship Fund,” which awarded 30 annual scholarships to college-bound students based on academics, community involvement and volunteerism. Of the 30 students selected by Tomlinson each year, 15 were selected from San Diego and 15 were chosen from his alma mater, University High School in Waco, Texas.
Born in Rosebud, Texas, Tomlinson starred at University High School in Waco before taking his career to Texas Christian University, where he became an All-American and a two-time Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year. At TCU, Tomlinson became only the second player in college football history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season and 5,000 yards in a career. In 2005, his jersey was retired at TCU and in 2009 he was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
Tomlinson now works as an analyst for the NFL Network, while continuing to be a leader in the community. LaDainian and LaTorsha reside in Colleyville, Texas with their son, Daylen, and daughter, Dayah.