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For 1st title, LT willing to play 2nd fiddle

Discussion in 'American Football' started by CoronaDoug, Mar 14, 2010.

  1. CoronaDoug

    CoronaDoug Official Hater

    Feb 14, 2007
    Tim Sullivan

    For 1st title, LT willing to play 2nd fiddle


    Friday, March 12, 2010 at 12:02 a.m.

    LaDainian Tomlinson is humbling himself for the chance to be exalted.

    The most accomplished running back still active has swallowed his pride, checked his ego and traveled to Minnesota to discuss a supporting role behind pro football’s foremost fumbler, Adrian Peterson. Though this is tantamount to Aretha Franklin auditioning to sing backup for Lady Gaga, it is consistent with LT’s stated purpose and top priority: to chase a championship.

    Tomlinson has more money than he will ever need and enough fame for 10 lifetimes. What he lacks after nine mostly splendid seasons with the Chargers is the validation of ultimate victory, the closure only a Super Bowl can bring. Toward that elusive end, the Vikings may represent his most attractive means. Unless, of course, it’s the New York Jets, the second stop on his Canton Can Wait tour.

    By scheduling his first two free-agent visits at the losing teams of January’s conference championship games, Tomlinson has demonstrated that he’s more interested in posterity than in playing time. He is prepared, he says, to proceed as a third-down back, to accept fewer carries if it means a stronger shot at the Lombardi Trophy.

    “I don’t have a problem with it,” Tomlinson told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “I know I can catch the ball really well out of the backfield, can run the routes and that’s something that I’ve always looked for as I got older in my career. Being able to fall back on that. Not having to carry the ball as much.

    “I think that’s what was lost in San Diego because I was the only guy that could really carry the ball 20 times (per game). So my third-down role was reduced. So now I’m looking for that. It’s something I can do and I can fit in well.”

    What athletes say when they’re out of work is not always identical to what they’re thinking. It’s hard to get your foot in the door, after all, if you can’t keep it out of your mouth. Yet while LT’s San Diego exit interviews betrayed considerably more bitterness than his in-season remarks — a flip-flop some have read as hypocrisy — his moods are typically transparent.

    If Tomlinson signs with the Vikings or the Jets, or with some other team with a prominent back already in place, he will go in with the understanding that he will have fewer touches, that after 2,880 NFL carries, his hands are now subordinate claws.

    Such a transition is not unprecedented in professional sports, but it is certainly unusual. Few athletes of LT’s stature have accepted reserve roles, much less embraced them. Before his latest issues arose, Allen Iverson was on record as saying he would choose retirement over the prospect of diminished playing time.

    Bill Walton was an exception. The NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 1977-78 while with Portland, Walton would win the league’s Sixth Man award eight years later in Boston. If you’re making a list of superstar athletes who have subsequently thrived in secondary roles, though, it probably wouldn’t fill a Post-it note.

    Part of the Vikings’ decision process involves assessing Tomlinson’s willingness to defer to Peterson — actual as opposed to asserted — a concern complicated by some of LT’s published statements.

    Last fall, after Hall of Famer Jim Brown called Peterson the most complete back in the NFL, Tomlinson responded with a vigorous self-defense.

    “I was sitting there reading it thinking, ‘Wow,’  ” he told the Los Angeles Times. “The difference with me is you can put me out on that field and there will be nothing I can’t do. I won’t have to come off the field. Adrian has to come off sometimes on third down. Running routes, he’s still not there yet.”

    Six months later, these comparisons seem almost quaint. Peterson continues to have difficulty holding onto the ball — he has fumbled 20 times over the past three seasons; Tomlinson only three — but he gained more yards, caught more passes and scored more touchdowns than did LT in 2009. Furthermore, Peterson is not yet 25 years old and Tomlinson turns 31 in June.

    Still, before inviting LT to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the Vikings wanted to know what sort of ripples he might cause. They wanted to know whether he’d be a fit or have a fit. As part of the Vikings’ vetting process, coach Brad Childress sought out the Chargers’ Norv Turner, the unnamed target of some of Tomlinson’s more pointed complaints.

    “Anything that I would say about LT would be positive,” Turner said yesterday. “Obviously, my comments to Brad were positive (because) they brought him in. In these discussions, coaches would want to know more about how a guy is mentally, and the mindset. Personnel people make their own evaluations about how a guy is physically ...

    “No one thinks any more of LT than I do.”

    If Turner sustained any bruises during Tomlinson’s departure, the air-oriented coach is prepared to let it pass.

    “I’ve been in this league 25 years and I’ve been through a lot of situations,” Turner said. “Things change. I don’t think any one of us have made a conscious effort (to de-emphasize the running game). That’s the way the team evolved.

    “It’s not lip service: I would like to be balanced. I would.”

    Turner points to the presence of Darren Sproles and the desire to preserve Tomlinson for the playoffs as primary factors in how LT’s role devolved last season. Turner said he thinks Tomlinson can still help a team win, and that he believes he’s the kind of player who can accept reduced responsibilities.

    “If LT said it,” Turner said, “he’s sincere.”

    If he can get to the Super Bowl as a second-stringer, the rings are the same.

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