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Fresh Tomlinson hopes for super finish for Bolts

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Sep 11, 2009.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=ap-chargers-tomlinson&amp;prov=ap&amp;type=lgns" target="_blank">Associated Press</a>

    By Bernie Wilson

    <div class="alignright"><a href="http://img.fannation.com/upload/si_blog_post_images/ladainian-tomlinson.jpg"><img title="LaDainian Tomlinson" src="http://img.fannation.com/upload/si_blog_post_images/ladainian-tomlinson.jpg" alt="LaDainian Tomlinson" width="163" height="184" /></a></div>

    SAN DIEGO (AP)-Feeling fit and happy to have played in two exhibition games, LaDainian Tomlinson is at a crossroads heading into the 2009 season.

    So is his team.

    If Tomlinson can come anywhere close to his record-setting form of 2006, he could help carry the San Diego Chargers to their first NFL championship.

    If he struggles, the Chargers might fall short of the high expectations surrounding them. The doubters will likely re-emerge, just like they did during a bumpy offseason when age, salary cap concerns, a career-low rushing total and his recent injury history made it look like L.T.'s days with the Bolts were over.

    Playing under a reworked contract, Tomlinson enters his ninth NFL season looking for the same thing as always-"to put together a solid season and go where we've never been before."

    That, of course, would be the Super Bowl. Not just getting there, mind you, but winning it.

    It's just one of the motivations that drives one of the greatest running backs in NFL history. Along with a desire to stay healthy and prove he can still play at a high level now that he's turned 30.

    "I feel I have a lot left," Tomlinson said as the Chargers prepared to open against his favorite punching bag, the Oakland Raiders. "I feel I have a lot more winning inside. A lot of my career, I spent a lot of it losing, you know, a lot of games, and so now I'm at a point where we have a good team and we can win a lot of games."

    Tomlinson has given his heart, soul and body to a franchise that was a mess when he joined the NFL.

    Trying to emerge from the Ryan Leaf fiasco, the Chargers were coming off a 1-15 season and had the chance to draft Michael Vick with the No. 1 pick overall in 2001. Instead, the late John Butler swapped the top choice to Atlanta and took Tomlinson with the fifth pick overall.

    It wasn't until his fourth season that he enjoyed a winning record, and his seventh before he experienced a playoff victory.

    Then came last offseason, and it seemed as if Tomlinson would be shown the door, just as the Chargers had unceremoniously dumped Junior Seau(notes), Rodney Harrison(notes), Drew Brees(notes) and coach Marty Schottenheimer earlier in the decade.

    "Yeah, there was a time when I was going through a situation where I did feel like that," Tomlinson said. "Honestly, I was prepared. If that was going to be the case, I was prepared for it. It wasn't a sense of being sad or like I was losing something. When you're preparing to do something, then your mindset is already beyond that. That's kind of how it was, just seeing how things were going and feeling like it was probably the end."

    While the Chargers pondered whether to restructure L.T.'s deal, trade him or release him, things got acrimonious when general manager A.J. Smith mimicked almost word for word a statement Tomlinson posted on his Web site, expressing his desire to remain in San Diego. Many people felt Smith was mocking the star player, and the GM later expressed regret for an "inappropriate" response.

    Team president Dean Spanos got involved in the talks to restructure Tomlinson's deal, and is believed to have encouraged Smith to call Tomlinson and smooth things over after seemingly mocking the face of the franchise.

    Spanos declined an interview request to discuss Tomlinson. Smith didn't return several phone calls.

    Smith, who bristles when asked about injuries, was angry during the playoffs that the severity of Tomlinson's groin problem was revealed. Smith called out the player and his agent, Tom Condon. Tomlinson, the franchise's most brutally honest employee, confirmed he had a detached tendon in his groin, while the team said only that he had a strained groin. L.T. missed the Chargers' divisional-round loss at Pittsburgh, the first time in his career he sat out a game due to injury.

    "That's the only way I know how to do it," Tomlinson said. "For me, I don't see any other way to really do it. I didn't even think about, ‘I can't be honest,' because I'm going to be honest anyway, whether people like it or not. But I feel like to protect myself and to be fair, you know, because of the way people are going to judge me, then I need to be honest."

    A season earlier, Tomlinson's reputation took a hit when the Chargers issued an overly rosy report of the knee injury that had forced him out of the AFC championship game against New England.

    Quarterback Philip Rivers never thought Tomlinson would leave the team, but had pondered what it would be like not handing off anymore to No. 21.

    "It would be super weird," said Rivers, who knows how much Tomlinson has meant to the franchise, especially in the lean years early this decade.

    "Just being honest, he's why I kind of would even know about the Chargers," Rivers added. "When I was in college, that's kind of who you associated with the Chargers. ‘Who's there? Oh, L.T.' When it was rough, he had 100 catches when they were 4-12. He obviously kind of kept this thing somewhat going. I couldn't imagine it and obviously he couldn't, either."

    A five-time Pro Bowler, Tomlinson owns or shares 28 team records. The NFL's 14th all-time leading rusher with 11,760 yards, he ranks second in career touchdowns rushing (126) and is tied for fourth in total touchdowns (141).

    Eager to get back into a groove after toe and groin injuries slowed him last season, Tomlinson played in two exhibition games, his first August appearances since 2005.

    "He's fresh and he really looks as good as he did three or four years ago before that record-breaking year," Rivers said. "I would expect him to play at a super-high level."

    Tomlinson was voted the NFL MVP in 2006, when he set league records with 31 touchdowns-28 rushing-and 186 points. He also won the first of two straight league rushing titles with a career-high 1,815 yards.

    "He's got a lot left in the tank," center Nick Hardwick(notes) said. "He's ready to go. He's got a lot of spring in his legs."

    Tomlinson's numbers last year no doubt had fantasy geeks in a funk. His 1,110 yards were a career low and his 11 TDs rushing were his second fewest. Still, his yardage was fourth in the AFC and 10th in the NFL.

    "I think people get a misunderstanding with L.T. because they figure his numbers dictate how well he can play. I just don't think he has to do as much with the guys around us," said star tight end Antonio Gates, mentioning how teammates Darren Sproles, Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson help take off the pressure.

    Tomlinson thinks the Chargers are in a "perfect situation" and that winning the Super Bowl is a realistic goal.

    "It's something I've always dreamed about as a kid, is being in that Super Bowl game and winning that championship and being up on that podium," he said. "It's something that as a player, that's what defines you. That's what makes you complete as a player."

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