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Tomlinson's remarkable run is legendary stuff

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Nov 29, 2006.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: ESPN

    By Gene Wojciechowski

    <img align="left" alt="LaDainian Tomlinson didn't win a Heisman, but he's got the pose down pat." title="LaDainian Tomlinson didn't win a Heisman, but he's got the pose down pat." src="http://espn-ak.starwave.com/photo/2006/1120/nfl_u_tomlinson_195.jpg" />SAN DIEGO -- When in doubt, talk to the fullback.

    Fullbacks are the non-coms of the NFL. They're the ones with the "meat" on their helmets -- you know, grinded-in paint streaks from smashing into an opponent's helmet ... "meat." They're the ones who know better than anyone if the guy running behind them is worth a damn.

    San Diego Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal has thrown his 5-foot-11, 255-pound body into NFL defensive linemen and linebackers for 14 seasons. He has bored holes for Corey Dillon, Eddie George and Warrick Dunn. But ask him about the guy running behind him these days, and Neal almost mists up.

    "What he's doing - in 10 years from now when you mention his name, you're going to have to say, 'One of the,' or 'The,'" said Neal, the historian.

    If you need help filling in the blanks, Neal meant, "One of the best to play the game," or "The best to play the game." And he meant LaDainian Tomlinson.

    Neal gets no argument from me. As he stood in front of his locker a few days ago at Qualcomm Stadium, Neal patiently explained why Tomlinson could one day become the greatest NFL tailback of all time.

    • Age: "You've got to realize this guy's 27 years old," said Neal. "He's got five years left." Or maybe more.

    • Durability: "I have never seen LT take a big shot," Neal said. "He knows to wiggle - and get down."

    • Production: "The numbers don't lie," he said. "He's the fastest guy to 100 touchdowns - He's the complete player. He blocks, is throwing touchdowns - running them in. I had to take some time and say, 'Man, I'm playing with LT.'"

    But can he do what Emmitt Smith did? Can he do the impossible? In other words, can he leave the game as the all-time leading rusher and win "Dancing With The Stars?"

    "LT," said Neal, whose locker is a few feet away from Tomlinson's, "you going to win 'Dancing With The Stars'"?

    Tomlinson smiled and shook his head. He sat down on the wooden locker bench and cuffed the back of his jeans just so. He slipped on his shoes, and then went to work buttoning a long-sleeve shirt with suede cuffs.

    Earlier that day against the slowly improving Oakland Raiders, Tomlinson had rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns, as well as thrown for a touchdown in the 21-14 win. But the Raiders, who now play like an actual NFL team, never made it easy.

    Tomlinson had 12 yards at the end of the first quarter, only 26 at halftime. The Raiders tailed him like they were private detectives.

    "He's remarkable," said Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer. "When he has the ball in his hands, there are 11 guys in the other uniform running at him."

    The 11 guys ran at him when he took a handoff from Philip Rivers with 9:52 left in the game. Tomlinson sprinted to his right, suddenly pulled up and lofted the kind of pass you'd throw to your mom during a game of touch football in the backyard. Nobody was within the length of a Chargers Girl's leg when tight end Antonio Gates caught Tomlinson's soft spiral for the 19-yard, game-tying touchdown.

    Tomlinson's description of the Raiders' reaction to Gates breaking free was priceless.

    "I think they [said], 'Oh, no,' or maybe, 'Oh,' starts with an S," said Tomlinson, who apparently is allergic to four-letter words.

    The reason the play worked is simple: Everybody follows Tomlinson. I'm surprised two Raiders and Al Davis didn't follow him into the stadium tunnel at halftime.

    LT has rushed for 1,000-plus yards in each of his first six seasons. Only four other players in the history of the game have done that. He leads the NFL with 24 total touchdowns this season (21 in his last seven games). Four more and he surpasses the previously jaw-dropping total by Shaun Alexander a season ago.

    As for eventually moving ahead of Mr. Sparkly Dance Glitter on the all-time rushing list, Tomlinson would have to average about 95 yards per game between now and the fourth game of the 2012 season. That's 105 more games. It's possible, especially since Tomlinson now understands what it takes to survive in this league.

    As a rookie, Tomlinson used to purposely take on defenders at the end of a run. "I'd show how much of a man I was," he said.

    That was before the great Marshall Faulk talked to Tomlinson during the offseason.

    "Sometimes you don't need to take that hit," Faulk told him. "These guys are coming to take you out."

    So Tomlinson quit with the Ultimate Warrior stuff and learned the laws of football physics. He said Denver Broncos linebacker Al Wilson "got me a couple of times," but that's about it for monster hits.

    Tomlinson cracks me up. There was a play early in the fourth quarter of the Raiders game when Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson caught a ball, tossed it forward after the completion, then watched in horror as the Raiders pounced on the "fumble." Except that it wasn't a fumble; it was an illegal forward pass, which meant the Chargers still had the ball.

    Tomlinson was nice enough to mention afterward that Jackson, the second-year player from Northern Colorado, yelled, "God is good!" at the Raiders players during the confusion. You want to freak out the Raiders? That'll do it.

    A lot of players wouldn't tell you that. Then again, a lot of players wouldn't plead with Chargers offensive tackle Roman Oben not to tell them their rushing totals during a game. "But he always gets it out before I can say, 'Don't tell me,"' said Tomlinson.

    And you've got to like a guy who politely humors fantasy leaguers who impolitely inform him of how many yards and TDs they need from him that week.

    "They never really say thank you," Tomlinson said.

    OK, well then here's a thank you on behalf of everybody else. (And by the way, LT, you're killing the rest of us in our ESPN John Elway Barcalounger fantasy league.) Thanks for not turning a touchdown celebration into a three-part miniseries. Thanks for giving the Chargers a 9-2 record despite a first-year starting quarterback and the four-game suspension of Shawne Merriman. Thanks for not making a liar out of Neal.

    "I think that writers and fans and players, I don't think they really realize the significance of what - this guy is doing," Neal said. "I think 20-30 years from now, when you're sitting down at a table, [you'll say], 'Man, I got to write about one of the great ones.'"

    Memo to Neal: We won't need 20-30 years.
     

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