Jun 26, 2012
The news was inevitable but nonetheless still came off as a shock when it was announced on Monday that former San Diego Chargers and New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson retired. In fact, even Sportsbook reviews had odds on if he would retire or not this year. Tomlinson signed a one-day contract with San Diego so that he could retire, and eventually go into the Hall of Fame, as a Charger. Originally the No. 5 overall pick of the 2001 draft, Tomlinson ends his career 13,684 rushing yards, 145 rushing touchdowns, and 624 catches for 4,772 yards and 17 touchdowns.
There is not enough space here to accurately depict how good of a player Tomlinson was and how much he meant to the game. At a prototypical 5’11” and 220 pounds, Tomlinson was both powerful and speedy, but his best asset was his vision. Not only was Tomlinson able to identify and burst through the initial hole well but that extraordinary vision helped carry Tomlinson through the second level, often on touchdown runs. Tomlinson’s vision was rivaled only Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders, and that’s some good company to share.
To commemorate Tomlinson, we’re taking a look at his five best games, in chronological order. This list is subjective, of course, so we encourage further discussion in our Bruno Boys Community.
1. Sept 9, 2001 vs. Washington - 36 carries, 113 yards, 2 TDs; 1 rec. 12 yards
Upon being drafted by the Chargers, Tomlinson was immediately given the starting job. San Diego was in desperate need of a running back - the Chargers’ leading rushing in 2000 was Jermaine Fazande with 368 yards. Though it was widely considered that Tomlinson would be a good NFL running back, there were questions about how good he could be and how long it would take to get there coming from a small school in Texas Christian. Tomlinson quickly put all fears to rest in his first NFL game, rushing 36 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns in a season-opening win against the Washington Redskins. It was just a small sight of big things yet to come.
2. Dec. 1, 2002 vs. Denver - 37 carries, 217 yards, 3 TDs; 11 rec. 51 yards
To say Tomlinson terrorized the AFC West would be an understatement. One of the first instances of this came in an overtime win against the Denver Broncos, who at that time had one of the top defenses in the league, late in the 2002 season. Tomlinson ran the ball 37 times for 217 yards and three touchdowns, and he caught 11 passes for 51 yards. His three rushing touchdowns all came in the second quarter. San Diego was lucky to escape with a win after Broncos’ kicker Jason Elam missed a 53-yard field goal attempt in overtime. The 217 rushing yards marked Tomlinson’s third-highest single game total in his career.
3. Dec. 28, 2003 vs. Oakland - 31 carries 243 yards, 2 TDs; 8 rec. 17 yards
As with the Broncos, Tomlinson certainly was no stranger to the Oakland Raiders either. Tomlinson’s top rushing performance came against the Raiders in the final week of what was an otherwise poor 2003 season for San Diego when he ran 31 times for 243 yards and two touchdowns, and caught eight passes for 17 yards. It was Tomlinson’s second 200-yard rushing game of the season, and those eight receptions game him 100 total for the season. Tomlinson became the first halfback in league history to catch 100 passes in a season. The only other running back to catch more passes in a season came in 1995 when Arizona Cardinals fullback Larry Centers had 101 receptions.
4. Nov. 19, 2006 @ Denver - 20 carries, 105 yards, 3 TDs; 3 rec. 74 yards 1 TD
For all the games Tomlinson had where he racked up silly amounts of yardage, this game against the Broncos shows how Tomlinson carried the Chargers even when his touches and yards were limited. Tomlinson ran 20 times for 105 yards, and he caught three passes for 74 yards. Decent numbers for a running back but fairly modest for Tomlinson, who was in the middle of his MVP season. However, he scored three rushing touchdowns and added a receiving touchdown. More impressive was that Tomlinson keyed a comeback win for the Chargers, who at one point trailed by 17 points. It was the second consecutive game Tomlinson helped lead a comeback when the Chargers were down by 17 points.
5. Oct. 14, 2007 vs. Oakland - 24 carries, 198 yards, 4 TDs; 3 rec. 16 yards
As good as the Chargers were during most of Tomlinson’s tenure, the team, considered a Super Bowl contender in 2007, got off to quite a rocky start that season. Heading into this week 6 contest the Chargers were 2-3 overall and 1-3 in their previous four games. Needing a spark San Diego turned to Tomlinson, who had 24 carries for 198 yards and four touchdowns, as well as three catches for 16 yards. The four rushing touchdowns tied a career-high for a single game, something he had previously accomplished four times. Beyond the impressive statistics though was the momentum this win gave the Chargers. San Diego went on to win eight of its final 10 games, giving the Chargers the AFC West Division title and sending them to the playoffs wher