With the fifth overall pick in the 2001 draft, the Chargers selected a somewhat obscure running back from TCU by the name of LaDainian Tomlinson. While not everyone knew his name then, Tomlinson quickly became a household name after a breakout rookie season with the Chargers. Over the next decade, the running back known as L.T. would carve out one of the greatest careers in league history.
A three-time All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowler and the league’s MVP in 2006, Tomlinson retired after the 2011 season as the fifth-leading rusher in NFL history. His 162 total touchdowns are the third-highest total in league history, behind only Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith. Along with his running and scoring prowess, Tomlinson also caught 624 passes for nearly 5,000 yards during his Hall of Fame career.
In celebration of his 43rd birthday (he was born on June 23, 1979), here are five facts about Tomlinson’s sparkling career with the Chargers and Jets.
Pro Bowl snub
Tomlinson was a Pro Bowler five times during a six-year span from 2002-07. The one year he wasn’t a Pro Bowler? It was 2003, when Tomlinson put together arguably his best season aside from his 2006 MVP campaign. That season, Tomlinson rushed for 1,645 yards while averaging a career-high 5.3 yards per carry. He also became the first running back to catch 100 passes in a season. The AFC running backs selected instead of Tomlinson for that year’s Pro Bowl were Clinton Portis, Priest Holmes and Jamal Lewis.
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John Riggins’ record of 24 touchdowns scored during the 1983 season stood as the mark for 12 seasons before it was broken by former Cowboys star Emmitt Smith in 1995. Smith’s record lasted just five years before it was broken by former Rams star Marshall Faulk. Former Chiefs All-Pro Priest Holmes passed Faulk’s mark in 2003, only to have his record broken by former Seahawks star Shaun Alexander in 2005. One year later, Tomlinson set the record while becoming the first player to score more than 30 touchdowns in one season. In addition to his 31 touchdowns, Tomlinson’s 28 rushing touchdowns that season remain a league record.
Tomlinson’s 2006 season is the greatest fantasy season in history, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. That season, Tomlinson produced a record 481.1 fantasy points, a total no player since has been able to duplicate.
Tomlinson’s best two postseason games came against the Patriots. His only 100-yard rushing performance in the postseason came against New England in the 2006 divisional round. Despite Tomlinson’s 187 total yards and two touchdowns, the Chargers fell at home to the Patriots 24-21. Tomlinson would get his revenge four years later as a member of the Jets in the divisional round of the 2010 playoffs. His 7-yard touchdown reception (the only playoff touchdown catch of his career) in the second quarter helped the Jets stun the favored Patriots en route to New York’s second consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance.
One of the best to ever do it
Tomlinson’s career stacks up incredibly well compared to the NFL’s other great running backs. According to Pro Football Reference’s Hall of Fame monitor, Tomlinson put together the fifth-greatest career by a running back in league history. Tomlinson’s 136.15 points put him behind fellow greats Walter Payton, Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and Smith and just ahead of O.J. Simpson, Eric Dickerson, Adrian Peterson and Faulk.