LaDainian Tomlinson ran away with everything in the 2006 football season, including the 48th annual Bert Bell Award as the Maxwell Club’s Professional Player of the Year.
The San Diego Chargers brilliant running back broke the NFL records for points (186) and touchdowns (31) in a season. He also led the league with 1,815 yards rushing, caught 56 passes for an additional 508 yards and he even threw two touchdown passes as the Chargers posted the NFL’s best record at 14-2.
“I believe, based on what I’ve seen, he’s the finest running back in the history of the NFL and my frame of reference goes back to Jim Brown,” said Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer.
“He’s fantastic,” said Paul Hornung, the former Green Bay Packer great who held the previous NFL scoring record of 176 points set in 1960. “I think he is by far the premier running back today. I like the way he goes after the goal line. Damn it, he knows where it is.”
Tomlinson rushed for at least 100 yards in 10 different games during the 2006 season and nine of those games were consecutive. He scored two or more touchdowns in 10 different games as well. He had four touchdown games against both San Francisco and Cincinnati while leading the Chargers to the best season in their history.
“If you are playing the Chargers, the No. 1 thing you have to concern yourself with is stopping L.T. in the running game,” Baltimore Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome told Jarrett Bell of USA Today. “The No. 2 thing is stopping L.T. in the passing game.”
The 5-10, 220-pound Tomlinson was the Chargers first round draft pick in 2001 following an All-America career at Texas Christian University. A native of Waco, Tex., Tomlinson rushed for 5,263 yards in college, the sixth highest total in Division 1-A history, but he has been even better on the pro level. He reached 100 career touchdowns in just 89 games, the fastest in league history.
“The best way to describe L.T. is in four words: ‘Player with no flaws,’” said Gil Brandt, the former player personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys.
“Some guys you watch play and say, ‘I wonder if he will wind up in the Hall of Fame?’” said Chargers general manager A.J. Smith. “But with L.T., we know we are seeing a Hall of Famer playing every week. Everything is just being magnified more this season with the way the team is performing. We just felt from the beginning that he had the combination of character, talent, leadership and energy to be our foundation.”
“They pay us a lot of money and people pay a lot to see us,” Tomlinson said. “You want to give the people what they deserve and a return on that investment. I respect the game, but it becomes a little bigger because you want to make sure that you were worth it, every single time.”
In an era of arrogant superstar athletes, Tomlinson is refreshingly modest. He is happiest out of the spotlight, enjoying time alone with his wife LaTorsha and their three dogs. In November, he fed more than 8,000 people in a San Diego shelter as part of the “Giving Thanks With L.T.” campaign. At Christmas, he gave away 1,500 toys at a children’s hospital and a Ronald McDonald House.
Teammate Lorenzo Neal called Tomlinson: “The perfect representative of the National Football League. He is what every player should be.”
“One of the things that we all strive for in our chosen field, whatever that might be, is the respect of our peers,” Schottenheimer said. “I think that’s the most important qualities that any individual can ever possess, the ability that those that know him look at him with the respect that, ‘This is a person I admire.’
“I think with a certainty that everybody in this organization and most everybody in this community probably has that sense about LaDainian Tomlinson. He is an individual who engenders the respect of everybody that comes in contact with.”