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How do you stop him?
He has more touchdown passes than Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington, Kyle Boller, Tommy Maddox, Jeff Garcia and six other quarterbacks who have thrown at least 35 balls this season.
He scored 70 touchdowns in fewer games than all but one player in NFL history.
He needs just 98 rushing yards Sunday at Washington to be the seventh player to start a career with five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
He is San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson, or as Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal calls him, “Superman without the cape.” If Neal’s 13 NFL seasons don’t make him qualified to judge of the 26-year-old Tomlinson’s wondrous talents, listen to Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer, who has been around the game for most of the last four decades.
“I used to say that LaDainian was one of the best, [but] the more I watch him, with all due respect to the great runners that preceded him, he’s the best running back I’ve ever seen,” he said.
This begs the question, why did Waco (Texas) University High School coach LeRoy Coleman keep Tomlinson at fullback until his senior season? All Tomlinson did when he finally switched to tailback was set a city record with 2,554 yards and 39 touchdowns.
“Early on I realized that it was a team game first and as long as I put the team first then my own personal goals would be answered at the right time,” Tomlinson said.
The right time wasn’t right out of high school since none of Texas’ football powers even asked Tomlinson to visit, let alone offered him a scholarship. He headed for lowly Texas Christian, where he became the starting tailback midway through his sophomore year.
The right time was Tomlinson’s final two college seasons when he became just the third player to lead the nation in rushing in consecutive seasons and set the Division I record with 406 rushing yards against Texas-El Paso.
San Diego had the first pick in the 2001 draft but traded with the Atlanta Falcons, who coveted quarterback Michael Vick. The Chargers, using the Falcons’ fifth overall choice, selected the 5-foot-10, 221-pound Tomlinson. He pounded the Redskins for 113 yards and two touchdowns in his debut and hasn’t stopped since. His 6,801 rushing yards the last five seasons rank second, and his 76 touchdowns rank third.
“If you were to draw up the ideal running back, it would definitely be molded around L.T.,” said Redskins center Cory Raymer, who blocked for Tomlinson in San Diego in 2002-03 and raved about his combination of power, quickness, pass catching and blocking.
“It’s scary when the ball is in his hands … throwing it, catching it and obviously running it,” Buffalo coach Mike Mularkey said. “He’s a fun player to watch when you’re not playing him.’
Tomlinson believes his three touchdown passes this season — which made him just one of four players to ever run, catch and throw for two scores in a season — have excited fans more than just the usual rushes and receptions.
“People love to see me throw the football,” he said.
But the Chargers also love Tomlinson for the person he is. In a me-first era typified by the antics of Terrell Owens, the unselfish Tomlinson conjures memories of late Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton.
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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