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IS LT the best ever?

Discussion in 'American Football' started by JTango32, Dec 14, 2006.

  1. JTango32

    JTango32 BoltTalker

    Dec 11, 2006

    By Eric Neel
    Page 2

    "He is the finest running back ever to wear an NFL uniform."
    -- Marty Schottenheimer, on LaDainian Tomlinson, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006

    Marty Schottenheimer couldn't help himself. He remembers Jim Brown and Gale Sayers, and he was well acquainted with Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith, and still he said it, straight, like there was no doubt about it. More than any number, this moment of unguarded hyperbole is by far my favorite measure of how great a running back LaDainian Tomlinson is. He's so great he makes Marty go all goofy-in-love. He's so great he inspires premature declarations and gauntlet throws. He's so great you have to gush.

    Despite the 29-and-counting touchdown total, a quick-hit sober analysis says we shouldn't even be having the conversation. LT's 4.4 career yards per carry over six seasons are dwarfed by Brown's 5.2 over nine. His best single-season rushing total is 300-plus yards short of O.J.'s 14-game 1973 season1. His 8,788 career rushing yards are light years and many long, painful seasons away from Smith's 18,355. And the 9.2 yards per catch he's posting so far in 2006 are nice, just not quite as nice as Brown's 9.5 over his entire career, including four seasons of more than 10 yards per catch.

    But here's the thing: analysis, and even arguments, aren't everything (they're important, but they don't exhaust the topic). To hit the record books and build top-10 lists and assure the kids of today that LT's no Jim Brown is to miss the point of this guy in this moment.

    Marty doesn't say Tomlinson's numero uno because he has run the numbers and is ready to build an airtight case. Folks on talk radio and in the papers these last few weeks don't raise the prospect and utter the sacred "all-time" and "best-ever" phrases because they've got no sense of history or appreciation for what a complicated question it is. He does it, they do it, we all do it, because we're geeked about this kid, because we sense an undeniable magic about him.

    In fact, "He is the finest running back ever to wear an NFL uniform," is more about Marty than a statement about the essence or the accomplishments of Tomlinson. It's about the giddy feeling he gets watching his tailback shred the opposition every week. It's about running out of language to describe that feeling and reaching for reckless overstatement because in spirit it's the only thing that comes close. It's about ringing a bell, shouting a hallelujah. It celebrates 29-and-counting. It celebrates 52 receptions and 285 carries. It celebrates the giggle that rises up in your throat when LT makes one of those impossible lateral hop cuts into free space, part water bug on the pond and part sumo wrestler on the mat. It celebrates the "watch this" gasp you let out when he drops back, looking every bit the superhero, and lofts one to Antonio Gates for six.

    When the Chargers recovered a fumble late against Denver on Sunday, and lined up first-and-goal on the Broncos' 7, you knew -- the way you once knew Jordan would hit the shot over Bryon Russell, the way you once knew Bonds would turn on low inside gas from Eric Gagne and put the ball in McCovey Cove -- he would score, on the first attempt. There was no doubt in your mind. You had no room for thoughts that the defensive line might fill a gap or that a DB might meet him at the corner. All of the contingencies that make up a game were gone. Why? Because he makes you feel like they are. Because he's that good right now. Because he is, like Marty said, "the finest running back ever to wear an NFL uniform." That's why.

    Western sports culture tends to think in postindustrial revolution terms, in things quantified and produced. Is LT truly the greatest back of all time? Of course not. Of course it's too early to tell. He's looking like a good candidate to be part of the debate when all is said and done2, though it seems likely, even if he stays healthy and plays long enough to pass Smith, he'll fall short of the crazy standard Brown put down carry by carry and peak performance by peak performance.

    But if you'll forgive a little bastardized Zen philosophy here, I don't care about that right now. To me, there's an Eastern thing at work and available to us when it comes to LT, too. There's an in-the-moment appreciation that surrenders logic and abandons reason. I'm right there with Marty in it. I'm saying Tomlinson's the best ever. Screw it. It feels right. I'm shouting it. I'm reveling in the here and now with it. My personal gun-to-the-head, lay-it-down-in-ink Top Five still reads Brown, Payton, Sanders, Smith and O.J. before LT (ask me again in five more years), but that's if I'm thinking about history and the boundaries of the NFL tradition and quantifying and producing and such.

    The beauty of what LT's doing right now is that it has me -- every time he rotates his shoulders like a shadow boxer, every time he busts a little locomotion up the middle for 40-something and paydirt -- not thinking at all.


    1Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders points out that O.J.'s 2003-yard season was accomplished while playing with a quarterback, Joe Ferguson, who put together "one of the worst quarterback seasons in history, completing less than 45 percent of his passes and throwing just four passing touchdowns."

    2Fun stat of the day, courtesy of the good people at profootballreference.com: If the current pattern holds, only two players in postmerger NFL history will have ever led the league in a major offensive category and doubled the output of the next-closest competitor in the process. Jerry Rice had 22 touchdown catches to double up Mike Quick's 11 in 1987, and Tomlinson currently has 26 rushing touchdowns to Larry Johnson's 13.

    Eric Neel is a columnist for ESPN.com and Page 2.


    Who is the greatest running back in NFL history? Which one had the best season ever? We want your picks.

  2. BoltsFanUK

    BoltsFanUK Well-Known Member

    Sep 12, 2006
    LT is the best ever and he'll have the records to prove it:ABQ1: :ABQ1:
  3. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

    Feb 14, 2006
  4. Electric Chair

    Electric Chair Well-Known Member

    May 23, 2006
    I thought about putting my ticket stubs from the record breaking game last week on ebay to see what they would fetch. Guarantee that they would get more than you would think.

    But I decided to frame them for my collection.

    I sold the "DANGER: HIGH BOLTAGE" towell that they gave out at the Jets Playoff Game for $32 on ebay. :icon_eek:
  5. PhilipRivers#1

    PhilipRivers#1 BoltTalker

    Mar 14, 2006
  6. !~BOLT~!

    !~BOLT~! Well-Known Member

    Oct 2, 2006
    short answer he is the best i have ever seen footage of.
  7. firstdownfemale

    firstdownfemale BoltTalker

    Dec 15, 2006
    Thanks for writing such a glowing and sensitive portrait of LT as the best RB ever. I agree with seizing the moment. He certainly has that magic about him, that grace. He's got to make MVP this year.

    LT is also getting my vote for Sunday Night's Sexiest at www.ivillage.com/femalefan, even though I can't help wishing he didn't have to wear that shaded visor when he plays, thus preventing us all from seeing his eyes in moments of rampant athleticism.
  8. Thunderstruck

    Thunderstruck BoltTalker

    Aug 16, 2006
    That was a good article and I agree with the guy. Yeah, a lot of the LT talk right now is hyperbole, but that's what great players do--they make you speak in glowing terms. The fact is it's pretty much impossible to try to identify a "best-ever" player. There's always going to be an argument, especially when you're comparing players from different eras. Put the 2006 model of LT in an NFL uniform in 1950 and he probably runs for 3,000 yards. Give Jim Brown the benefit of modern nutrition and training and maybe he still dominates the NFL. Or maybe he wouldn't be nearly as good in a league where he's not 20 pounds heavier than the average linebacker.

    LT's not the best ever because of stats. He's the best ever because no one's ever seen a running-back as complete as he is.
  9. BFISA

    BFISA Well-Known Member

    Nov 16, 2005
    Pretty good, TS :tup: :icon_toast:
  10. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

    Feb 14, 2006
    Walter Payton still has more TD throws than LT believe it or not.

    Plus, check out this stat which goes back 60 freaking years.

    Tomlinson has three more games to do something that only one other player has done in the last 60 years -- break the single-season touchdown record by more than a single TD. Since Don Hutson scored 17 touchdowns in 1942 -- three more than the previous record -- the mark has increased by one TD at a time except for 1965, when Gale Sayers scored 22 TDs (two more than the previous record).

    ...and this, from Eric Neel's column on ESPN.com:

    If the current pattern holds, only two players in postmerger NFL history will have ever led the league in a major offensive category and doubled the output of the next-closest competitor in the process. Jerry Rice had 22 touchdown catches to double up Mike Quick's 11 in 1987, and Tomlinson currently has 26 rushing touchdowns to Larry Johnson's 13.
  11. Alpenbolt

    Alpenbolt BoltTalker

    Sep 9, 2006
    The real key for me in the best ever controversy is the level of domination the back impinged upon the rest of the league. How much better was he during his time than the rest of the scrubs.

    Sorry, Payton never really dominated the league in my opinion. Maybe in the championship year but the Fridge was more intimidating than Walter.

    Emmitt did dominate. I hate the Cowboys but that dude when he needed to grind out a game on the ground, he did it, and you couldn't stop him. But this was still not total domination. Can't give him best of all time tag despite the longevity.

    Jim Brown was total domination. Competely instilled fear in the competition, knew he couldn't be stopped and everyone else believed it too. In his day there was one man and a bunch of boys playing the game. Statwise, total domination.

    Regarding our man LT this year is total domination on the most important stat, TDs. His first year he was clearly above everyone else in the league. String together a few more of these and he can take his place right behind Brown as the best of all time. He does it for 4 or 5 years and he can unseat Brown. But, honestly with no disrespect to LT, I doubt it. I wouldn't be surprised if Jim Brown came back and tagged another couple thousand yards again just for fun. He quit because no one could give him game.

    I am also really stoked we got dancing bolts now in the smiley collection. Too cool.
    :ABQ2: :ABQ2: :ABQ2: :ABQ2:

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