LaDainian Tomlinson has retired, so let the debate begin. Where does the NFL’s fifth all-time rusher rank in the pantheon of great running backs?
I’ve been watching the NFL for better than a half century and covering it professionally for the last 38 years. In my educated opinion, Tomlinson does not belong in the Top 5 but I do have a place for him in my Top 10. Barely.
I don’t judge runners based on statistics or rings. Only three of my Top 10 backs ever played on championship teams and four of them don’t even rank statistically in the Top 10 in rushing.
But they all passed my eye test. I know greatness when I see it. I saw it in these 10.
With apologies to some backs I’ve seen (Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk and Tony Dorsett) and some that I haven’t (Steve Van Buren, Ollie Matson and Marion Motley), here’s my pantheon of the Top 10 all-time running backs:
1. Barry Sanders. The most dazzling runner the NFL has ever seen — averaging 5.0 yards per carry and 100 yards per game — then retired in his prime. His moves were an optical illusion, tricking many a defender’s eyes.
2. Jim Brown. The best fullback in NFL history, also retired in his prime. Won eight NFL rushing titles in his nine seasons.
3. Gale Sayers. Knee injuries prevented Sayers from ever reaching his prime, cutting short his career after seven seasons. A big back with speed, second only to Sanders in dazzle.
4. O.J. Simpson. Third to Sanders and Sayers in dazzle. First back to rush for 2,000 yards in a season and did it when the NFL was playing only 14 games.
5. Walter Payton. The most complete back in NFL history – running, catching, blocking.
6. Emmitt Smith. Played more games, gained more yards and scored more touchdowns than any back in NFL history.
7. Curtis Martin. Put him on the 1990 Cowboys and he’d have become Emmitt Smith.
8. Earl Campbell. Second-best power back in NFL history after Brown.
9. Thurman Thomas. Backbone of a team that went to four consecutive Super Bowls, the Bills were an incredible 48-4 when Thomas rushed for 100 yards in a game.
10. LaDainian Tomlinson. Second to Payton in his completeness, could run, catch or throw for scores.
What’s YOUR Top-10? Leave a comment. How can any list not have Emmitt at #1?
Courtesy: RICK GOSSELIN | SportsDayDFW
RELATED: Emmitt Smith reacts to the retirement of Ladainian Tomlinson
Legendary Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith was not just an accidental tourist in the career of former TCU great LaDanian Tomlinson, who is retiring today as a member of the San Diego Chargers.
Smith, the league’s all-time leading rusher, was Tomlinson’s inspiration as a little boy growing up a Cowboys fan in Waco, and then moreso when he went on to have an outstanding college career at TCU.
There is no question Tomlinson, who finished his 11-year career with the Chargers and the Jets as the league’s fifth all-time leading rusher, had his sights set on Smith at the top spot.
He didn’t quite make it but what he accomplished was enough to make him a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer and it earned him the respect and admiration of his idol.
"I have known LaDanian since he was 13 years old," Smith said. "When you know someone when they are very young, and you watch that person grow into being a man and one of the very best to ever play the game, it is inspirational for me personally. He was a pleasure to watch play football. He did it with pride and passion and he was a true professional from his very first day in the NFL. I am extremely honored to know that I have had a positive influence on him. What he accomplished in his career gives me great pride."
And although Tomlinson didn’t get the rushing title or a coveted Super Bowl, Smith said LT leaves the game with dignity and a respect that few enjoy.
"LaDanian has had a tremendous impact on the league, not only as a player but also as a person with great character, and it shows by the respect his peers have for him and how well-known he is to the public," Smith said. "He accomplished many great things as a player, but I don’t know of any player recently who has left the game with as much admiration and respect from his peers as LT enjoys. And that might be an athlete’s most cherished accomplishment."
Clarence Hill Jr. | Ft. Worth Star-Telegram