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
Rick Gosselin, sports columnist for The Dallas Morning News and SportsDayDFW.com, answered readers’ questions about the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL.
Click on Read More to read the entire transcript.
Note: The links are disabled.
Rick Gosselin, sports columnist for The Dallas Morning News and SportsDayDFW.com and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, answered questions about the Cowboys and the NFL in a live chat at 11 a.m. Monday.
RELATED VIDEO: Rick Gosselin and David Moore discuss the weary Dallas Cowboys
Live chat: Rick Gosselin answers your Cowboys/NFL questions (12/12/2011)
Monday December 12, 2011 9:32 SportsDayDFW
10:58 SportsDayDFW: Welcome to the chat room. I sense another hostile crowd… So let’s get started.
Monday December 12, 2011 10:58 SportsDayDFW 10:58 [Comment From stu k: ]
After playing the whole game without a sack of manning, how do you continue to blitz and leave their horrible cornerbacks without help?
11:02 SportsDayDFW: Here’s the final line of my column after the Arizona game: "If the quarterback stays up, the Cowboys will go down." Eli Manning threw 47 passes without a sack. That’s a formula for success against the Cowboys. Rob Ryan’s entire scheme is based on pressure, the pass rush and blitzing. If his troops can’t get there, there are too many overmatched defensive backs left in one-on-one situations. It doesn’t appear Ryan has a Plan B, so he continues to send pass rushers. Here’s a stat for you — in five of the seven home games for the Cowboys this season, they have one sack or less. And you wonder why this team struggles? It’s an average team that needs an overhaul on defense.
Monday December 12, 2011 11:02 SportsDayDFW 11:02 [Comment From john: ]
the ref’s of this game was the worst i have ever witnessed, but the fact of the matter is the def could not hold of a 12 point lead with 6 min to go. for the remaining games we should take the buccaneers , but with the way the defense has been playing i don’t see us beating the eagles or the giants, what is your take rick, thanks
11:09 SportsDayDFW: Seems to me that every team that loses in the NFL wants to put some part of the blame on the officiating. The bottom line is the Cowboys have been a high penalty team for some time now. They have been penalized at least 100 times in six of the last seven seasons — and were flagged 99 times in the one year they didn’t hit the century mark. High penalty teams don’t get the benefit of doubt from the officials. So you see the Cowboys getting 8-10 penalties every week. In the meantime, teams like the Patriots and Saints get penalized 4-6 times every week. You have to earn the respect of the officials to get calls and the benefit of doubt. They Cowboys have not done that. There needs to be a culture change at Valley Ranch. Players need to be held accountable for penalties, especially the pre-snap flags.
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THE VILLAGE IS BURNING: DMN columnist Rick Gosselin chats with readers after the Cowboys vs Eagles game
Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin chatted with readers Monday in the aftermath of the Cowboys-Eagles game to talk about a number of Cowboys-related items. Here are some highlights from the chat:
QUESTION: How is it that I can seemingly call exactly what they are going to do on offense about 70% of the time? Am I a football genius or are they truly that predictable?
Rick Gosselin: Until Dez Bryant learns how to run routes, this will be predictable offense. Hand it to Murray, throw short crossing routes to Jason Witten and work the intermediate areas with Miles Austin. Bryant is the wild card. He can make plays short, medium and long. But until he develops some discipline in his route running, Romo isn’t going to trust him. Bryant also better figure out how to beat press coverage by a defensive back. Nnamdi Asomugha schooled Bryant last night. When Bryant doesn’t have his way with defensive backs, he gets frustrated. Asomugha was so deep into Bryant’s head last night he became a non-factor.
QUESTION: Did the eagles figure out their problems and become a dominant team or was that more of an example of Dallas laying an egg against a 2-4 team?
Rick Gosselin: All of the above. The Eagles were the most talented team in the NFC East on opening day, and they remain the most talented team today. I believed the Eagles would have their struggles early and they might lose a few games as all the new pieces were attempting to fit together. I never expected them to lose four of their first six, though. Still, they have nine new starters, a new defensive coordinator and two new line coaches, one on offense and one on defense and it was going to take time for all of them to mesh. It appears the entire package came together last night and you saw what a juggernaut the Eagles could be. Still, the Cowboys played timid. Had they won, they would have all but ended Philadelphia’s season. The Eagles would have had to go 8-1 the rest of the way to win the division. With the rugged schedule the Giants face, I think the Eagles may have put themselves in a position to win the division last night. The Cowboys could have done the same with a victory. The Eagles succeeded, the Cowboys failed.