Australian sport lovers should heed Rupert Murdoch’s advice and put aside any reflexive anti-Americanism if they want to witness one of the great careers in top-level sport as it unfolds. Followers of the US National Football League are currently being treated to the brilliance of possibly the greatest running back the game has seen – not that you’ll read much about it in the ever-narrow sports pages of the local press.
LaDainian Tomlinson of the rarely fashionable San Diego Chargers is trampling all over the record books. At a time when the NFL is light-on for exciting running backs (the Emmitt Smith-Marshall Faulk-Barry Sanders era is over; Reggie Bush has not yet started to burn), Tomlinson is staking a claim as best of all time.
As we highlighted last week, Tomlinson racked up four touchdowns in his last match on the way to smashing the record for the fastest progression to 100 career touchdowns. It was his 89th NFL match; Smith and fellow immortal Jim Brown both took 93.
He has scored 19 touchdowns in his last six games: another record. He has exceeded 1200 yards rushing every year of his career, he holds the all-time NFL record for most consecutive games with a rushing touchdown, and he is in the very rare triple-threat category, receiving 11 career touchdowns and passing for another five. If he stays uninjured it seems no rushing record will elude his grasp.
Tomlinson is the Tom Brady of running backs, doing everything better than everyone else but without flash or fanfare. Yes, his offensive line is pretty good, but it’s not like the prime beef Emmitt had in front of him in Dallas. Yes, his coach likes to run the ball, but this flamboyant scoring hardly matches Marty Schottenheimer’s defensive reputation.
Tomlinson just has great footwork, great vision and he reads the game better than any other runner.