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Last Call? Jets give Tomlinson a Real Super Shot


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Last call? Jets give Tomlinson a real Super shot


Vinnie Iyer

Tuesday, Jun. 15, 2010 - 11:30 a.m. ET


When the Chargers drafted LaDainian Tomlinson out of TCU in 2001, it was like he was meant to take the baton from his childhood hero, the Dallas Cowboys' Emmitt Smith, as the NFL's next elite running back.


At 31, LaDainian Tomlinson's chances at playing in a Super Bowl are dwindling.

Although as late as the '07 season it looked like Tomlinson had a legitimate chance of breaking Smith's NFL record for career rushing yardage, that development faded away after two difficult seasons. It also feels like a longshot for Tomlinson, who turns 31 on June 23, to match Smith's three Super Bowl victories.

It's unfortunate that throughout his prolific near-decade in San Diego, playing for a perennial playoff team, that Tomlinson never reached the Super Bowl.

Former Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal, Tomlinson's superb lead blocker from 2003-07, says this spring was the right time for Tomlinson to move on to another championship contender, the Jets.

"All good things come to an end," Neal, who also joined Tomlinson in being named to Sporting News' All-Decade Team for the 2000s. "I'm intrigued by what he can do in New York. I think he'll go in reinvigorated and rejuvenated."

While the Chargers usher in a new era with rookie running back Ryan Mathews, Tomlinson goes to a Jets team with a young, winning nucleus where experience is his biggest asset.

Neal can't help but root for his former teammate.

"Everyone knows he's a great player, but he's am even better person. He's going somewhere where's he wanted," Neal said.

Changing teams worked well for another aging multiple Pro Bowl performer last year, when safety Darren Sharper played a key role in the Saints' defense as both Sharper and New Orleans won their first Super Bowls.

In Tomlinson's case, he will play a complementary role to budding star Shonn Greene. In essence, Tomlinson is there to replace Thomas Jones as the seasoned backfield mate and in part to replace Leon Washington in the third-down role. Tomlinson expects to average about 10 touches per game.

Another one of Tomlinson's former Chargers teammates, former NFL defensive end Marcellus Wiley, says the key to Tomlinson finding the ultimate success is to put individual numbers behind him.

"He has to get used to seeing the ball less," said Wiley, now an analyst for ESPN. "He doesn't have the power and speed he once did, but he can still be an effective physical runner. He just needs to do what the coaches ask and try not to do too much."

This offseason, the Jets added a revered runner to what was the league's No. 1 rushing offense. They have a premier run-blocking line capable of creating big holes for any back. They reached the AFC title game in January and showed off a championship-caliber defense in stopping Tomlinson and the Chargers' offense, 17-14, in the second round of the playoffs.

To extend his career and have the best shot at getting to—and winning—a Super Bowl, Tomlinson couldn't have picked a better team than the Jets.

Tomlinson often has been compared to Smith because of his size and running style, but if the Jets win it all Feb. 6 in Dallas, he would share something sweet with another legendary back, the late great Walter Payton: Getting his first ring at age 31.

Cheers for four more

A look at a quartet of other talented, dedicated veterans who are sentimental favorites to get that elusive first Super Bowl ring:

Donovan McNabb, QB, Redskins. A few early mistakes cost him and the Eagles dearly in Super Bowl 39, but it would be great to see him get another opportunity with his new team. Washington is a once-proud franchise, and leading the Redskins return to glory would bring him the praise he never received in Philadelphia.

Ed Reed, S, Ravens. He came into the league two years after Baltimore's Super Bowl 35 victory and has since joined Ray Lewis as the fixture in the back seven. Reed's big-play flair is worthy of the biggest stage. He also must get healthy to take advantage of the chance.

Tony Gonzalez, TE, Falcons. He is the best pass-catching tight end in NFL history and is on the verge of 1,000 receptions. Winning it all with a young, rising team would ice his prolific career. Gonzalez asked out of Kansas City and requested he be traded to a Super Bowl contender. Entering his second season in Atlanta, he's in a good place.

Charles Woodson, CB, Packers. In college at Michigan, he earned the two ultimate prizes: The Heisman Trophy and a national championship. Now, the venerable all-around athlete—after a terrific rejuvenation in Green Bay—deserves a second shot at the Lombardi Trophy after coming so close as a Raider.

Vinnie Iyer is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at viyer@sportingnews.com.

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