By Danny Kohan
Former San Diego Chargers great LaDanian Tomlinson entered the Hall of Fame Saturday night amongst his peers, friends, family and thousands of fans and delivered the night’s most rousing inspirational speech.
Ladies and Gentlemen… @LT_21.
— NFL (@NFL) August 6, 2017
The Chargers drafted L.T. in 2001 out of Texas Christian University, after trading out of the #1 overall spot in that year’s draft (to the Falcons who chose Michael Vick) and selected him with the #5 overall pick. While Vick quickly became the most exciting, talked about, buzz-worthy player in all of sports, dominating ESPN highlight reels and instantly resurrecting the Falcons franchise, no one in San Diego dare utter a word of complaint about the draft day trade.
No, not because Charger fans were too busy surfing the La Jolla Cove or partaking in some quality day drinking along Pacific Beach, but because it was just that clear from day one: L.T. was going to be REALLY REALLY special and he would be for a very long time. Totaling more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 10 TD’s and winning offensive rookie of the year was just the start and soon the rest of the League would take notice.
As Vick’s star began to fade, L.T. was cementing his case as the most dominant running back of his era. He was a silky smooth runner with great vision and an instictive ability to find the hole and almost glide right through it. He had that rare combination of toughness and brute strength necessary to break tackles, shiftiness to side-step and elude defenders and that extra burst to blow by them in the open field. Those attributes alone would be enough for any mere mortal. But, #21 was just as gifted a receiver as he was a runner.
The man was uncover-able coming out of the backfield and a threat to take it to the house any time he touched the ball. In today’s culture of two minute attention spans and three minute news cycles, where yesterday’s news feels a decade old, let us never forget….L.T. was a Beast.
A Beast and a touchdown machine. In fact, for his career, whenever the Chargers had the ball within the opponents ten yard line, there was minimal suspense as to what would happen next. Everyone in the building, everyone watching at home, every freaking fantasy football player on the planet knew three things:
- One way or anoter #21 was getting the rock.
- Multiple defenders were about to be embarrassed on national television.
- L.T.’s cleates would soon be hitting pay dirt.
And when L.T. got bored of leaping, shifting or plowing his way into the end zone or catching a swing pass for 6, he’d do his best Brees/Rivers impersonation and THROW a freaking TD just for shits and giggles.
The man threw 7 TD passes in his career. Seven. Now, admittedly those “passes” weren’t exactly aesthetically pleasing, but for Chargers fans the results certainly were.
He was an unstoppable
duel triple threat that led the previously lowly Chargers to the playoffs five times in six seasons, restored a level of professionalism and respect to an often maligned franchise and became one of the greatest running backs of all-time. However, most importantly, above all those accomplisments, to me and millions of others around the world, there was one thing about him that we REALLY REALLY cared about, one thing that REALLY mattered…L.T. was a Fantasy Football God.
To understand the impact this man had on the world of Fantasy Football, let me take you back to a time. A much simpler time really. A time slightly before “smart” cellurlar devices landed on Earth and entrapped our people, tranforming us into a zombie race beholden by the shiny object’s every vibration, ding and Pavlovian whistle.
The year is 2003 and mankind is in the final stages of a period when people actually looked each other in the eye and interacted as fellow human beings. I’m a college freshman, amongst long-time high school friends, attending my very first Fantasy Football draft. Now, I already have a few years of experience under my belt in the fantasy baseball and basketball realm, but when it comes to fantasy football, I’m what the kids would call a “total newb.”
I sit at a circular couch at my friend BP’s parent’s house with very limited knowledge of this strange cult-like fantasy football world. I am armed with only a random fantasy football magazine that I picked up at my local Barnes & Noble and a printed out list of Yahoo! Fantasy Football player rankings. That is all. These holy texts are all I have to ward off my enemies, they’re my only defense, the only posessions at my disposal. Being a naive newb, I was oblivious to the fact that, at that very moment, I was essentially walking head first into one of those guns blazing, blood squirting, corpse falling shit shows Quentin Tarantino calls the final scene of a movie. Forget a knife, tears and paper cuts stood as my only potential defense.
Sure, I am amongst long-time friends, but there is real tension in the room. Every joke, every conversation, every laugh and pat on the back comes with a little extra. An uneasy glance, a paticular shimmer in my best friends’ eyes, something offsetting about their mannerisms, a disturbing ominous darkness emanating from the back of their eyes. It’s a hostile energy I had never quite encountered before.
A glance that was not only difficult for me to explain or comprehend, but one that hit me directly in the solar plexus ane sent shivers down my spine. It carried with it a certain aggression, a haunting knowing, there was some pity there, yes, but there was also a rage. An extremely intense rage.
A stare that, after 14 years of playing fantasy football myself, I now have become all too familiar with. In fact, sadly, it has become my default glance. In any and all fantasy football based situations, I no longer have the choice, my eyes reflexively narrow, I become infused with that same intense rage. I’m instictively compelled to give that Kobe Bryant death stare to all that dare enter my presence: foes, friends and strangers alike.
Now, my feet tap uncontrollably, my hands tremble, I look around the room to observe those who (just moments ago) were my friends, but now must become my enemies. Whom I must now destroy. They’re studying their draft board, fidgeting, drinking cheap beer, talking shit and eating a hodgepodge of Cheez-It’s, Cheetos, those little mini Ritz cackers with the cheese in the middle…basically a random assortment of cheese based snacks.
I’ve got the fourth pick. Now, it’s time I must admit something. Let me get this out of the way right off the bat. My league of high school friends has a total of 7 team members. I know I know, 7 teams?!? What kind of pussy ass league is this? But, remember, the year is 2003, there wasn’t exactly a rush of people claimoring to play nerd football. Sure Fantasy Football was a thing, but it really wasn’t yet a “thing.”
The first pick in the draft goes Priest Holmes of the Kansas City Chiefs. A name that casual fans of the National Football League may or may not remember, but any fantasy football player of that time surely reveres. Personally, I have a portion of my home roped off and a mantle built in his honor, complete with a single candle that stays lit day and night, Fall through Spring, a glorious mahogany red. A red as red as the red zone itself. A place he so frequently visited and so thoroughly conquered.
Yes, I have my own Priest Holmes shrine and without a hint of shame I share this information with you freely. To him I do pray. At least five times a day, I pray. For health yes, but mostly for Fantasy goodness. The man is my God, my “Priest” if you will…don’t judge me.
The second pick goes Marvin Harrison of the Colts, the Malone to Peyton Manning’s Stockton. It’s one pick away from my turn and I know who I’m selecting. Both the magazine and Yahoo! say the choice is clear: L.T. is my dude. If you’ve ever played fantasy football you know what happens next, L.T. gets picked right before my turn and I’m left to watch in horror, as the man tromps all over the competition, destroys my hopes, lays ruin to my inconsequential dreams.
From 2002- 2008, if you were the poor sap playing against L.T. in Fantasy that week and you made the fatal mistake of looking up his box score or throwing the Charger game on, there was nothing any man, woman or child could do to save you from the horror. It was too much to watch, too much to bare.
Remember, this is before the “Red Zone” channel and DirecTV Sunday NFL ticket, when the only team you could consistently watch on T.V. week in and week out was your local one. For me, that was the San Diego Chargers. In a fantasy football league where we did not play match-up’s or have playoffs, but where overall points determines the winner, not having L.T. on your squad was like a prison sentece. You were doing time. Left helpless to sit in your cell and watch the television mounted on the wall, to think about your sins while this football machine piled up the yards, evicerated his opponents, consistently found the end zone and celebrated with an infuriating “This-is-too-fucking-easy” flip.
When L.T. was NOT on your fantasy team…Good God those were painful games to watch.
For the next 17 weeks of my otherwise no longer important life, the man became a part of my daily sensory experince. Every moment, whether asleep or awake, I could see him in my periphery. I could sense his presence. There he was with that shiny black vizor, that football tucked firmly in his arms. Like Gump he was always running, always gaining yards, racking up points. “Thump” “Thump” “Thump” at all hours of the day the piercing sound of his cleates hitting the field rang, vibrating in my eardrumbs. “Thump” “Thump” “Thump” my head ached with pain, with visions of #21 leaping into the end-zone. My daily migraine was real, as if a miniature L.T. had not only entered my conscious, but physically found his way into my cranium. Mini-L.T. always running, always evading defenders, always wreaking havoc somewhere in the back of my skull.
Anyways, I settled for Clinton Portis with the #4 pick. While Clinton performed admirably for me in that 2003 season, L.T. he was not. Tomlinson finished the year, his third in the League, with 1,645 rushing yards, 725 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns.
From my first year playing in 2003 until 2009, L.T. was a first round pick in our and every other fantasy football league in the nation and was often in strong consideration for the number one overall pick. Here is where he was drafted in our league in that time period:
2002– 1st Round, top 5 selection.
2003– 1st Round, top 3 selection.
2004– 1st Round, top 3 selection. I got the chance to draft him. Not so coincidentally I won my first League Championship.
2005– 1st Round, top 3 selection. The guy who owned him’s team name reads “No Joke LT= My Team”
2006– 1st Round, top 3 selection. My fantasy football arch-nemesis, Mikey, and current leader in league titles (6** to my 5 titles) selects him, of course L.T. goes on to have one of the great fantasy football seasons of all time, breaking the then single season touchdown record by scoring 31 TD’s. Michael gets the trophy.
**Vitally Important Note: Mikey won one of those titles before I entered the League. The year was 2001, there were five total teams in the league mind you. I can’t stress this enough.
2007– 1st Round, #1 pick
2008– 1st Round, #1 pick. Another classic L.T. fantasy football memory filled with heart-ache. But, this time I have L.T. on my squad. It’s week 17 and I’m playing for the league championship, but I’m down 40 points to Mikey in the final game of the season. Mikey’s players are all done, but I have L.T. left to play in the Sunday Night game. In that moment, while I am fully aware that this is L.T. and, as it is with the Lord, with L.T. all things are possible, still, 40 points looks insurmountable. Things are dire.
Then, it happens…8 yrds here…28 yrd there…a TD…another TD….ANOTHER TD. Next thing you know L.T. has 96 total yrds and 3 TD’s with a little under 10 minutes to play in the 3rd quarter. Now I’m 12 points back, sitting pretty, still a lifetime left to play in this game. That’s when the other all too familiar thing in fantasy football happens, L.T. exits the game with an injury. His backup RB Darren Sproles coverts a 2 yrd TD and it’s quickly followed by a 4 yrd TD from the other backup RB Jacob Hester. L.T. never returns. All the while Mikey sits besides me clasping his fists, laughing maniacally while I wither away in pain.
2009– 1st Round
2001: #7- 1,236 rushing, 367 receiving, 10 TD’s
2002: #3- 1,683 rushing, 489 receiving, 15 TD’s
2003: #3- 1,645 rushing, 725 receiving yards, 17 TD’s
2004: #3- 1,335 rushing, 421 receiving yards, 18 TD’s
2005: #3- 1,462 rushing, 370 receiving, 20 TD’s
2006: #1- 1,815 rushing, 508 receiving, 31 TD’s
2007: #1- 1,474 rushing, 475 receiving, 18 TD’s
2008: #7- 1,110 rushing, 426 receiving, 12 total TD’s
Again, from 2002 to 2008, God help you if you didn’t have L.T. on your Fantasy team
That’s six straight years finishing as one of the top three RB’s in fantasy football and eight straight years of being in the top ten. Like fellow San Diego legend Tony Gwynn, the man was just super-humanly consistent.
Now, as I prepare to begin my 15th season in my high school friends’ fantasy football league, as we have our draft and we choose our David Johnson’s, LeVeon Bell’s and Ezekiel Elliot’s…let us pause and let us remember. Let us say L.T.’s name in reverence, raise our cheese based snack and pour one out for the Fantasy Football G.O.A.T.
And while the image of L.T. may no longer haunt my every waking moment, may no longer induce within me a sense of abject fear or blissful joy depending upon whether or not he happened to grace my roster that particular season, I assure you this, the memories of that visor wearing speed demon will forever live on. Forever, I tell you.
As Mr. Tomlinson enters the Hall of Fame, let us praise him for the person and player he was, but let us never forget….first and foremost…L.T. was a Fucking Beast.
All hail LaDanian Tomlinson. Fantasy Football God.
By Danny Kohan