Tomlinson Passes Brown, Gets Pat On Back From Boyhood Hero

By Ryan Isley (Originally posted 12/6/2009)

Most kids in America grow up emulating their favorite athletes while playing pick-up games in the backyard and San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson is no different.

“As a kid playing football in the yard I looked up to all the great running backs but there were a lot of days I was Jim Brown out on the football field,” Tomlinson said.

This, however, was no regular Sunday.  This was the day in which Tomlinson realized that boyhood dream of being Jim Brown.

With an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter of San Diego’s 30-23 win over Cleveland, Tomlinson surpassed Jim Brown for eighth on the NFL’s all-time career rushing list.

As if passing Brown was not special enough, doing it in Cleveland where Brown played from 1957-1965 made it even more memorable.

“To do it here in Cleveland is extra special,” Tomlinson said.  “I can’t even tell you what it means because it seemed like it was supposed to happen being here in Cleveland. I’m just excited we were able to get it done.”

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said that Tomlinson’s teammates were aware that he would be able to pass Brown in this game.

“I think he was within nine yards or something at one point,” Rivers said. “I kinda told a few of the lineman ‘hey our guy has a chance to pass Jim Brown in Cleveland.  Let’s go get it’.”

Norv Turner, who has coached Tomlinson the last three seasons, is impressed by what Tomlinson has accomplished.

“You go by Marshall Faulk and you go by the guy who many consider the best ever in Jim Brown, to do it here in this stadium in terms of career yards, it’s a thrill to coach him and I think our players feel the same thing with the opportunity to play with him.”

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who hauled in eight catches for 167 yards in a career day, agrees with Turner’s assessment.

“I have been blessed to play with a guy for the past seven years that has done some spectacular things in his career and he is just adding to that,” Gates said of his teammate.  “To me he is going to go down as one of the great running backs of all-time regardless of milestones or who he passes or what yardage he breaks.”

To Gates, it is not just about LaDainian Tomlinson the football player, but also about LaDainian Tomlinson the person.

“Being around him the person solidifies that things happen to good people and I am just excited for him and happy that he was able to make that milestone,” Gates said.

Despite Tomlinson’s struggles at times this season, Rivers knows that having No. 21 in his backfield is is an important part of their offense.

“This year has probably been one of the toughest he has had for a lot reasons, but he’s still a huge, huge part and continues to make plays for this team and this offense,” Rivers said. “Just being on the field with a guy that continues to break some of these records and move pass guys on those lists it’s a lot of fun.”

Along with passing Brown, Tomlinson also became the fastest player in NFL history to score 150 career touchdowns.  He accomplished the feat in 137 games, besting the previous fastest of Emmitt Smith by 23 games.

“It’s pretty special because I have always really enjoyed scoring touchdowns more than anything,” Tomlinson said of the record.  “Part of the reason is because that’s how you win the game, scoring touchdowns.  I have always said that if I am scoring touchdowns it means we’re winning.”

While the touchdown mark was special it did not take long for Tomlinson to decide which of the two feats meant the most on this day.

“I really think it was passing Jim Brown. He transcended generations and I can remember my father talking about Jim Brown as a kid and he loved him,” Tomlinson said.  “Everyone loved Jim Brown and rightfully so. Even today when you talk about great running backs the majority of the people say Jim Brown is the best ever.”

Immediately after passing Brown, Tomlinson looked up to where Brown was sitting.  He then pointed up, tapped his chest and gave a salute to the man that many still consider the best running back to ever play the game.

“That was just appreciation I had for him giving a kid but also a young man something to strive for on the football field,” Tomlinson said of the tribute.  “He gave me something to shoot for and I just wanted to show my appreciation.”

That respect was not lost on Brown.  Moments after Tomlinson spoke with the media, he returned to the locker room where shortly thereafter he was greeted by Brown.

“Congratulations,” Brown told Tomlinson as they shook hands. “You are a great, great player.”

“Thank you,” Tomlinson replied as you could by the look on his face the great respect he has for Brown. “I appreciate you giving a young kid and then a young man something to strive for. Obviously I have looked up to you and wanted to be like you.”

“Here you are,” Brown said as Tomlinson soaked in every moment with his boyhood hero.  “You are a fantastic player and person.  Keep up the good work.”

After meeting with Tomlinson, Brown explained why he felt the need to talk with Tomlinson on this day.

“I came to the locker room because I do respect him that much,” Brown said. “I love the young men because most of them give me great respect and one-on-one we can relate and I like that. There is no jealousy because it is so difficult to reach the level of greatness that he has reached. How dare I not give him all the compliments I have in my heart because he had to do that himself.”

Brown knows that many fans, especially in the Cleveland area, regard him as the best running back to ever put on an NFL uniform but he has tried to downplay that.

“What I am regarded as is a guy that played many years ago that satisfied the fans,” Brown said. “My position in history does not matter to me but the respect I get and the respect I give is highly important to me.”

Just the way that Tomlinson was Jim Brown on the playground in the days of his youth, there are kids today who are LaDainian Tomlinson when they play those games of backyard football.

“To me that’s what kids aspire to be – their heroes,” Tomlinson said. “That’s how it should be. Obviously we are role models because a lot of kids look up to us and a lot of kids shoot for the stars and want to do the things we have done. It brings me great pride to have kids look up to me and want to be like me on the playground.”

It looks like Jim Brown summed it up best LaDainian – “Here you are”.

Follow me on Twitter: @isley23


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