LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Vick will always be linked. On the eve of the 2001 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons moved up four spots to obtain the San Diego Chargers’ No. 1 overall selection.
“Keep in mind, I hadn’t talked to San Diego predraft or anything else,” Tomlinson recalled this week. “I remember when we were both at the draft the day before and Vick actually said to me, ‘You know what, they’re going to trade the pick and Atlanta is going to move to No. 1 and San Diego is going to jump back to No. 5 and get you.’”
Vick was a star at Virginia Tech while Tomlinson helped revive a program at Texas Christian. The Chargers had many needs and they were burned just a few years prior when they drafted Ryan Leaf with the No. 2 overall selection. After negotiating with Vick, the Bolts moved back for a package that included the swap of first-round picks and the acquisition of a third-round pick (No. 67, CB Tay Cody) in ’01, a second-rounder in ’02 (No. 48, WR Reche Caldwell) and WR-KR Tim Dwight.
Almost in disbelief after what he heard from Vick, Tomlinson couldn’t quite get in the SoCal frame of mind until the trade was official.
“I was like, ‘Why would you do that? He said, ‘Well, we can’t agree on the money.’ I still didn’t quite believe him at the time, but laying in my bed that night before the draft, I saw that they traded for Vick,” Tomlinson said. “I said, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to San Diego.’ That’s kind of when I knew that it was going to happen.”
The Chargers not only got themselves an outstanding running back, but they came back in the second round and took a flyer on a small quarterback with questionable arm strength. Purdue product Drew Brees was his name and he turned out to be a sensational player in his own right.
“I was the fifth pick and I think Drew Brees was actually like the 32nd pick or something like that. It was the first pick in the second round,” Tomlinson said. “If you think about that, they had two Hall of Fame guys that they drafted that year. So it’s pretty unbelievable picking by John Butler.”
They are working on Tomlinson’s bust in Canton, Ohio. He’s third on the NFL’s all-time list for career touchdowns with 162, and he needs just 73 yards to move past Jerome Bettis and into fifth place on the all-time rushing list.
“I can’t say enough about the late John Butler and his family, giving me the opportunity to play in this league,” he said. “He believed in me and as a younger player he did say I reminded him of Thurman Thomas, who he had in Buffalo. At that time, I just told him that I hoped I could live up to half of the things Thurman Thomas has done. John Butler was great to be around.”
Tomlinson and the Jets have been hanging around the end zone a lot lately. They average 26.2 points a game and have scored 13 touchdowns over the last three weeks, including 12 straight in the red zone.
“I think that’s the thing people really need to focus on because last year we were one of the worst teams in the red zone,” said Tomlinson, who against the Chiefs celebrated his first home score as a Jet. “This year we’re tops in the league in the red zone. Just to kind of show people this offense, when we put our minds that we want to be good at something —we get the job done. A lot of that has to do with coaching. Schotty is the main one up there preaching that to us every single day, pointing out the things we’re doing wrong, correcting what we’re doing wrong. That’s how we’re moving forward.”
The 32-year-old Tomlinson still has moves that wow us. After missing Weeks 11 and 12 with a knee sprain, he again tweaked the same knee at Washington and was limited in Week 13. But he had six touches against the Chiefs, including a beautiful 31-yard catch-and-run after making rookie Justin Houston look like a traffic cone in coverage.
“It was funny because I felt kind of disrespected a little bit. He’s kind of a defensive end/linebacker and they just had him 1-on-1 with me,” Tomlinson said. “In my opinion, at that time, if I can’t beat him, then it’s time for me to retire and get out of the game. I’m done if I can’t win my matchup.”
Now close to 11 years after a historic draft day trade, Tomlinson hopes he can secure a win against Vick’s team. Vick and the Eagles haven’t had the success they’ve wanted, but they remain explosive and Tomlinson would like to see No. 7 on the sideline most of the day.
“That’s going to be critical for us is time of possession,” he said. “We would love to keep them off the field and allow our defense to rest. We don’t know what kind of game it’s going to be as far as the weather. We all know this time of year you have to be able to run the football and that’s one of the things we’ve been doing good of late, so we have to continue that.”
Tags: 2001 Draft, LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Vick, San Diego Chargers, Thurman Thomas
Posted in Eric Allen | 14 Comments »