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SDUT: Tomlinson provides some personal insight regarding his TD prowess


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How does he do it?

By Kevin Acee


October 20, 2005

Pausing on his journey to immortality, LaDainian Tomlinson obliged a request for a description of the goal-line view through his tinted eye shield.

Some of the world's largest, fastest and strongest men are flying this way and that, bodies falling like axed trees, legs whipping like weed whackers.

Time slows down while everything else speeds up.

"It's blurry for a minute," Tomlinson recounted.

The difficulty is in making sense of the chaos, finding the hole, seizing the moment.

"There's always a soft spot in the defense, and it's your job to find it," he explained. "Once you see that soft spot there, you've got to hit it. You've got to hit it at full speed."

The challenge is in believing.

"You just kind of set your mind that no matter what, 'I won't let them stop me,' " Tomlinson said.

And that's what it takes to score a touchdown in the NFL, straight from the mouth of the man who quite possibly does it better than anyone else.

There have, of course, been many touchdowns among Tomlinson's 71 career scores that have seen him cross the goal line without a defender near enough to touch him, whether he ran 50 yards or was sprung free by a brilliant play call or bruising block.

But there may be nothing that illustrates Tomlinson's growing reputation for being able to find the end zone like the fact that almost three-quarters of his 64 rushing touchdowns have come from five yards or closer – perhaps the most difficult place from which to begin a scoring run.

"Everything is so much tighter and faster; it's tough down there," Tomlinson acknowledged. "I've always really appreciated the long touchdowns, too. It's an explosive play. But, I'll tell you, the harder ones are on the goal line."

A short parade of teammates made their way to Tomlinson's locker after yesterday's practice, dropping jerseys and balls for him to sign.

He had already spent a half-hour on a conference call with national media and taped an interview for the evening "SportsCenter."

It seems every day this week a new expert has proclaimed him the best player in the league, theorized he is the best running back ever or suggested he simply be handed the MVP trophy right now.

Tomlinson is the focus of the football-speaking world in large part because going into this weekend's contest at Philadelphia he is on the verge of scoring in his 19th consecutive game, something no one in the NFL has ever done.

He has already rushed for a touchdown in an unprecedented 18 straight games.

His 71 touchdowns (rushing and receiving) through 69 career games are more than all but three players in history have ever had at that point.

His 64 rushing touchdowns not even halfway through his fifth season put him easily within reach of challenging Emmitt Smith's NFL record of 164 career rushing touchdowns. Smith, who accomplished the record in 15 seasons, had 71 rushing scores at the end of his fifth season.

Tomlinson smiles, speaks softly and shrugs, insisting victories are what he prizes most.

But he knows that same as he is being compared to Barry Sanders and Gayle Sayers and Walter Payton, yet-to-arrive running backs will someday be called the next LT.

"I think that would be the ultimate respect," Tomlinson said. "I looked up to Emmitt and Barry and even Walter as a young child. So for a young guy to look up to you and then ultimately people compare them to you, I mean, it's a tremendous honor to be one of the greats and a legend of the game. That's the reason why you play."

At the least, he is at his best, finally healthy after suffering through a groin pull and still making his second Pro Bowl in 2004. He is playing this season in such a way that he is getting noticed as he has not before.

"LT is having a video-game year," Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb said.

Tomlinson's run-catch-throw touchdown performance at Oakland has been the talk of the league this week. He is third in the league in rushing, second in total yards and touchdowns. He has scored at least two touchdowns in all but one game this season.

As he does all accolades, Tomlinson attempts to downplay the praise. But he has acknowledged before and did so again yesterday that among his goals is the desire to be recognized as unmatched.

"People are going to have their own opinion about who is the best," he said. "But I tell you, whenever you're in the offseason working out and you're putting in the work every day and striving to be the best, that's what you think about, being the best in the league."

Kevin Acee: (619) 293-1857; kevin.acee@uniontrib.com

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