For Tomlinson, maybe, a last shot at Super Bowl

For years, LaDainian Tomlinson put up huge numbers in San Diego. He joined the Jets, he said, in hopes of winning an NFL title.
For years, LaDainian Tomlinson put up huge numbers in San Diego. He joined the Jets, he said, in hopes of winning an NFL title.
Posted: January 22, 2011

If Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez or running back Shonn Greene have any question about their early-career fortune, all they have to do is talk to their backfield teammate, LaDainian Tomlinson.

He is in his 10th NFL season. He has been a league MVP, and is a three-time first-team all-pro and five-time Pro Bowler. And when Tomlinson walks onto Heinz Field Sunday, he will have played in exactly as many conference title games as Sanchez and Greene, a Winslow Township High School graduate whose critical late runs have sparked the Jets in the playoffs.

The second-year players are each set for their second AFC championship game, their second chance to reach the Super Bowl, a game some veteran stars such as Tomlinson have never reached.

"I've dreamed about winning a Super Bowl championship since I was 6 years old," said Tomlinson, 31. "Football was everything."

He grew up in Rosebud, Texas, 130 miles south of Dallas, and was a "huge" Cowboys fan, watching the team win three Super Bowls in the '90s. To go back to Texas this year and win a championship in his home state, Tomlinson said, "would be a dream come true."

"It would be anything and everything that I can ask for in my career," he said.

Greene dashed Tomlinson's hopes last year with a fourth-quarter 53-yard touchdown that provided the Jets' winning points over Tomlinson's San Diego Chargers. As teammates this year, Greene helped Tomlinson advance to this point with a late 16-yard score that sealed a win over the Patriots on Sunday.

When Tomlinson left the field in New England, the site of his only AFC championship game appearance, he reportedly had tears welling in his eyes.

The Jets have gotten this far largely through the efforts of the running-back duo, Greene and Tomlinson. The team ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing during the regular season. Greene and Tomlinson combined for 152 and 119 yards, respectively, in the Jets' first two playoff games.

Sunday, though, the pair will face a defense that gave up just 62.8 rushing yards per game during the season, best in the NFL and one of the best in league history.

The Jets ran for 106 yards against the Steelers when the teams played Dec. 19, the most Pittsburgh has allowed all year. That, though, was without the Steelers' superstar safety Troy Polamalu in the game.

Everything Tomlinson has done this season, he said, was focused on the Super Bowl. As a free agent cut loose from the Chargers, the only team he had ever played for, Tomlinson said his top priority was finding a team that could get him to the big game.

"It's the only and No. 1 goal for me," said Tomlinson, who called Sunday's game the biggest of his career.

Many people said Tomlinson was washed up, but he rushed for 914 yards and caught 52 passes this season.

Given a chance to crack the 1,000-yard mark in the Jets meaningless final game of the season, he said he opted to rest for the playoffs.

For years, Tomlinson put up huge numbers as part of a talented Chargers team, but his postseason record before this year was a disappointing 3-5.

Tomlinson isn't alone among Jets facing possibly their last good chance at a Super Bowl. Jason Taylor, a potential Hall-of-Fame pass-rusher, left the Dolphins to join the rival Jets this year for a shot at the championship. Defensive end Shaun Ellis is the longest-tenured Jet, having played 11 years without reaching the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile young Jets such as center Nick Mangold and tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson are each in their fifth season in the NFL and have reached the playoffs three times.

"When you talk to a lot of the older vets, there's no guarantee that you get to his stage," Ferguson said.

Tomlinson knows. And he said Sanchez and Greene do, too.

"They understand the sense of urgency," he said. "They understand that this just doesn't happen every year."


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or jtamari@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JonathanTamari

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