Chargers' Tomlinson runs away with MVP award

NEW YORK -- Spell this year's NFL MVP: LT.

Record-setting LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers ran
away with The Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player award
Thursday the way he eluded defenders in leading his team to the
AFC's best record (14-2) and a favorite's role for the Super Bowl.

"When you're MVP of the league, it's a great accomplishment,"
Tomlinson said, adding the honor means "that I've had a great
year, that's all, on a great team."

But with so much more on the horizon, he hopes.

"I would feel so much better about winning if we win the Super
Bowl. It would feel like it would be everything," Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson, who broke Shaun Alexander's league record for
touchdowns by scoring 31 (28 rushing) and also threw for two
scores, had one of the greatest seasons in NFL history. He rushed
for a league-high 1,815 yards on 348 carries, had 56 receptions for
508 yards and was 2-for-3 as a passer, both completions for scores,
giving the Chargers running back six in his six-year career, tying
him for second among non-quarterbacks.

"It just kind of got on a roll," Tomlinson explained.
"Touchdowns, as they say, come in bunches. That was kind of the
way it happened. It seemed like once we started scoring that we
couldn't stop."

Of all his records and accomplishments this year, L.T. said the
highlights were breaking Paul Hornung's single-season scoring
record -- Tomlinson finished with 186 points -- and winning the
rushing title.

Noting that Hornung was also a kicker, Tomlinson said, "To be
able to break that record that stood for 40 some years by scoring
touchdowns, I think for me is a huge accomplishment. I think
leading the league in rushing solidifies your position as being a
running back.''

All of those are merely numbers -- impressive numbers, but just
stats. Tomlinson's attributes go way beyond that as a solid citizen
and a player who lets his on-field actions represent him.

"It couldn't happen to a better person, a man who is the face
and the perfect representative of the National Football League,"
fullback Lorenzo Neal said. "He represents what every player
should be."

Few players have approached what Tomlinson achieved as San Diego
won its final 10 games. Alexander, last season's MVP, understood
what LT did.

"He won't realize it until after the year is over. Because when
you're in a groove you're just about winning games," Alexander
said late in the season. "Their season almost looks like ours last
year; it's kind of funny. He won't recognize it until it's all over
with, and then he'll be like, 'Dang that was sweet."'

So sweet that he received 44 of the 50 votes from a nationwide
panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL. Former
teammate Drew Brees, now starting quarterback for the New Orleans
Saints, got four votes, and Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning got two.

Tomlinson rushed for at least 100 yards 10 times this season,
including nine in a row, and scored two or more TDs in 10 games.
The highlights were four-touchdown games against San Francisco in a
48-19 romp and Cincinnati in a 49-41 shootout in which San Diego
trailed 28-7 at halftime.

Those performances prompted coach Marty Schottenheimer to
declare L.T. the best running back in pro football history. Yes,
better than J.B. (Jim Brown), O.J. (Simpson) and W.P. (Walter

"It definitely feels good because these are all guys I grew up
watching and idolizing at times," Tomlinson said. "To me, guys
who could do no wrong. It just says the kind of hard work I have
put in to kind of prove that I belong in this league, now proving
that, I guess I belong to be mentioned with guys like with Jim
Brown and Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders."

Schottenheimer saw all of them play, along with the likes of
Emmitt Smith and Gale Sayers.

"One of the things that we all strive for in our chosen field,
whatever that might be, is the respect of our peers,"
Schottenheimer said. "I think that's the most important qualities
that any individual can ever possess, the ability that those that
know him look at him with the respect that, 'This is a person that
I admire.'

"I think with a certainty that everybody in this building and
most everybody in this community probably has that sense about
LaDainian Tomlinson. He is an individual who engenders the respect
of everybody that he comes in contact with."

Tomlinson is the first Charger to win the MVP award. He joins
Brown (1957 and '65), Simpson (1973) and Payton (1977) among
brilliant running backs to take the honor.