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TCU Football Countdown: 5 Days

TCU has retired the #5, and with good reason. One of the all-time football greats, at any level, brings us five days from opening night.

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I am going to age myself here, but it's worth it in this scenario. I was incredibly fortunate to attend college during the same time period that LaDainian Tomlinson was playing football for the Frogs. I have told bits and pieces of this story here before, but it bears repeating; my freshman year, we were 1-10, tearing down the goalposts and suffering through the pepper spray, all because we had managed to pull off the upset win over SMU. Pat Sullivan gave way to Dennis Franchione after that terrible season, but he left a gift for the new coach: an under-recruited and under-appreciated halfback out of Waco.

The man they call LT initially split time with another pretty good TCU running back, Basil Mitchell. Franchione instituted a run heavy offense, relying on a really good defense - led by his D coordinator, one Gary Patterson - to win games. Watching TCU Football as a student, it felt like we never threw it more than a handful of times a game, but that meant the minutes ticked by quickly and we were back to the tailgates faster (my how times have changed - then we couldn't wait to leave, now I want to stay in the stadium forever). After Tomlinson helped lead the Frogs to their first bowl win in 41 years - a surprising victory over Pete Carroll, Carson Palmer, and USC in the Sun Bowl - he took on a bigger role as a junior. Against UTEP in 1999, he rushed for a then record 406 yards - I was there and it was awesome - a record that stood for 15 years. He led the NCAA that year with 1,850 yards and scored 18 touchdowns as the Frogs went 10-2, won a WAC championship, and played in the Mobile, AL Bowl - the first game for Coach P who took over when Franchione bolted for Bama after the regular season (they lost to Southern Miss).

A first team All-American and Heisman finalist during his senior season, Tomlinson didn't take home the stiff arm trophy, but was named the Doak Walker award winner after rushing for almost 2,200 yards and 22 scores. I remember that Heisman campaign and seeing plastered all over Fort Worth, in the early days on the internet. It was fun sitting with him in classes, seeing him stay humble as the entire Frog community gushed over him on and off the field. He never had a pen - ever - and since we fell next to each other alphabetically in most of the RTVF classes we shared, he would often ask to borrow one from me. I had a stash of ESPN labeled pens from a PA job with the then burgeoning company, and whenever I would like let him use one of those, he would thank me by humming the familiar 'dun nuh nuh, dun nuh nuh' when clicking it open.

Selected fifth overall in the draft that spring, by the San Diego Chargers, whom he would play nine seasons for, LT set many franchise and league records during his time in San Diego, including being the first player in history to rush for over 1,000 yards and make 100 receptions in a single season. In seven seasons, he amassed at least 1,000 yards rushing and at least 50 receptions, was a five time Pro Bowler, a four time first team All-Pro selection, a two time rushing leader, and awarded an MVP and an Offensive Player of the Year. His 2006 MVP season was one of the best seasons by any player, at any position, in league history.

A College Football Hall of Famer, TCU Hall of Famer, and Chargers Hall of Famer, LT should be a lock to be a first team selection to Canton next summer, his first of eligibility. His #5 jersey retired at TCU, the #21 he wore for the Chargers will have the same distinction this November, when he officially enters their Ring of Honor.

A fixture in Fort Worth now that he is retired, Tomlinson spends a considerable amount of time around the TCU campus and football teams. He hosts a camp at TCU annually, and is involved in a considerable amount of charity work in the region. A man we can all be proud of both on and off the field, LT is one of the greatest Frogs in a long history.