“If you were to cut me open right now, I would probably bleed purple.”
LaDainian Tomlinson is arguably TCU’s most famous alum. Sure, Sammy Baugh and Davey O’Brien are big names in football, and Dan Jenkins is one of the most well-respected names in sports journalism history.
But when you think of the Horned Frogs, it’s likely that LT’s is the first name that comes to mind.
And for good reason! Tomlinson broke records as a collegiate athlete, starring first for Dennis Franchione and later Gary Patterson on his way to a seat in NYC as a Heisman Finalist and the green room as a first round NFL Draft Pick. He put together a Hall of Fame career with the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets, becoming a first ballot addition to the hallowed halls in Canton, OH. He was a finalist for the NFL 150 (and arguably a significant snub in the running back department) after a lengthy career that saw him compile nearly 14,000 yards on the ground and nearly 5,000 more through the air as part of one MVP season, three All-Pro seasons, five Pro Bowl seasons, and back to back rushing titles.
He’s one of the best to ever lace them up, but it’s what he is doing off the field these days that makes him truly impressive.
As he said, Tomlinson bleeds purple. Despite arriving in Fort Worth at a time when TCU Football was mired in mediocrity, LT quickly fell in love with the Horned Frogs, vowing from early on to take TCU to the top. A part of the Sun Bowl team that broke a decades-long winless streak in postseason play, Tomlinson first made his mark as a return man on that 1998 squad, who took on USC in a game, that on paper, looked inequitable to an extreme.
The Frogs arrived in El Paso — a place few of them had been previously — wanting to make a statement. “We wanted to be on the national stage, not just at that time, but for the rest of TCU’s history. That’s how we looked at it.” Playing in relative obscurity as members of the Western Athletic Conference, the Frogs, who according to Tomlinson were just a “just a small private school that people asked ‘do they play football there?’”, TCU knew they had the chance to put themselves on the national stage by pulling off an upset over a blue-blood led by future Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer. “We didn’t get any respect from USC at the time. As a group, coaches and players alike, we were so motivated to send a message, to make a statement, that we were going to be a team that you would now have to reckon with. That’s how we looked at [the opportunity].”
From wondering what the city of El Paso was all about to vowing to return someday, Tomlinson fell in love with the people he met in far West Texas — and that’s a big reason he elected to return to be a part of Mission Tiger and the DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation. Tomlinson spoke passionately about what competing in sports at a young age did for him and why he was so moved to be a part of this important project. As part of the effort spurred on by the Sun Bowl, Tomlinson, DICK’S, and Mission Tiger gave a $500,000 gift to the City of El Paso, funding teams for 27,000 middle school children in the area. It’s a worthy cause, according to the Hall of Famer. “I want every kid to have the chance to play sports just like I did,” said Tomlinson. “Sports open countless doors and teach kids valuable lessons about teamwork and leadership that will impact the rest of their lives. I’m proud to team up with Mission Tiger and The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation to give kids in my home state a chance to reap the true benefits that middle school sports bring.”
Tomlinson is doing big things across the country, but he’s also focused on giving back to the place that gave him the opportunity to pursue his dream of playing in the National Football League. When he was asked to join the Board of Regents a few months ago, he said “I couldn’t turn it down, because I love the university.” Now, Tomlinson serves an active role on and around campus, meeting with student-athletes and representing TCU both in and outside of Fort Worth — something that has always been important to him. “When I left, the thing that was on my mind the most was representing that University in a way that no one had ever done it. I always thought about who I represent, where I came from. When I was at the top of my game in the National Football League, I always thought that I was pulling TCU along with me.”
Tomlinson has more than pulled TCU up along with him, he’s opened doors for the scores of NFL and professional athletes that came after him. He put TCU on the national stage, and is now working to keep them there. He’s one of the greatest ambassadors that we have, and someone we can all be proud to call a fellow Frog.
And, of course, he bleeds purple.
You can watch the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl on December 31st, when Florida State and Arizona State tangle at 1:00pm on CBS. And you can support LT by visiting www.missiontiger.com and www.sportsmatter.org and making a donation or otherwise getting involved in this important cause.