It’s my belief most college football fans forget just how good LaDainian Tomlinson was as a running back. At TCU, he was a consensus first-team All-American. But it was overshadowed then since TCU was in the WAC. However if you fast forward a few years you would see one of the all-time great running back resumes unfolding: 2006 NFL MVP. 2x NFL rushing leader. “LT” holds multiple NFL records including 28 rushing touchdowns in a season, 31 touchdowns from scrimmage in a season, and is tied for the record with 18-straight games with a touchdown. Also, Tomlinson is 5th all-time in career rushing yards.
So when LT was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend, it made me realize that TCU does not seem to utilize one of the all-time great running backs enough to benefit the football program. I’m not saying Gary Patterson needs help, he’s a great coach and is recruiting well. But it never hurts for fans and recruits to be reminded that, yes, LT did go to college in Fort Worth.
And in listening to LaDainian Tomlinson speak with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Friday, he certain speaks fondly of his alma mater, saying, “it’s [TCU] truly a family atmosphere. But I think over those four years I became a man, I grew into a young man and I really left college prepared for the NFL and prepare to be a professional at the NFL level… so I think going to TCU and having the opportunity to play with so many good players and spending four years there, that prepared me for what I was about to embark on in the National Football League.”
If I’m Gary Patterson, I’m taking that quote and getting it inscribed on the stadium, in the locker room, in his office, anywhere and everywhere the University will allow me to. That is a powerful endorsement from one of the best to play the game.
Patterson was on the TCU staff for LT’s final three seasons in Fort Worth and made sure he was in Canton, Ohio on Saturday for the festivities. There’s no doubt Tomlinson is a huge factor in why TCU had a revival on the gridiron. Before Tomlinson stepped foot on campus in 1997, TCU had appeared in only one bowl game in the previous 12 seasons. TCU got its first bowl win in 41 years in 1998. Throw in all of LT’s individual accolades mentioned above and it help put TCU back on the map.
But frankly, there are plenty of programs who have a great player come through campus and then end up struggling like they did before that star arrive. It was Gary Patterson who took what LT brought to the program on the field and had the much tougher job of making this a sustainable and quality program over the past 17 seasons.
I’m not saying TCU should exploit LT in any way. But plenty of football programs use their all-timers to help sell TCU. Baylor with Robert Griffin III. Texas A&M with Johnny Manziel. The list goes on. I’m sure Patterson does it, but it doesn’t feel like it’s used enough for a program that isn’t littered with Pro Football Hall of Famers.
A statue would be a good start for the program to start building up its relationship with LaDainian Tomlinson. From there, let’s see how the two sides can help each other even further. LT has lived a pretty quiet life since his retirement 5 years ago. He’s described as a very humble guy who has not sought out the spotlight post-retirement. No broadcasting, no cheesy TV pitches, none of that.
That’s great, but maybe that means there is time in his schedule for his alma mater. Whether it’s behind the scenes fundraising or standing on the sidelines during the games and the FOX or ESPN cameras “happen to catch a glimpse of LT”, those are the things that will help remind 17-year-old recruits that TCU is a destination that can lead to a big-time NFL career.
Maybe LaDainian Tomlinson has no interest in building this kind of relationship with TCU. But considering all the great things he has had to say about the university over the past few days, it sure wouldn’t sure to ask.
It’s time to get the ball rolling, Coach P.
[Editor’s note: After receiving some social media information from TCU folks, the push across various platforms was strong to make sure recruits and fans were well aware of the university’s strong ties to LT.
Here is the information provided:
Over the last three weeks, TCU Football and TCU Athletics combined to post 108 times regarding LT on our three major social media platforms. Below are the other colleges’ number of posts that had a 2017 enshrinee using the same standards:
Michigan State: 8
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