LaDainian Tomlinson stared out at the field from behind his dark visor, unable to help his team from his seat on the bench.
It was the AFC Championship game at New England in 2008, and the San Diego Chargers running back’s pride was hurting just as much as his left knee. He tried to push through the pain, but lasted just a few plays before heading to the sideline for good while the Chargers lost out on a Super Bowl appearance.
“It was the most frustrating thing I’ve been through in my career,” the New York Jets running back recalled. “It was a long shot going into the game with a sprained MCL. I told my guys, ‘I’m going to give you everything I have,’ but it wasn’t much.”
Tomlinson, injured a week earlier at Indianapolis, had two runs for 5 yards and a catch for 1 yard before his night was over. A lasting image from the Chargers’ 21-12 loss at Gillette Stadium is of Tomlinson sitting on the team’s bench, wrapped in an oversized jacket and his helmet still strapped onto his head.
“That was obviously frustrating that at the biggest time you could possibly play a game, I couldn’t play,” he said. “Now, it seems like I get a chance to redeem myself.”
Three years later and healthy with the Jets, Tomlinson is again headed to Foxborough today for a playoff game — with a trip to the AFC Championship game on the line.
“Having this opportunity,” Tomlinson said, smiling, “my hair’s going to be on fire.”
Some Chargers fans and media — including Deion Sanders — questioned Tomlinson’s toughness after that game in 2008, especially after quarterback Philip Rivers played with a torn ACL. The fact Tomlinson even tried to play impressed his teammates.
“As a competitor, and someone who has been a teammate and somebody who has been a mentor of mine since I’ve gotten to the NFL, it was definitely tough to see,” said Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who played four seasons in San Diego with Tomlinson. Tomlinson had one of the best postseason games of his career, running for 82 yards and two touchdowns while helping the Jets to a 17-16 victory over the Colts in Indianapolis last Saturday.
“I feel good,” he said.
WHEN: Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
TV: CBS (KPIX, Ch. 5)
RADIO: KNBR (680 AM)