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.
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 L.T. 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 Payton).
And 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.