LaDainian Tomlinson Tribute: Greatest Running Backs Never to Play in Super Bowl

Vinny HardyCorrespondent IJune 19, 2012

LaDainian Tomlinson Tribute: Greatest Running Backs Never to Play in Super Bowl

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    The greatest running back of my generation retired yesterday.

    I say "my generation" because at 32, LaDainian Tomlinson is a year-and-a-half younger than I am.

    He's one of the first elite franchise backs I watched as an adult. The first great back to come along and dominate post Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders.

    Although he never made it to a Super Bowl, his game and his numbers speak for themselves.

    In 11 seasons with the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets, LT rushed for 13,684 yards—fifth all time. He trails only Emmitt, Barry, Sweetness, and Curtis Martin on the all-time list.

    The five-time Pro Bowler was league MVP and won his first of two rushing titles in 2006. He also had the coolest end zone celebration around, which we saw many times.   

    His 162 touchdowns place him third all time, behind Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith.

    LT was the heart and soul of the Chargers in the 2000s. Prior to that, he put in work at TCU. I know my elders know because they were good in years past, but who in my generation knew anything at all about the TCU Horned Frogs football program prior to LT setting foot on that campus? Be honest.

    Hats off and much respect to you, LaDainian, for a great career. Canton awaits.

    For a look at other great backs who never made it to the grand stage that is the Super Bowl, check out the following slides. 

Honorable Mention No. 1: Jim Brown

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    As we know, Jim Brown retired in 1965 and the first Super Bowl wasn't played until 1967.

    He still had to be on the list. Nothing can be said about him that hasn't been said already.

    Eight rushing titles in nine seasons. Dominant.  

    He retired in his prime with nothing more to prove and moved on to the big screen as well as numerous other endeavors.

Honorable Mention No. 2: Adrian Peterson

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    One can never be sure what the future holds, but regardless of who your favorite team is, you have to be rooting for Adrian Peterson to make a Super Bowl Sunday appearance.

    Everyone wants him to come back healthy from that knee injury and continue to dazzle with his electric runs.

    This video is from Week 1 2009. The fact that it's the season opener in the Dawg Pound lets us know the Cleveland Browns were actually trying. The optimism of the new season had yet to fade, and AP still lit them up.

    Oh, and as for poor Eric Wright, that "stiff arm" in the general area of his cranium was the stuff of legend.

    Deacon Jones is still smiling about that one.

Eric Dickerson

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    Can't have this list without E.D. 

    He used his tall, graceful gliding style to rack up 13,259 yards and 90 touchdowns.

    He did this for the most part while toiling for bad L.A. Rams and Indianapolis Colts teams. Impressive.

O.J. Simpson

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    In every sport there are players whose on-field and off-field status has to be distinctly separated. O. J. Simpson is one of those players.

    Before all of his troubles, people remembered him for what he accomplished with the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers.

    People remember his 2,000-yard season, as well as many of his other feats on the gridiron.

    On the field, The Juice was a beast.

Earl Campbell

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    Earl Campbell didn't rush for 10,000 yards, however, his 9,407 were some of the best we've ever seen.

    His career lasted from 1978-85. With his style, it's amazing it lasted that long.

    His unparalleled power has yet to be duplicated. 

Gayle Sayers

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    The Kansas Comet.

    Even the nickname is appropriate.

    Gayle Sayers is the guy we wish we could see play today.

    The back with the eye-popping highlight reel footage that never gets old.

    Sayers is who we want Reggie Bush to become. Sayers makes us wish we were our father's age so we could have seen him for ourselves.

    Check the video at about three minutes and 22 seconds in.

    The halfback pass is covered, the play has broken down. He just tucks it and whizzes through the defense. Ridiculous!

    LT will be 37 when he's eligible for Canton, which is pretty young.

    Sayers, his career cut short by injury, was inducted at age 33. He's the youngest ever to be enshrined.  

    Enough said.

Barry Sanders

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    Lastly, we've come to the best pure running back of my lifetime.

    Barry Sanders made getting from point A to point B must-see TV.

    He made you hold your breath and wait to see what he would do and how he would do it.

    In Jim Brown fashion, Sanders retired in his prime and left us wanting more. His 15,269 yards had him in easy striking distance of Walter Payton's all-time record.

    None of that mattered to him. Outside of one postseason run to the NFC title game, Barry didn't have much to show for his efforts with the Detroit Lions.

    After 10 great years, the epitome of elusiveness decided he'd had enough.