FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — LaDainian Tomlinson tried for nine seasons to bring a Super Bowl title to San Diego.
There were plenty of Pro Bowls, rushing titles and enough accolades to make most players happy. Except, there was no ring. Not one trip to the Super Bowl.
“I would like one,” the New York Jets running back said of winning a championship. “To say I need one, I think that would be a bit of a stretch. But, man, I can’t imagine playing this game and not getting one.”
Tomlinson has been to one AFC championship game, three years ago, but there’s an unsatisfied feeling that gnaws at him.
“I mean, I’ve dreamed about winning a Super Bowl championship since I was 6 years old and seeing Walter Payton do it,” he said. “For me, I just can’t see not doing it.”
Jason Taylor knows exactly how Tomlinson feels. He made it to the playoffs as a rookie in 1997 and went back to the postseason the next four years. And, then, nothing. It’s been nine long years since Taylor has even been in a playoff game.
“At times, it feels like 50 years ago,” Taylor said. “Sometimes, it feels like yesterday.”
Both Tomlinson and Taylor came to New York in the offseason hoping they could be final pieces for a team that had its sights set on a Super Bowl run. The Jets want to win their first championship since 1969, while the two veterans are aching for their first ever.
“That’s the only reason I play the game anymore,” Taylor said. “Really, from Day 1. There are a lot of great byproducts from playing at a high level: You get paid and the fame and all that. But the reason we play this game is to win the championship. You can’t do that if you don’t make the playoffs, and this is the first step.”
The quest continues Saturday night when the Jets (11-5) take on the Colts (10-6) in Indianapolis.
“This is the time of the year that I look forward to,” Tomlinson said. “Anytime we have an opportunity like this, it doesn’t come around often. For me, who knows when it will come around again, or if it’ll ever come around again. We’ll see.”
Taylor was asked earlier in the week by coach Rex Ryan when he had last been to the playoffs, just to show the younger players that getting this far doesn’t always come around.
“Although a lot of them were here last year when they played in the AFC championship, it’s not a given,” Taylor said. “It really is a privilege and a very difficult thing to do. Don’t take it for granted.”
At 36 and in his 14th season, Taylor certainly doesn’t. He was out of a job after not being re-signed in the offseason by the Dolphins and made the difficult decision to join a franchise that he had grown to hate as a division rival. And Jets fans made it clear he was a villain in their eyes — until he became one of them.
He is no longer the sack machine he once was in his prime, when he was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year and a force that opposing offenses needed to plan for.
“You never know in this game,” he said. “You’re one bad injury from having to hang it up. The older you get in your career, you realize the end is getting closer and closer. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The light is coming quicker and quicker to the point where it’s not blinding yet, but you need sunglasses on. You realize the end is near.”
But, Taylor has had his moments, such as tackling Pittsburgh’s Mewelde Moore in the end zone three weeks ago — a huge play in the Jets’ 22-17 win over the Steelers. He has five sacks, ranking him third on the team, and moved into a tie with Lawrence Taylor and Leslie O’Neal for eighth on the career list with 132½.
“He provided for us everything we thought he would,” defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said.
The same could be said of Tomlinson, who had a shot at his ninth 1,000-yard rushing season, but passed up the chance in the regular-season finale against Buffalo last Sunday.
“A thousand yards, it would’ve been great, no question, but I didn’t come here to rush for 1,000 yards,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of 1,000-yard (seasons) in my career. That’s not important to me. What’s important to me is playing in this tournament and having that opportunity to win the championship.”
So, Tomlinson rested and watched from the sideline as the Jets routed the Bills, 38-7.
“I feel pretty fresh,” Tomlinson said. “I’m healthy, been healthy all year. With a week off last week, I feel even more fresh, so I’m excited and look forward to this opportunity.”
Like Taylor, the 31-year-old Tomlinson is no longer the player he once was. But, he is a major part of the Jets’ offense. Tomlinson led the team with 914 yards rushing and six touchdowns, and had 52 catches for 368 yards.
“He said that he was here to be fresh during the playoffs,” Ryan said. “He is fresh right now and I think we’re going to have a big game from him.”
There were plenty of those back in his Chargers days, a time that came to a bitter end last winter when San Diego cut him. Many around the league thought he was done and at an age when most running backs are no longer productive. The Jets saw an opportunity, as did Tomlinson. And they all hope it ends with a parade in New York.
“Green and white is what I bleed,” Tomlinson said smiling. “It would be awesome to bring a championship here. I’m just so excited.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.