FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — LaDainian Tomlinson won’t say he has pointed to this game for 1 1/2 years. He won’t admit facing the San Diego Chargers on Sunday as a New York Jets running back stands out on his calendar.
His coaches and teammates think otherwise.
Tomlinson is the best running back in Chargers history, a record setter during his nine seasons in San Diego, winning the 2006 league MVP award, when he set the NFL mark with 31 touchdowns (28 rushing, three receiving). His exit from the team wasn’t particularly pleasant, though, as it became clear his role would be diminished.
So he signed with the Jets as a free agent before last season. On Thursday, LT claimed his fire won’t be burning a little stronger when he sees those lightning bolts on the opposing helmets.
“I’m not a guy who holds grudges or tries to prove anyone wrong,” Tomlinson said. “I don’t have time for that. It’s nonsense.
“I had a great nine years there and I don’t want to make it more than it is.”
Coach Rex Ryan, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer and teammate Santonio Holmes see it differently.
“I think that is natural,” Ryan said of carrying extra incentive against a former team, particularly one that allowed you to walk away. “I think those are special moments for guys. It’s not that it’s a bad thing, like I’m going to show that team. I think he’s getting to play in front of his former teammates is the biggest thing.”
Schottenheimer, an assistant coach in San Diego when Tomlinson was a star, predicted Tomlinson’s “heart will be racing” on Sunday.
“He’s such a pro, he’ll be business as usual and will be trying to make plays and contribute as much as he can. He’s truly the leader on offense, the guy who has the passion and the enthusiasm. This will be special with him,” Schottenheimer said.
Holmes joined the Jets last season, too, traded by Pittsburgh to New York. He faced the Steelers twice in 2010, a regular-season victory and a defeat in the AFC championship game.
“You’ve got an opportunity to just know what you’re up against because you’ve played against those guys in practice, you’ve seen what they’ve done on film and it’s even second nature,” Holmes said. “He can go out and use that to his advantage, and I think he’s going to have a lot of fun doing it.”
Most of Tomlinson’s stay in San Diego was fun. Selected fifth overall in the 2001 draft after an All-America career at TCU, he made three All-Pro teams as a Charger and for several seasons was the NFL’s most feared running back. Tomlinson has excelled as a runner, receiver and blocker.
“He’s one of the guys we all look up to,” said Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, another former Chargers starter.
Tomlinson also will be a starter Sunday against the only NFL team he hasn’t scored a touchdown on. A starter for much of last season, he’s been a backup to Shonn Greene this year.
That doesn’t lessen his importance to the Jets.
“If I start, I’ll respond,” he said when told that Ryan planned to open the game with Tomlinson in the backfield. “If not, I’ll respond.”
The 32-year-old Tomlinson would not respond to questions about any ill feelings toward the Chargers.
Asked Thursday if he thought he’d be a Charger for life, Tomlinson rushed along the high road.
“I tell you what, there was a time that I felt that I would be,” he said. “But … people thought I was starting to complain too much when we weren’t running the ball that much and the identity of the team was changing. People thought I was complaining about that, but the fact is I started to see the beginning of the end of my career there in San Diego. At the time it is hard to tell and it took me a little time to come to grips with knowing I wouldn’t be a Charger for life.
“But at the same time I’d seen Junior (Seau) go through it, Drew Brees go through it, Rodney Harrison, so I knew it was a possibility that I could go play somewhere else.”
So is he bitter?
“There’s nothing I’d change,” Tomlinson said. “As far as me being emotional (in 2009), it wasn’t part of leaving (the team), but leaving a community, moving my family. My wife was pregnant at the time, and all that built up the emotions.
“It had nothing to do with any feelings toward that organization or anybody in that locker room. I don’t hold any bones toward that organization.”
AP Sports Writer Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this story.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.