The age of 30 seems to be the age were running backs officially become senior citizens. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule like Marcus Allen, Walter Payton (for a few years), and Barry Sanders (although he retired at 31), but the evidence is overwhelming. The number of hits these guys take are inhumane and 8 or 9 seasons as a top flight running back is about the maximum the most well conditioned bodies can take and still perform at a high level. The sad part about it is most of these running backs are in denial about this trend. They all think they’ll be able to overcome the odds.
Just recently we’ve seen it with Shaun Alexander, Eddie George, Edgerrin James, and Curtis Martin. Brian Westbrook turns 30 before the season starts and it looks like the bell curve has already started for him. The latest player who keeps trying to fight the stigma (although I think he’ll fail like most of the others) is LaDainian Tomlinson. He turns 30 on June 23rd and the signs are already there. He’s been banged up the last two years, especially in the playoffs, and the team was just as effective (if not more so) with Darren Sproles behind Phillip Rivers.
LDT (I can’t call him LT) joined ESPN Radio Dallas to talk about his football camp in his home state, his injuries the past few years, overcoming the 30 year old running back stigma, and Norv Turner.
On his injuries:
“It’s been pretty hard just because you prepare yourself all year long for a great season and to put yourself in the best possible position to handle the physical nature of the game. Sometimes things happen and you get hurt. That’s been my case the last two years. It’s definitely difficult to deal with because for me, it comes at the most inopportune times when we’re right there in the playoffs and we’re trying to win a championship. Everybody has to go through that at some point, the injuries. You just really appreciate the days when you are healthy.”
On the 30-year-old running back stigma:
“I think, in my case, it’s been two of the most unfortunate injuries that a guy can go through. A lot of times what happens is guys start to have the nagging injuries, the chronic injuries is what they call them; the certain things that just continue to keep bothering you. I haven’t had that problem. As of right now, I’m fully healthy, I’m strong again, fast. All the things I used to do before my injury, I’m able to do without a problem. I really don’t put too much stock in the age factor because when you can play the game and you still got it, you still got it. I definitely still got it but that’s for me to prove and I can’t wait to get on the field so I can do that.”
Why he isn’t worried:
“I’ve stayed healthy, played every single game, put up huge numbers. The last two years it could have happened to anybody. It could have happened my first year, it could have happened my second year and the talk would have been, “He just needs to get healthy, they just need to keep him healthy.” But now since I’m approaching 30, that’s the stigma that everybody fights. All the great ones, they fight this. I can’t argue with that but I still feel like I’m in great shape and healthy.”
On the career rushing title:
“It’s something that’s there and as I get closer to the record, I definitely want to chase it. Life in the NFL is so short and so many great things happen and I just want to take every opportunity and advantage I have playing this game and not take anything for granted. When I’m done, I can always look myself in the mirror and say, “You know what, I gave it everything I had and I did it the right way.”
On Norv Turner:
“He brings that confidence of knowing how good you are. Norv can attack people in a way that I’ve never seen before. He can look at a team and tell you right off the bat their weaknesses. He can come up on the fly on the sidelines or during the week where we can get big plays and where we can score. That’s why you always see us score a lot of points, you see us move the ball on everybody and have this explosive offense – that’s all Norv. His mind is always working. He has a great mind and I think that’s underrated.”