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Closer Look

TCU's Tomlinson finishes distant fourth, feels like 'fluke'

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Posted: Saturday December 09, 2000 10:27 PM

  LaDainian Tomlinson, Loreanne Chappell LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 2,158 yards this season, the fourth-best single-season total in NCAA history. AP

By Albert Lin, CNNSI.com

NEW YORK -- Try as he might, LaDainian Tomlinson could not hide his disappointment. The TCU running back finished fourth -- a distant fourth -- in the balloting for the 2000 Heisman Trophy, which conveyed one strong message: "It lets me know that it's almost impossible for a guy from TCU to win the Heisman," he said.

The Horned Frogs have had one winner, but that was Davey O'Brien ages ago in 1938. Since then, only two other TCU players have finished in the top five, Jim Swink (second) in 1955 and Kenneth Davis (fifth) in 1984.

Despite leading the nation in rushing for the second consecutive year, with the fourth-highest single-season total in history (2,158 yards), Tomlinson garnered just 566 points, well behind winner Chris Weinke (1,628) and runner-up Josh Heupel (1,552). He earned a mere 47 first-place votes, compared with Weinke's 369 and Heupel's 286.

In 1999, Tomlinson didn't even place in the top 10, although he rushed for 1,850 yards, including a Division I-A record 406 last November against UTEP. That game vaulted Tomlinson into the national spotlight and led the TCU athletic department to launch a full-scale Heisman campaign in 2000 for their star.

He produced, rushing for more than 200 yards five times, leading his team to a 10-1 mark and a No. 13 ranking, and never being held under 100 yards. But voters still seemed to discount his achievements because of the Horned Frogs' WAC schedule.

"If you look at the voting and how far down I was, that tells me that I was still a bit overlooked, like I was a fluke or something," said Tomlinson, wearing a black suit with white pinstripes, complemented by a purple tie and matching pocket square. "I thought it would be a little bit closer, but that's reality. When I saw the totals, I said I can't believe it's that large a margin, [to] me and [Drew] Brees."

He took consolation in what he heard from past winners in attendance, and from his own sense of accomplishment.

"Some guys were coming over and saying, 'You deserve to be here, you're one of the great running backs in college football,'" Tomlinson said, naming well-wishers like Johnny Rodgers, Mike Rozier, Gino Torretta. "It feels good to be in the same company."

Tomlinson also one-upped two of his Heisman rivals Friday night at the ESPN Zone restaurant, where he, Brees and Heupel competed in an arcade game where you throw footballs through moving targets. The first time out, Tomlinson, the running back, outpointed both Brees and Heupel, a pair of quarterbacks.

The Waco, Texas, native plans to stick with running the ball, though, and he hopes to end his college career with a Mobile Alabama Bowl win against Southern Mississippi on Dec. 20. Complicating matters is the defection of coach Dennis Franchione to, ironically, the University of Alabama. New coach Gary Patterson and TCU athletic director Eric Hyman have agreed to allow Franchione, who was at the Downtown Athletic Club to support Tomlinson, to guide the Horned Frogs in their third consecutive bowl.

"I think it might be a bit of a distraction," Tomlinson said. "I haven't been there [in Fort Worth] to see how the guys are doing now, and I'm anxious to get back and see. By the time the game comes around, I think the guys will be focused and ready to go."

 
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